When we finally emerge from this unprecedented time, I want to remember the stories of hope, of love, of West Orange pulling together to lift one another up.
Last week, after a few questionable posts on social media, one of West Orange’s restaurateurs found herself in the cancel culture crosshairs.
It took mere minutes for the onslaught to spin up — first on Facebook, then to Yelp and, finally (predictably), to several news stations and other local print media outlets.
The vultures feasted on the flesh of poor judgment for days. One YouTuber even milked it for three separate videos — each rank with the same disturbing glee to stand in judgment as a small business was destroyed.
Finally, the restaurant deleted its social media accounts, and the vultures scattered. Cancel culture complete; mission accomplished.
But, if perhaps you were captivated by the days-long train wreck — whether a full-on passenger or a casual observer — you missed what I’ll argue is the better, more important West Orange restaurateur story of the week.
First, a disclaimer: I love Windermere’s Dixie Cream Cafe. After my family and I moved to West Orange five years ago, Stephanie Desaulniers’ small restaurant was the first place we tried. From the second we walked through the doors, we knew we had made the right decision to settle in West Orange. We were welcomed with smiles, treated with care and received absolutely on-point food and service.
Out of an abundance of caution and safety concerns for staff and customers, Dixie Cream shut its doors March 22. And even while other restaurants converted to curbside and takeout options, Desaulniers decided to remain closed.
For the town of Windermere’s Virtual Town Hall meeting Friday, April 24 (video below), Town Manager Robert Smith invited Desaulniers to speak about Dixie Cream and its challenges.
It would have been understandable if Desaulniers had shared all about her sleepless nights, about her 22 employees whose income has been impacted, about the constant, unrelenting pressure she feels.
Instead, this is what she said.
“I feel confident; I really do,” Desaulniers said. “It’s almost like starting over in a way. We have to reinvent the wheel a little bit.”
Desaulniers shared some ideas under consideration: adding a mini-market, and a revamp of the menu to include more kid- and pocketbook-friendly options. She already has mapped the dining areas to accommodate six feet of distance between tables. She’s just waiting to be able to do it all in a way that ensures safety for everyone.
But of course, the financial pressures are mounting. As of press time, Desaulniers hasn’t been able to secure PPP funding from the federal government (not for lack of trying). However, she launched a successful GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $10,000 — all of which went to her employees.
Toward the end of the meeting, Smith invited Windermere Wine & Dine founder CT Allen to speak.
“This is when you do appreciate living in a small town,” Allen began. “Everybody is family. Everybody knows everybody’s name. You and Dixie Cream are part of the fabric of this town.”
Then, she told Desaulniers the Wine & Dine Executive Committee was donating a $9,000 grant to Dixie Cream.
But wait, there’s more.
Smith said the town didn’t like the sound of $9,000 — such a weird number. So, the Windermere Police Department Foundation is giving an additional $1,000 to bring the total to $10,000.
“Your staff deserves it, your team deserves it, and you deserve it,” Allen told Desaulniers, who fought back tears. “We want to help keep Dixie Cream part of this community, and it’s time to step up to the plate. … It feels really good that we can help you in this time of need. You are truly loved — you and the whole team.”
“We’re a community, and we’re all family,” he said. “Just ask, and we’re going to be there for you.”
Like the GoFundMe donations, this money also will go directly to the Dixie Cream staff, Desaulniers said.
When we finally emerge from this unprecedented time, I want to remember these stories — the ones of hope, of love, of West Orange pulling together to lift one another up. I don’t want to drive past shuttered storefronts, the chewed bones left after cancel culture has devoured its prey.
How about it? Are you with me? Will you help rise the tide and lift all our boats? Will you Like, Subscribe and Share this?
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