The Flying Biscuit franchise, a favorite Atlanta eatery, is facing a social media backlash after apparently endorsing anti-LGBTQ politician Brian Kemp. But the general manager of Flying Biscuit Midtown, Wladimir Chacon, says it’s not necessarily so. The Voice interviewed Chacon at the Midtown location of the Flying Biscuit. The Midtown branch, which opened in 2000, is located at Piedmont Avenue and Tenth Street, at the intersection of Atlanta’s rainbow crosswalks.
Sitting at the bar, Chacon explained that the Biscuit was a franchise operation. Speaking with obvious passion, Chacon commented on the role the Flying Biscuit played in his life, and the life of its workers.
The general manager, who immigrated from Venezuela two decades ago, said he was part of the community – he was gay. “I am, the servers are, many of the people who work here are.”
The restaurant’s co-owner, Joseph Hsiao, is not the first Atlanta businessman to be criticized for his Kemp ties. The city’s own Monday Night Brewing caught flak for hosting a Kemp event earlier this month. But the Flying Biscuit is a special case for many LGBTQ locals.
The restaurant’s success is inextricably woven into the history of Gay Atlanta.
Delia Champion, lesbian restaurateur, founded the original breakfast-friendly Flying Biscuit in 1993. Indigo Girls member Emily Saliers was an early investor. The Candler Park eatery soon became a town hotspot for regulars. Raving Brands, an Atlanta franchise portfolio company, acquired the brand in 2006. Four years later later, the Hsiao brothers, Joseph and Matthew, bought the Midtown and Candler Park franchises. Then, Kemp came.
“The Hsiaos do want to do right by people”
“The Hsiaos do want to do right by people”
On September 14, 2015, Kemp, the Georgia Secretary of State, published a post on his official Facebook page. In the post, the current Republican gubernatorial candidate appears at a Flying Biscuit table with Joseph Hsiao. Both men are smiling.
Kemp, a Trump-endorsed Republican who is known for supporting anti-LGBTQ “Religious Freedom” bills, wrote “Last week, I had an ‘EGGcellent’ lunch with Joseph Hsiao of The Flying Biscuit Cafe – Candler Park/ The Flying Biscuit Cafe – Midtown. What a great restaurant and such a hardworking Georgia business owner!”
The Kemp post was rediscovered and shared by a Facebook user, Anna Simonton, on September 12. Simonton also discovered several donations to the Kemp campaign, made in the name of the Flying Biscuit. Most recently, in July, a donation of $1,000 was made to the Kemp campaign under the restaurant’s name. Then additional posts surfaced, showing Hsiao bearing Kemp signs at what appeared to be a political rally.
By late Wednesday, word had spread quickly. The Kemp-related images were shared hundreds of times on social media. Pledges to boycott began appearing. On Thursday, Project Q published a story titled: “Flying Biscuit owner faces backlash for supporting Brian Kemp.”
That feedback was felt across Atlanta-area Facebook. User Bri Boldon wrote, “Me and my friends just went there for Black Pride. Guess we won’t be going back #Abrams4Govenor.” User Barbara Howard wrote, “They might as well close their doors..” Other Facebook users shared screenshots of private Facebook chats they had had with Joseph Hsiao, where Hsiao stated that the purported Kemp endorsement was a misunderstanding, a claim he repeated to Project Q. Hsiao told users (and Project Q) that he had been focused on Kemp’s tax policy, a “four-point plant to work with small businesses like ours.” Wladimir Chacon did not have an opinion on Kemp’s tax plan, but had much to say about the restaurant.
“The restaurant is gay-friendly.”
Is the Flying Biscuit anti-LGBTQ?
“No,” Chacon said, with a slight Venezuelan accent, “the restaurant is gay-friendly. So are the owners. I’d known them for years before I started working for then. Anytime anyone needs help, they’re there, they’re always ready to help. They’re there to lend people a hand.”
Chacon said that the Hsiaos had donated to both parties.
“They were also helping Mary Norwood,” he said, “and they’ve always been supportive of the community.”
Chacon understood the outrage. “I do understand what they say, the political views. Yes, our staff are part of the [LGBTQ] community.”
The general manager said he had talked with customers who shared Simonton’s concerns. He assured the Voice that “The owners are good people.” A boycott, he said, would go against the community. “We depend on tips.” Indicating the workers in the back of the restaurant, Chacon said “They’re our people. The Hsiaos helped them out.” “This is a place that brings joy. In the part of the world I come from, food brings people together.”
A boycott, he said, would go against the community. “We depend on tips.”
Indicating the workers in the back of the restaurant, Chacon said “They’re our people. The Hsiaos helped them out.”Why did one of the owners of a Midtown restaurant, an institution that depends on the goodwill of the LGBTQ community, appear with Brian Kemp at all? “My personal opinion is that they’re good people. I mean–everyone here, and everyone who is upset–we are all human. Maybe all of us have done something we regret, we’ve all made mistakes. But everyone deserves a second chance.”
“This is a place that brings joy. In the part of the world I come from, food brings people together.”
Will money spent at the Flying Biscuit go to the Kemp campaign?
“It will not,” said Chacon. “I’m saying that as a general manager – I asked them [the Hsiaos] personally. Business should not overlap with politics.” He had requested it from the owners himself: “As a personal favor, yes.”
Indicating the diners and their food, Chacon continued: “This is a place that brings joy. In the part of the world I come from, food brings people together.” On Thursday morning, after the initial pushback, the Facebook accounts for the Candler Park and Midtown locations posted a message that began: “To Our Friends: I hear you. Thank you for sharing your concerns over a decision that was focused solely on small businesses instead of the community. In doing so, I did not think through the implications of the decision and the effects that it would have. We are a company that proudly embraces diversity and does not tolerate bigotry and hate.” The message ended: “What I have learned is that community comes first and [I] will continue to give back.”
On the evening of September 14, a follow-up message on the Midtown Facebook account appeared, which read, in part: “We just wanted you to know we see your passion, read your posts, and appreciate the feedback.”
When asked who had written the Thursday morning statement, Chacon said, “This is from the Hsiaos themselves.”
Chacon said that he had managed Flying Biscuit Midtown for five years. “Before this, I was a manager at IHOP.”
Again, Chacon paused, and then spoke with evident emotion about what the restaurant had meant to him. “I found myself here. I feel more comfortable here. They have been welcoming. They don’t judge. They’re loving people.” “They have been here supporting us – every Pride. They want the same for the community.”
“They have been here supporting us – every Pride. They want the same for the community.”
The restaurant and its staff understood the world, he said. They understood the times they were living in. “This time has been very volatile for everybody. I know it, I see it. Everybody is affected by these events. My concern – it is a concern for the people who work here.” “My concern – it is a concern for the people who work here.”
“My concern – it is a concern for the people who work here.”
Regarding the Kemp photo opp, Chacon noted, “The way I see it, here’s how it probably happened– it’s like a famous actor stops by. You get a picture with him without thinking about it.”
The general manager spoke again of the promise he had made. “There will be no political matters in the restaurant – in the end, it’s a restaurant, it’s about the staff, it’s the people who come here every way.” A boycott meant that the people would “suffer, this is their livelihood.”
Chacon gestured to the street outside. There, in the intersection, was the famous rainbow crosswalk of Atlanta. “The beauty of that rainbow is that it shows all colors. All races. All religions. All peoples.”
“I’m asking the community not to boycott. From all of us: Please. Give us a second chance to prove that we are here to make everybody welcome.”