Politics & Policy

Ebola Restaurant Still Getting Five-Star Reviews

Hey, Nancy Snyderman, you jerked America around.

NBC medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman’s Ebola quarantine violation last week has made a victim of an unlucky restaurant in Hopewell, New Jersey.

Snyderman, reportedly a resident of nearby Princeton, was spotted Thursday on a takeout trip to Peasant Grill specialty market in Hopewell Boro. At the time, Snyderman had agreed to remain under quarantine after returning from an assignment in Liberia that left one member of her team stricken with Ebola. After TMZ Sunday reported her public appearance, Snyderman got a lethal dose of bad publicity, and the voluntary quarantine became mandatory. Snyderman will remain at a safe distance from the public for most of this month.

But what happens to the Peasant Grill?

A man who answered the phone at the restaurant Tuesday told National Review Online, “We are open for business as usual, and we have no further comment.” The man, who would not give his name but claimed to be the owner of the specialty market, declined to comment on whether the news had hurt business or whether he planned to seek any damages from Snyderman. A 2011 review in the Trenton Times identified the owners as Barry and Michelle Klein, adding that the “excellent casual fare is as close as you can get to home cooking without eating at home.”

Neighbors tell NRO that the place has appeared pretty empty, however, and the previously well-reviewed Pleasant Grill is suffering its first sour, if sometimes funny, customer reviews. “Holy cr*p the restaurant has ebola!” wrote Alex Kim in a one-star Google review, while another one-star critique took both the restaurant and the NBC reporter to task. “Please understand that people who have recently returned from africa and were quarantined for ebola, broke thier quarantine order and went to this establishment to pick up food,” wrote John Walton. “This is very serious, there is no hard facts about how ebola is transmitted,  it is such a serious, virulent virus. Be careful, don’t go to this restaurant anytime soon.  They should, out of an abundance of caution, close thier doors for a reasonable period of time and sue Dr. nancy Snyderman.” [Uncorrected original]

Prior to the incident, Google reviewers had given the Peasant Grill only five- or four-star writeups.

Over at Yelp, users are keeping up the five-star ratings, but they’re also making with the jokes.

“I know everyone is raving about their ebolas of soup – and I love them as much as the next guy, but not sure if I would die for them,” wrote Steve K. of Minneapolis. “Thanks Nancy Snyderman – a**hole move there, b*tch. Screw @DrNancyNBCEWS for violating her curfew for exposure to EBOLA in order to eat here.  I don’t care if it was voluntary or not, you put people at risk, and my wife was actually eating at the Peasant Grill at the very same time your takeout partner was putting his bodily fluids all over the checkout counter. This WAS one of my favorite places to eat when I am in NJ.  Yeah, they got national exposure from this story – but I would say in this case, there really is such a thing as bad press!  . . .  Nancy – you should be fired from NBC for this at a minimum for showing how irresponsible you are, and how little you give a shit about the health and welfare of others.  Also, the quiche is pretty AMAZING.”

Steve has a point. Snyderman’s offense is more broad than can be captured in the easy “Artisanal Foodies Hardest Hit” headline. An honor system only works when the people have honor, and if a voluntary quarantine doesn’t work the next tool of public health is an enforced quarantine. Fortunately in this case the quarantine appears limited to Snyderman’s NBC Liberia team — one member of whom, freelance camera operator Ashoka Mukpo, is being treated for full-blown Ebola at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

The government’s next use of force to segregate potential infectees might not be so limited. While wild tales of “airborne Ebola” and other alarming transmission vectors are not accurate, it is safe to say that authorities are still on a learning curve in understanding how Ebola spreads. The Centers for Disease Control informs us, “Exposure to Ebola can occur in healthcare settings where hospital staff are not wearing appropriate protective equipment, including masks, gowns, and gloves and eye protection.” Yet there is no evidence Nina Pham, the Texas Health Presbyterian nurse who just became the first domestic U.S. case of Ebola transmission, failed to follow proper procedures. CDC director Tom Frieden initially claimed Pham’s infection resulted from a “breach of protocol,” a lie he has now had to walk back and apologize for. And Frieden’s mea culpa was a model of straight talk compared to Snyderman’s flimflamming self-exoneration, broadcast Monday by anchorman Brian Williams, which referred blankly to “members of our group” who “violated . . . guidelines.”

In short, you should not trust any of these folks to say for certain which countertop or soup tureen is cleared for dining — the virus is not spread “in general, by food,” the CDC offers — and Snyderman’s selfish trip to the specialty market forces these questions. A small-town central New Jersey food place becomes famous for all the wrong reasons. Armchair medics fill up the cognitive dissonance with information of their own. (TMZ’s early speculation that Snyderman ordered soup does not appear to be substantiated one way or the other: Peasant Grill is known for its soups, and the selection just works well with Soup Nazi references, implied images of festering vats of soup sitting around for hours at just-warming temperatures, and the great old joke that ends with the punchline “I’ll take the soup.”) It’s a hot zone of silliness brought on by Snyderman’s stupidity.

With due appreciation that it’s probably challenging to keep yourself in food, drink and dry goods for three weeks while under home confinement, where does this person get off? It’s even less excusable considering that Snyderman is what Kent Brockman calls a “trusted TV personality” and a health care professional. Unlike many people in public life who call themselves “Doctor,” Snyderman is an MD. She should be the last person who scoffs at a quarantine.

While declining to comment on Snyderman or the specialty market, an employee of Hopewell Valley Bistro & Inn, just across Seminary Avenue from Peasant Grill, tells NRO, “It’s been very busy, and we had a very positive weekend.” The public is generally capable of weighing reasonable risks even as more and more places in America become virus emergency zones. But public reasonableness depends on a certain minimum of trust. With her careless and unprofessional behavior, Snyderman drained that trust and brought discredit to NBC.

— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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