Had a wonderful morning enjoying a visit with friends on the beach and holding my tiny Cub’s hand as he giggled and jumped “waves” as high as my knee. We love visiting with our friends and we love the beach, so putting them together makes for a perfect morning.
When the Cub was all jumped out and had finished digging and looking for “a treasure”, we packed up our gear and said our good-byes. We headed to one of my former favorite spots…Lillie’s Coffee Bar in Neptune Beach, Florida. The Hub and I have enjoyed stopping in there for breakfast sandwiches and delicious coffee after morning hikes and it is usually my first stop in the morning to grab a delicious java to walk onto the beach with and enjoy as my Cub collects shells in his bucket.
Today was very different. Today, instead of merely stopping in for a coffee, I went in to grab some lunch with the Cub. Going out to a restaurant is not unusual for us. I know that many allergy families choose not to eat out, but we do and we feel its important to not only let the Cub have the same normal experiences we had growing up, but also to learn how we handle going out to eat with his allergy. He’s tiny, but he is watching and he is listening and we are his models. The only way to protect him is to teach him how to handle normal experiences in this nutty world.
Some restaurants are completely out for us and we accept that. For instance, Thai and Chinese restaurants use peanuts and peanut butter frequently in their cooking and sauces and we know the risk of peanut cross contamination is high, so we don’t even bother going to those. But all American Bistros, French, Spanish, Mexican, Italian restuarants are usually fair game with some allergy precautions.
When we are going out to eat, I usually check out the menu online ahead of time when available. It helps me determine two things: 1) Are there a lot of items on the menu that have peanuts in them? and 2) What seems to be a safe choice for the Cub?
Once at the restaurant, the conversation usually begins with a hello and I inform the waiter/waitress that the Cub has a severe peanut allergy. Much to our delight, most restaurants we’ve eaten at respond appropriately and tell us how they handle allergy alert patrons to alleviate any concerns. I always make a point to discuss my concerns of cross contamination.
I won’t lie. I love my son and want him to live. So I mention that nothing can be baked or fried in oil that previously had a nut in it. For instance, those delicious nut-crusted fish dishes (YUM!)…but if a chicken tender for my son went into that same oil afterwards…absolute trouble for us. That great bread that the waiter brings to our table…is it produced in a facility with a peanut warning? We need to ask this to keep our baby safe. These questions usually sets off a light bulb in the waiter/waitresses eyes almost immediately. And they’ve always responded so sweetly.
We’ve had a lot of good experiences.
We’ve learned that excellent restaurants are educated and prepared and have a protocol in place for how to handle food allergy patrons. Most restaurants have prepared his dishes in a separate pan and at several we’ve even had the Chef come out to say hello and be sure to understand his allergy. That gets a big thank you from us, returned patronage and generous tipping.
Today, I experienced first hand how a restaurant that is uneducated handles a food allergy patron. Instead of understanding and communication. This is what I got instead.
Absolutely horrible service this afternoon at Lillie’s Coffee Bar in Neptune Beach, FL…by far the worst experience to date.
Once they heard the Cub (my two year old son) had an allergy they were absolutely rude to us. They refused to give us ingredients or information about allergy warnings and basically told us that they could not offer him anything safe off their menu that they had “a jar of peanut butter in the back”. When I tried to discuss separate accommodations or ask about their restaurants allergy plan…they reluctantly said they “would try to clean the panini grill, but would not guarantee it would be safe.” They made it extremely clear that their preference was that we just leave.
Having had so many good experiences before…I won’t lie. I was annoyed. Regardless of having an allergy or not, if you are going to pay for food – you have every right to know what you are going to put in your mouth. But not according to Lillie’s.
The waitress, who was reporting back from the owner that never stepped out to see us (another big fail )…said that “the bakery sends them bread without ingredient list or allergy warnings”.
What? Unheard of and utterly ridiculous.
Upon my insisting, that we could not possibly be the only peanut allergy patron, the waitress finally gave me the number to the Village Bakery where they order their bread from and when I called it…it was a non-working number.
Just Awesome. Great Job, Lillie’s Coffee Bar.
What I learned about Lillie’s Coffee Bar today is that they ABSOLUTELY discriminate against patrons with food allergies. And I am sharing my experience to insure that other families do not leave frustrated and hungry.
In the meantime Lillie’s Coffee Bar, please, please educate yourselves. Your rudeness will only chase patrons away for so long, before one or many speak out. Here is a free Comprehensive program for training staff to safely prepare and serve food to guests who have food allergies offered by the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network in Fairfax, VA.
Needless to say, I did not end up feeding my son from their menu today. It was clear that their rudeness and avoidance was really a front for not having a good education about food allergies. It’s unfortunate too, because I had enjoyed their establishment in the past…however, seeing how they handled a serious situation showed me that I can not feel confident that they are prepared to keep my son safe. So we will not be back.
To end this post on a positive note, I’d like to list the restaurants in the Jacksonville area that have been AWESOME in sharing ingredient information freely and at accommodating our son’s allergy, making us feel welcomed and wanted.
Our MOST accommodating have been:
The Brick, 3585 St. Johns Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32290
Metro Diner, 3302 Hendricks Avenue, Jacksonville, FL 32207
Biscottis, 3556 Saint Johns Avenue Jacksonville, FL 32205
Ragtime Tavern, Seafood & Grill, 207 Atlantic Blvd., Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
Do you have a child with a peanut allergy in the Jacksonville, Florida area? Please share your positive allergy restaurant experiences. We want to celebrate the good ones!
Thanks for Reading,
Chew Chew Mama