My issue with cancel culture in St. Louis is that it’s too often co-opted by someone trying to settle a score. Of course that’s what’s brought the long-simmering tensions at Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis to a head.
Gay Republican Matt Schiermeier got angry at Just John’s Kareem Lahai-Pumagoi over a Facebook debate and called owner John O. Arnold to try to get him fired. When that didn’t work he vowed to have his followers destroy Just John online, but instead aimed his fire at Krista Versace, who had been defending Kareem. Schiermeier was successful in costing Versace her job at Hamburger Mary’s.
I’ve been hesitant about bringing up my own issues with Hamburger Mary’s owner David Pardue because they’re not nearly as interesting as many of the other testimonials, and I didn’t want to appear I was trying to settle my own score. I decided, however, that all of our perspectives are needed at this time.
I was invited to bring an entourage to their soft opening, and a dear friend of mine by the name of Terrence Stokes was one of my guests. Terrence is Black and I felt he was disrespected on that basis. Everyone was served but him, and he approached Pardue to inquire about his order. Attempting to talk over the loud music, Stokes explained that everyone else had been served half an hour earlier. Pardue shrugged and said everything was free since it was a trial run, and gave no indication he would check on the order. He then asked Stokes, “Why are you shouting? Who brought you?”
I can attest that Terrence was simply talking over the music. He was in no way shouting.
Then and there I determined Pardue was not cut out for the hospitality business, and I’ve never been dissuaded of that belief. Still, I did what I could to support the business because it’s such a spectacular venue and is, to my knowledge, the only place in town where a drag queen can earn a full-time living practicing her craft. And despite the owner’s apparent flaws, it was still a “family” owned business.
That support included running their press releases, patronizing the establishment, and planning a big magazine event there.
Normally venues roll out the red carpet when you’re planning to bring people to their space, but Pardue made it clear he didn’t care. On at least two occasions when I went to see him in advance of the event he left me and an associate sitting there and never came out. The event was cancelled due to COVID, and the truth is I was relieved. I didn’t know how I was supposed to host in an environment where I myself didn’t even feel welcome.
Pardue called my friend Janessa Highland “garbage” and even though she’s Miss Gay Missouri America 2018, and Miss Gay Missouri America paid to rent Hamburger Mary’s for their pageant, he banned her from participating because of his personal dislike of her. To Jade Sincair’s credit she objected to the unfairness, although the decision was not overturned.
Stories worse than mine continue to cascade out and show no signs of slowing. Stepping back I see that I should have written off Hamburger Mary’s much sooner. I wanted to see them succeed and I tried to ignore the elephant in the room. That was wrong.
In summary, I believe David Pardue created a spectacular venue for St. Louis but is profoundly ill-suited to run the day-to-day operations. I think he, the business and the community would be better served if he either sold Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis, or hired a community-oriented and hospitality-minded professional to operate it and then stayed away.