The Mill House Brewing Company has spent the past several weeks trying to figure out the best way to deal with… you know, all of this. The award-winning Poughkeepsie, New York pub and brewery temporarily closed at the end of March, before deciding to reopen four days a week with a 10-person crew. It set up a drive-through beer tent, it's sold gift cards for the After Times, and it's currently offering take-out orders and contactless delivery for food and its own brews.
But because everything is extra complicated right now, it seems difficult for the restaurant to celebrate what should've been an incredibly successful dinner promotion. For four nights last week, Mill House offered a classic Americanized Chinese takeout meal, which included enough sesame chicken, spare ribs, beef and broccoli, vegetable egg rolls, sesame lo mein noodles, and pork fried rice to feed a family of four.
Between Tuesday and Friday, Mill House sold 1,120 of the $75 dinners, and some customers wrote on social media that they called literally hundreds of times before they were able to place an order—or before they learned that the meal had sold out.
"We definitely knew it was going to be popular, but we didn’t have any idea it was going to be the meal that broke the internet, and our phone lines," Kimberly Glatz, Mill House's Digital Media Manager, told VICE.
Here's where things get tricky: Mill House was temporarily making Asian-inspired meals because many of the Chinese restaurants in the surrounding area had temporarily closed. "The idea morphed into paying homage to Mill House Panda, our predecessor [in this building], and a way to bring awareness to what’s going on to our Chinese restaurant owners and how they were being treated here in New York," Mill House owner and chef Danny Crocco said. "We didn’t want them to have to close their doors due to xenophobia, but unfortunately they did. The least we could do was show our neighbors that the community will still come out to support them."
The community did turn up for Mill House's special, but at least two individuals found it difficult to accept that a restaurant working with limited hours and a state-mandated skeleton crew couldn't accommodate every single customer, and they made death threats toward the staff. Yes, death threats… over a sold-out dinner special.
"We wouldn’t say [we were] surprised, but more so disappointed," Crocco said. "We were just trying to bring a little bit of comfort and normalcy to the plates of our community, and it’s upsetting to see how people can treat other humans over one meal. We wished we could have fed this to everyone, and if we were working under our normal circumstances, we would have."
He said that none of the staff feared for their safety due to the fact that the restaurant is closed to the public, but still.
"We know that this is a weird time and everyone is reacting differently to the situation," he said. "With that being said, death threats over Chinese takeout are definitely not the way anyone should be handling any situation, ever."
The Mill House Panda-inspired pop-up was only temporary, but Poughkeepsie locals now have a few more options for their next takeaway order. "As soon as we heard our local Chinese restaurants were opening back up, we stopped offering our special, notified our customers, and urged them to grab their fix at their local Chinese restaurant," Crocco said. "It was the least we could do to help them get back on their feet, because we’re all in this together, and we’ll all survive this together."
It would be great if those recently reopened restaurants could get the same kind of phone line-jamming, internet-breaking, meal-ordering support right now. But maybe knock it off with the death threats.