A group of high-ranking Kansas Republican lawmakers and lobbyists were asked to leave a Topeka restaurant and not return after the co-owner said they “completely disrespected everyone” with loud, drunken behavior.
The Topeka Capital-Journal first reported the incident, in which a party of 12, including House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, and lobbyists Dan Murray and Rachelle Colombo, entered the White Linen in Downtown Topeka.
Murray represents the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Colombo lobbies for the Kansas Medical Society.
Co-owner and head chef Adam Vandonge said on the evening of Feb. 27, the group entered the restaurant, which only seats 25, and began acting boisterously.
“They showed up and just started drinking and drinking and drinking,” Vandonge told the Capital-Journal. He said the group “completely disrespected everyone.”
The White Linen, located at 112 SW 6th St. in Topeka, is billed as “a unique, fine-dining restaurant based on contemporary French and American cuisine.” Vandonge co-owns the eatery with his wife, Kasie, a Washburn Law student.
According to Vandonges, Finch was served five old-fashioneds in a span of 90 minutes. Restaurant manager Cassidy Merriam said she asked the group repeatedly to lower their voices. At one point, Merriam pulled Finch into the hallway and said she wouldn’t continue serving him alcohol.
After the encounter with Finch, servers said they heard cursing at the table. One member of the party, who was not identified, entered the kitchen and began yelling at the sous chef, asking if he knew who Finch was.
Merriam then called the Vandonges for help.
“She’s just bawling,” Adam Vandonge told the Capital-Journal. “She’s in tears. She can’t hardly talk on the phone.”
“I was at home studying for criminal procedure class,” Kasie Vandonge told The Star. “We got a worried phone call so we had to rush down there to kind of address the situation.”
The couple spoke to the group as they were leaving. Kasie Vandonge said she told Finch that the restaurant couldn’t continue to serve him under Kansas statutes.
“He said, ‘I’m a lawyer and it’s cute that you’re in law school, but you’re wrong,’ and stormed out,” she said.
Kasie Vandonge added that the patrons complained of poor treatment from Merriam, the manager.
“But we know how our manager is, that’s why we hired her, she’s great,” Kasie Vandonge said.
After some “back and forth,” the lawmakers and lobbyists were asked not to return to the restaurant. Kasie Vandonge said she didn’t realize who the patrons were until she returned home later that evening.
“I had no idea what their status was, and I can tell you it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re both poor farm kids so it doesn’t really matter to us what the person’s status is when they have dinner with us.”
Lobbyists Murray and Colombo, and Rep. Concannon, did not return requests for comment.
Finch told the Star that he has never been asked to leave a business and knows of no state legislator that has.
“I try to always conduct myself in a professional and respectful way whether that’s at work or at social events,” Finch said in an email.
In a prepared statement, Ryckman said “legislators value all of the Topeka businesses that host events during the session.”
“From the first orientation for new members, we talk about treating our hosts with respect and acknowledging that we are guests in the Capital City,” the statement continued. “From the newest member of the body to every member of leadership the standard is the same. The rules apply to each and every one of us. That has always been the case and that will continue to be the case.”
The restaurant owners wrote on Facebook that it was their policy, in accordance with Kansas liquor laws, not to serve patrons who they deem to be intoxicated.
“We want to ensure our guests, who are on their best behaviors, that we will enforce Kansas alcohol laws that require us to refuse to overserve individuals who are visibly intoxicated/incapacitated and, therefore, may not be on their best behaviors,” the post read, in part.
Concannon commented on the post, saying, “look forward to serving me? No way! #CassidyCancel.”
Lobbyist Brad Murray also commented saying “the customer is always wrong, would love to share the full story.”
Both comments have since been deleted.
Kasie Vandonge said they’ve served members of the statehouse before, without any problem, and hoped they can avoid any similar incidents in the future.
“It was our call, and unfortunately it happened to some high ranking officials in the state,” she said. “Regardless of who the individual was, we just wanted to uphold our own policies and uphold the state of Kansas’ laws.”