Did Houston's Ban Nils Lofgren's Wife Over Pandemic Policy Criticism?

Did Houston's Ban Nils Lofgren's Wife Over Pandemic Policy Criticism?
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An upscale Scottsdale restaurant is taking heat on Twitter after the wife of Bruce Springsteen's guitarist was asked not to return. She believes the move was in retaliation for raising concerns about workers' safety there from COVID-19.

Amy Aiello Lofgren told Phoenix New Times that as she was paying her bill at Houston's on Friday, a manager told her that it would be her last time dining at that restaurant.

“You're not a good fit for Houston's,” Aiello Lofgren said she remembers the manager saying. Nothing else unusual happened during her visit, besides being told she had to pay with a card instead of cash, leading her to believe her banishment was a result of speaking out about concerns employees had earlier this year related to COVID-19 protocols.

Before the pandemic, Aiello Lofgren estimates that she was at the Houston's in Scottsdale three to four times a week. A retired professional cook, she liked that she could eat dinner there early and be home before dark when her husband was out of town.

“I became friends with most of the staff, if not all of them, over 20 years,” she told New Times. “I would consider myself their most regular regular.”

Aiello Lofgren, who is at high risk for COVID-19, stopped going to the restaurant when the pandemic hit. Over the course of the spring and early summer, she began hearing from staff members who said they were being told not to wear masks, and that they were not being informed when coworkers tested positive for COVID-19.

click to enlarge Amy Aiello Lofgren - TWITTER
Amy Aiello Lofgren
“They were scared, and they were having no sway with management, with corporate,” she said.

In May, the Dallas Morning News reported that Hillstone Restaurant Group, which operates Houston's, was forbidding staff in Dallas from wearing any type of personal protective equipment. Those who refused to work under those conditions were told that they would not be scheduled for future shifts, but were not terminated — meaning they could not collect unemployment.

Aiello Lofgren tweeted about the concerns she was hearing in Scottsdale and called corporate a few times. It never amounted to anything — a manager was supposed to call her back but never did. After the mask mandate went into effect, she quieted down about it, she said.

That is, until last Friday, when she was out with her assistant and decided to try eating at a restaurant for the first times since March. For Aiello Lofgren this was a big move. She said she's been super careful due to her bilateral polyneuropathy — nerve damage — that increases her COVID-19 risk and led to a foot injury that kept her housebound for nearly a year.

“So being out for me is a big deal,” she said, noting that she only felt comfortable eating out because the outdoor patio was empty.

After the manager brought out her bill and asked her not to return, Aiello Lofgren took to Twitter later that day to describe what happened, attributing the ban to her concerns earlier in the year.
A manager who answered the phone at Houston's Monday morning declined to comment on the situation. A receptionist at Hillstone Restaurant Group, which owns the restaurant, said they would pass along an email inquiry, which was not immediately returned.

Aiello Lofgren's story received renewed attention when her husband Nils Lofgren, a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, tweeted about her experience on Sunday.
Aiello Lofgren says she still has a sense of humor about the situation. “I can’t believe I finally go out of my house and I get kicked out of a restaurant,” she said. Nonetheless, she plans to find a new place to eat after the pandemic: “And it won’t be Houston's.”
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Erasmus Baxter was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.