Greytown's Saluté restaurant was overwhelmed with support after an online reviewer was told not to eat there because the owners were "two gay men" from America. Deborah Coddington goes for dinner.

It's Wednesday night, traditionally quiet in South Wairarapa, but by 8pm Saluté restaurant is packed and buzzing.

There's a mixture of local farming types, women getting together after work, and tourists travelling south to Wellington.

The food and service is consistently excellent. Tapas-style, unpretentious, and irresistible, from the deliciously innovative parmesan, Rosemary and walnut churros with runny honey, through to light lemon fritters dusted with sugar served with vanilla bean icecream on a tiny meringue saucer.

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The wine list is expertly curated, mixing top Wairarapa wines with hard-to-find internationals.

And there's no evidence of homophobia on this sunny spring evening.

"We thought it was going to be a quiet night," owner Ken Miller says.

Miller had cause to worry about punters coming through the doors.

Inside the Greytown restaurant. Photo / Facebook
Inside the Greytown restaurant. Photo / Facebook

Affectionately known as Wairarapa's Gaytown — part play on words, but also because early gay residents battled authorities so cafes could serve diners al fresco — social media has hammered the boutique village this week after homophobic comments were made by a couple of locals.

Tourist Alexia Black posted on Facebook an exchange she had with an unnamed Greytown shop assistant in which Black was told to skip lunching at local restaurant Saluté because two gay American men are owners and "locals don't eat there".

The post was shared on Twitter and a pile-on went viral, with calls for the retailer to be named, shamed and put out of business.

Saluté has been owned and run for two and a half years by Miller and his husband Jason Brumbaugh. Although Miller is trying to focus on positive reactions and "the outpouring of support we've received, including cards, messages, and flowers, I wish it had never happened".

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Slow-cooked beef cheek, consommé, Hasselback potato

Posted by Saluté on Thursday, 7 November 2019

"I'm getting comments suggesting we engineered this for publicity, and I wonder if those people have ever been the recipients of personally negative and bigoted statements."

Miller agrees the hurt comes from being accused of something he and Brumbaugh can't change — their being gay and American; like being warned away from a business because the owner is Jewish or Māori, or if two little old ladies owned a cafe.

"It's not relevant."

Last week it was reported the shopkeeper came forward and apologised for her remarks. Miller accepted this graciously — but it was actually a different woman, not the one Black had spoken to. So there was more than one?

"Yes, it made us feel like maybe we don't belong here," Miller said. "To the core of our being it hurts, because these people don't know us. All communities have people with these attitudes, but it does not reflect Greytown as a whole. We still love this place."

There have been negative comments about Saluté as a restaurant from just one person (not wanting to be named), saying the hours were "erratic" and the food "inconsistent".

Miller said: "We make our decisions, such as hours of opening, what wine to serve and how it matches our menu, based on our customers, on business and budget sense. We can't be all things to all people, but this person [quoted on Facebook] and I don't want her named because I don't want a witch hunt, didn't say 'I don't like their food don't go there', she said 'They're gay. Go to the next town, locals don't eat there'."

So do locals eat at Saluté?

Sue Kedgley, former Green MP and member of the Capital Coast District Health Board, owns a weekend house in Greytown and visits often. "We have dined at Saluté quite a few times and thought it was excellent."

Gail Isaac has lived in the village for 31 years, running an AirBnB for the past 14, and Saluté is her first restaurant of recommendation. "I've never heard any negative feedback from my guests. Not one.

"We were here when the gay brigade won the fight with council to allow dining on the footpath; convincing them nobody would die of lead poisoning. They changed this town for the good, they were very courageous."

Can careless words from a local worker, repeated unedited and unfiltered in a social media review, adversely affect a restaurant when, according to the Restaurant Association, some 43 eateries close every week?

"I'm still pleased the comments were shared on social media because what needs to be discussed is that we should be careful with words, and not damage another person's business without knowing the facts, someone who is just trying to make a living," Miller said.

"If someone has a problem with a business — food, service, hours of opening, then go and talk with them directly so that can be clarified.