The Trolls Descend on Centre Street Café

Anti-liberal Facebook users prove just how divisive free speech can be—at the expense of a Jamaica Plain restaurant.

Centre Street Cafe

Centre Street Cafe. / Photo by Ruby Wallace Ewing for “A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well in Jamaica Plain”

Keith Harmon didn’t intend to monitor the Centre Street Café Facebook page all day, but that’s exactly what he’s been doing this morning.

The business page of one of Harmon’s restaurants (he also co-owns Tres Gatos and Casa Verde) is being inundated with 1-star reviews, after a Centre Street Café employee publicly posted a video on his personal Facebook page, calling out hateful language shown in a video of a local, pro-Donald Trump rally.

Late last night, Harmon’s phone, as well as the phones of other managers within the restaurant group, started to buzz with notifications. Since 9 p.m., Centre Street Café has received 11 negative reviews.

“We take feedback really seriously, and we want to know about things immediately, for better or worse,” Harmon says.

But when he saw the content of the posts—alleging everything from horrible food and rude service, to calling out the sous chef by name, alleging he threw a drink on a guest and that other employees spit on guests, and worse (things which, in no uncertain terms, did not happen, Harmon says)—he realized they were dealing with something different.

“To me, it seems crazy that someone would jump over from a personal post and matter to attack [our business],” Harmon says. “But the business itself, we’re not going to engage in any of this stuff. I do really believe in free speech—[the employee] has a right to say what he wants to say, and these people have a right to say what they want to say. I’m being honest, I don’t know where I come down once they start attacking a business. But I would say is that I would hope, in a country where free speech is held in the highest regard, more people are using that for good than for bad.”

Harmon posted a note on his personal Facebook page this morning, about dealing with the onslaught of negative reviews. Within two hours, dozens of Centre Street Café supporters have chimed in to tip the scales with more positive reviews.

“Given how scary and crazy it is, it’s become somewhat heartwarming, in terms of how industry and neighborhood people are responding,” Harmon says.

But either way, reviews that reflect someone’s personal agenda is discomforting, he says.

“The reviewing system, via Yelp or Facebook or whatever it is, is good for the consumer, providing it’s accurate,” Harmon says. “When a review reflects personal animosity toward an employee, or a person you know is giving a positive review, I think it’s bad either way.”

But alas, this is the internet. And it’s 2016.

“You hope that people see through the maliciousness of [the negative reviews],” Harmon says. “But as a person, it points out what a divisive time we’re at politically. It really makes me hope that the free speech that talks of being positive and inclusive outweighs the free speech of being hateful, discriminating against groups, and causing damage to people.”

Centre Street Café, 669A Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-9217,