Editor's note: Shortly after this story posted, Grampa's Pizzeria owners made a further apology on their Facebook page, where they offered free pizza Thursday evening for mothers and their children. You can read more about that development here.
A breastfeeding mother dining at a new pizzeria in one of Madison’s most progressive neighborhoods was asked to leave her table and move to an area free of customers, setting off a backlash against the owners that continues to spread on social media.
Gilbert Altschul, 30, the owner of Grampa’s Pizzeria on Williamson Street, confirmed the incident occurred at the restaurant last week. He said the dining tables inside the restaurant are located close together and another patron complained after a woman began breastfeeding her child near their table.
Altschul said his fiance, who also works at the restaurant, approached the woman and offered her the front space of the pizzeria to use instead. He said they tried to explain to the mother that it is their job to “make everyone feel comfortable.”
“Apparently in doing so we enraged the entire east side community,” Altschul said Wednesday afternoon.
Altschul said the woman didn’t take them up on the offer and left shortly afterwards.
“We are a new small business, and we are learning,” said Altschul, who opened Grampa’s Pizzeria at the former location of Grampa’s Gun Shop at 1347 Williamson St. earlier this summer. “At the time, I thought we were handling it appropriately. Apparently in doing that we were shaming the woman.”
People aren't taking news of the incident lightly. Several mothers have posted on Facebook that they will not visit the restaurant, while others are lambasting it for not being kid-friendly.
According to 2009 Wisconsin Act 148, or the right to breast-feed law that took effect in March 2010:
"A mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be. In such a location, no person may prohibit a mother from breast-feeding her child, direct a mother to move to a different location to breast-feed her child, direct a mother to cover her child or breast while breast-feeding, or otherwise restrict a mother from breast-feeding her child as provided in this section."
In other words, the restaurant patron who is uncomfortable should be asked to move, not the mother and child.
One woman referenced this right on a Facebook post:
“Breastfeeding in public is a protected right here in Wisconsin. If other patrons are bothered by a mother using her breasts as nature intended (feeding her baby) they do not have to watch her nurse. They can avert their eyes just as if someone was wearing a revealing top (male or female).”
Altschul’s response via Grampa’s Pizzeria’s Facebook page read:
“Your message has been received through multiple phone calls and now on Facebook. Thank you for bringing this extremely important matter to our attention. We will take necessary action to correct the matter. No(w) please stop hassling us. Cheers.”
Alison Dodge, the co-founder of Happy Bambino and a board member of the Breastfeeding Coalition of South Central Wisconsin, said she was meeting with Altschul to discuss the incident Wednesday afternoon.
“My sense is that this is just one of those unfortunate situations where the business owners didn't have all the information they needed,” Dodge said Wednesday before her meeting with Grampa’s Pizzeria. “They were probably just trying to serve good pizza and didn't know what hit them.”
She said she will be giving Altschul a letter on behalf of the Breastfeeding Coalition that begins by saying it was “dismayed to learn” of the recent incident.
The letter includes a copy of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association News that advises restaurant owners to how to “protect the woman and baby’s civil rights by offering guidance and information to the complainant.”
Dodge remained optimistic that the pizzeria staff could be trained to handle a similar situation differently in the future.
“We wish you success in your new business endeavor and hope that Grampa’s Pizzeria can become known as a restaurant that welcomes breastfeeding families,” the letter said.
Altschul said he would likely post a statement addressing last week’s incident on Facebook following his meeting with Dodge.
“We aren't bad people,” he said prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “We just want to make everyone happy.”