Noodles & Company Stands Firm With Gender-Neutral Restrooms After GOP Lawmaker's Facebook Attack

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 15, 2021

Fast-food chain Noodles & Company is standing by its policy of gender-neutral restrooms after a Republican state lawmaker in Pennsylvania inveighed against the company in a Facebook post.

According to Business Insider, Pennsylvania State Rep. Aaron Bernstine and his young son were at a Noodles restaurant when the Republican office-holder noticed the door to the establishment's restroom was labeled "Gender Neutral." He posted a photo of the sign on his Facebook campaign page with the caption: "When there is one of these in a restaurant and I have to try to explain to my 6 year old what it means."

Bernstine continued, "After telling him that some people want to be different than what God made them, he said 'well, that's stupid'. Yes Dierks, it's definitely stupid."

Bernstine concluded his post accusing Noodles of "trying to force this liberal agenda down our throats while indoctrinating kids," and declared that he would no longer patronize the chain.

Republican colleagues sought Bernstine's resignation last year "after a newspaper disclosed the existence of videos in which he encourages his 5-year-old son to draw from a cigar and use profane language," Local 21 News reported at the time.

The videos had been posted to Snapchat, the news outlet noted. That Snapchat account was later deleted and Bernstine went on to address the controversy on Twitter, saying the videos were "jokes that went too far."

The Noodles & Company Chief Financial Officer Carl Lukach told Business Insider about some of the other policies at the company, including a corporate culture that allows him to be open about being married to another man and having three children. Part of Noodles & Company's policies regarding family includes a newly-expanded paternity leave benefit, which was increased to six weeks from two weeks at the start of this year, as well as surrogacy benefits and full dental coverage for young children of employees. The company also offers adoption assistance, Business Insider noted.

Those are just some of the employee- and family-friendly policies the company has in place. As a result, employees see they are valued, which may be the reason Noodles & Company experiences far less turnover than other fast-food chains.

"We welcome team members and guests from all walks of life," Lukach told Business Insider. "So I feel like this is a very unique core competency of the business, and quite frankly, a driver for talent."

As for making gender-neutral restrooms available to its patrons, the company has no plans to back down. Moreover, employees are encouraged to respect each other's personal pronouns

The icing on the cake? Noodles & Company added a Pride Rice Crispy to its menu for Pride Month, and will be "donating 100% of the proceeds from the $2.50 dessert to Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, an organization working on LGBTQ workplace equality."

The same supportive stance is not found everywhere in the fast-food business universe. As EDGE previously reported, it's been revealed that profits received by Chick-fil-A are being funneled into anti-LGTBQ organizations that are actively working to ensure that the Equality Act — federal legislation that would extend protections to LGBTQ Americans in credit, housing, education, and other areas of everyday life — fails to pass.

The quiet financial support to such groups by Chick-fil-A, as well as Hobby Lobby, Betsy DeVos' family foundation, and other deep-pocket entities, only came to light thanks to an analysis of tax records. But some rivals sense a business opportunity in standing up loudly and proudly for equality, like Burger King, which recently introduced a chicken sandwich called the "Ch'King," with portions of the sales proceeds going to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for full legal equality for LGBTQ Americans.

In a similar vein, Shake Shack has introduced a Pride Shake, which, per the Shake Shack website, is "made with strawberry and blackberry frozen custard and is topped with a mango and passion fruit blend, whipped cream and rainbow glitter." The frozen treat, which is being sold at the chain's locations throughout the month of June, is served up "in a dedicated Pride cup, featuring an updated Pride-themed burger icon."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.