Andrew Fogarty just wanted some ice cream.
So did his mom, Lindsay Fogarty, and her fiancé, Joshua Thomas. They’d driven seven hours from their hometown in Virginia to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (home of Dolly Parton’s “Dollywood”), because Andrew, 10, a boy with autism and a deep interest in all things Titantic, wanted to visit the local museum dedicated to the doomed luxury liner.
Alas, not unlike that ship, Andrew, Lindsay and Joshua were about to run into an different kind of iceberg.
What transpired between them and the owner of the Kountry Kreamery ice cream shop in Pigeon Forge started as a refusal of service for anyone wearing masks, then escalated when Lindsay tweeted about the experience, and is still continuing days later, now that her tweet has gone viral.
So, here’s the short version, encapsulated in Fogarty’s tweet:
“A grown adult man who owns an ice cream shop in Tennessee made my 10 year old autistic son cry because he wouldn’t sell us ice cream because we wouldn’t take our masks off,” she tweeted. “We have rare disease, and are immune compromised. I don’t have words right now. This is the location.” She then included a photo of the shop’s name, address and phone number.
Fogarty shared her side of events with TODAY Food on Monday, so the details of how this all unfolded are coming from her point of view. TODAY reached out to Kountry Kreamery and its owner Jeremy Buzon, but were unable to reach anyone. (This story will be updated if anyone from the store does reach out.)
According to Fogarty, after stopping at the hotel in Pigeon Forge on Friday, May 13, they were hungry for ice cream. Forgarty searched for “kid-friendly ice cream” stores in the area, and landed on one called Kountry Kreamery.
“We showed up there, and it was not kid-friendly,” Fogarty says.
According to Fogarty, all three of them entered the store wearing masks. Fogarty and her son have been doing this since pre-COVID-era; she has a host of conditions (including vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, gastroparesis and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) that make her immunocompromised.
Her son has mastocytosis, which she says also makes him immunocompromised.
“I wore a mask before the pandemic way before masks were normalized, so I would always have to tell people I have a compromised immune system and people were like, ‘Fine,’ that’s it,” said Fogarty. “No one ever refused me service for any reason.”
Buzon became the first. All three family members walked into the shop and waited until he finished serving a couple ahead of them.
“He didn’t say anything to us while we were waiting,” Fogarty said. “The couple paid and left … and then we walked up to the counter and he tells us, ‘No masks,’ and points to a sign that says ‘no masks while ordering.’ I was confused, and my fiancé was confused.”
Thomas is not immunocompromised but wears a mask in solidarity with his family. He’s also a teacher, used to speaking at volume through two layers of masks, so was open to repeating their order in case Buzon couldn’t hear them. But that didn’t seem to be the problem.
“(Buzon) pointed straight at the door,” said Fogarty. “I don’t understand how anyone would be willing to not sell ice cream to anyone, but especially a child.”
Andrew, needless to say, did not take this well. His age and his autism were both factors, according to his mother. “My son doesn’t do well with any kind of confrontation. He waited until we walked all the way to the car to be emotional, and for him that’s a really mature response, but he cried so bad at the hotel. It caused him trouble sleeping.”
Andrew’s “hyperfocusing” on the event led him to think it was his fault. “Andrew was inconsolable about getting ice cream,” said Thomas. “His whole thing was, ‘What is wrong with me that I don’t deserve ice cream?'”
After returning to the hotel, Fogarty posted the tweet, which has since gone viral. Supporters left so many negative reviews of the shop on Yelp that the website has disabled reviews for now.
Still, doesn’t any business owner have the right to refuse service to any customer? Fogarty agrees that they do — with limits. “He has the right to kick out anyone he wants,” she said. “But he doesn’t have the right to kick out anyone he wants for discriminatory practices. If he wants to kick someone out of his restaurant or ice cream parlor because they have a Cowboys jersey on, that’s perfectly legal, but not because they’re compromised.”
The Americans With Disabilities Act does restrain businesses from discriminating against those with disabilities, but it’s not entirely clear-cut. Attorney Nolan Klein, who litigates ADA cases, spoke to TODAY about a hypothetical situation like this.
“Assuming that that she’s disabled and medically cannot be in the ice cream store without a mask, in my opinion it would be a reasonable policy change to allow her in with the mask,” he said. “Unless the ice cream store could show it would fundamentally alter the goods and services they are providing others (by her wearing a mask).”
In the end, everybody got ice cream the next day, at a different location. And there was the tour of the Titanic museum. The ship did not sink, just got blown off course. And Fogarty says she’s learned a thing or two for the future.
“I’ll definitely check reviews of new places before I go,” she said. “And we have talked with our son about how we can only control our emotional response to people and we can’t control how people feel about us.”
Still, she notes, this kind of reception was “definitely a first. Hopefully a last. I hope my son never has to deal with this again. This really broke his heart.”