Child Asked to Leave Colonial Williamsburg Restaurant for Bringing His Own Gluten-Free Food

A school trip to Colonial Williamsburg turned … interesting for one boy after he was asked to leave because he brought his own food into the restaurant in the historic village. Now, the boy’s father is angry and has the attorneys involved.


A Maryland family is suing Colonial Williamsburg on behalf of their 11-year-old son, who they claim was kicked out of Shields Tavern for bringing in his own food during a class trip. The child, who is referred to only as J.D. in the suit, has a “severe” gluten allergy as the result of an autoimmune disorder, the suit claims.

The suit, filed in federal court Wednesday night, claims the Foundation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by removing J.D. from the restaurant after the child’s father, Brian Doherty, began serving him “safe food” that was not on the tavern’s menu.

“My son was making strides in feeling comfortable with the fact that he is different because of his inability to eat any food that has the potential of cross contamination with gluten. This changed with the irrational actions made by Shields Tavern,” Doherty said in a news release. “He was happy to experience Shields Tavern with his friends, now he is uncomfortable eating anything outside of the home because of the embarrassment they inflicted upon him.”

Joseph Straw, a spokesperson for Colonial Williamsburg, said the Foundation does not comment on pending litigation.

Now, I have sympathy for Doherty’s plight. I really do. I grew up on a special diet, so I know how difficult it can be to eat out at all.


In the discussion on that story, you’ll see something pop up. Everyone is ready to lynch Colonial Williamsburg and Shields Tavern over this, but remarkably few are asking why Doherty or the school didn’t reach out to the restaurant earlier to figure something out.

If J.D.’s allergies are that severe, it would seem prudent to make any and all arrangements well ahead of time to make sure there are no bumps in the road, but Doherty didn’t do that. He simply assumed he could bring outside food into the restaurant without any repercussions.

Yes, he tried to explain that his son had a severe gluten allergy, but let’s also look at this from the staff’s point of view. Someone who didn’t call ahead just whips out his own food to feed his kid. When called on it, the father claims the child has to have gluten-free food, a trendy condition these days. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the tavern simply had no reason to believe the father.

The Americans with Disabilities Act calls for “reasonable accommodations” for those suffering from disabilities. However, I know that I had to prove my ADHD when I was in college if I wanted any accommodations, so absent evidence that J.D. suffered from the condition, I can see how a skeptical staff might react.


Colonial Williamsburg is suffering a PR nightmare and a boy is apparently extremely upset. There’s a lesson in here for parents. If your child has special allergies, be proactive. Don’t just assume everyone is going to take your word for it when you show up. Call ahead and speak with the managers, explain the situation, and see what can be done. It’s possible they’re actually prepared to mitigate cross contamination issues. Perhaps they will make an exception to their policy. If not, you and your party can express your disappointment and state you will go somewhere else to eat.

At least then, the child doesn’t get made to feel like he’s the cause of a huge drama.

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