Problem Solver: Mustard stains shirt, strains relations

Honky Tonk BBQ owner, customer get fired up trying to settle on compensation

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is this: Matt Gudgeon walked into Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen on Sept. 8 wearing a perfectly clean J. Crew shirt.

He walked out wearing a mustard-stained mess.

Almost every detail of how his shirt got stained is disputed, although all sides agree that Gudgeon deserves some kind of compensation. Just how much is the question.

Amy Gudgeon, who emailed What's Your Problem?, said she and her husband took friends to Honky Tonk last month because they were big fans of the food. As their server was walking by, she dropped a tray carrying a ramekin of mustard, Gudgeon said.

The ramekin hit the floor and the mustard splashed her husband's shirt, she said.

The server gave her husband paper towels and club soda to dab it out. Gudgeon said she didn't say anything at the time because she didn't think it was a big deal.

"I'm not usually a complainer," Gudgeon said. "I just thought it would come out in the wash."

Turns out, mustard doesn't come out in the wash. Gudgeon took the shirt to a dry cleaner, which failed to remove the blotchy yellow stains.

Stuck with a ruined shirt, Gudgeon called Honky Tonk. She asked to be reimbursed. Her reasoning: A Honky Tonk employee spilled the mustard, so Honky Tonk should pay.

Her call was patched through to owner Beth Wagner. Both sides have since described the conversation as tense and generally unproductive.

Gudgeon asked for compensation. The owner apologized and asked how much the shirt cost. Gudgeon said $75. That's when things spiraled out of control.

Wagner told the Problem Solver later that she felt like she was being extorted.

She disputed Gudgeon's account of what happened Sept. 8, saying instead that a squeeze bottle of Carolina Mustard Garlic Sauce was knocked off a table and squirted Gudgeon's husband.

But the part that really stuck in Wagner's craw was the price of the J. Crew shirt.

"It's just hard for me to understand because I've never owned a $75 shirt in my life," she said. "In Pilsen, we must not realize how expensive shirts can be. The only place you buy shirts around here with a $75 bill, you have to buy in bulk."

Wagner said she offered Gudgeon $20 to pay for the dry cleaning and told her that if she brought the stained shirt back to the restaurant along with a catalog showing how much a replacement would cost, she would pay for a replacement.

Gudgeon said the offer wasn't nearly that nice. She said Wagner offered a $10 gift certificate and told her that if she brought in the shirt and the catalog, she would turn them over the restaurant's lawyer, who would then decide whether to pay for a new shirt.

Either way, the dispute lingered for several weeks. Then Gudgeon contacted What's Your Problem?

Gudgeon said obtaining compensation for the shirt "had become a point of principle" for her, in large part because she thought Wagner was rude to her when she called.

"It doesn't matter if you were at McDonald's or you were at Tru, if a waitress spills on your shirt, they should pay for it," Gudgeon said. "It wasn't like I was eating ribs and I wiped my hands all over my husband's shirt."





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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