Restaurant hosting drag show pushes back against hateful messages

Jayda Knight poses at Mashita, which will be the venue for a drag show on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Rhinestone Productions)

Mikey Reisenberg, the owner and chef of Mashita, Harrisonburg’s Korean-inspired restaurant, turned this week to Instagram stories for support following negative comments about a drag show this Saturday.

“I need your help to not only stand up for the things that make Harrisonburg the friendly city that it is, but also stand up for the places and the businesses that try and offer safe spaces,” he wrote. 

Drag has deep roots in Harrisonburg. Celma Drake was crowned the first “Miss Gay Harrisonburg” in 1996, and Rhinestone Productions, a collective of drag kings and queens in the Valley, has been performing since 2003.

Rhinestone Productions has a history of partnering with local venues for pageants, brunches and themed performances. The Artful Dodger, which occupied the space on Court Square now inhabited by Broad Porch Coffee and Cafe, played a key role in the rise of drag in Harrisonburg. After its closure in 2019, venues like Court Square Theater, Capital Ale House, The Ridge Room and Clementine Cafe continued to host drag performances.

Last summer, Mashita collaborated with Rhinestone Productions for the “Summer Knights” series. Jayda Knight, Rhinestone’s founder, described the partnership as starting with “a genuine, welcoming feeling.”

For Reisenberg, creating a sense of belonging is personal. “As an Asian individual who was adopted, I’m trying to find my own place as well. And what I’m coming to find out is we have to create these spaces.”

Reisenberg—who sources local, seasonal ingredients and blends Korean cuisine with French, Japanese, and Latino techniques—opened Mashita to explore his Korean roots. He said he empathizes with others seeking belonging. 

“As somebody who is always told that I’m not Korean enough, I will stand up for the other people that are struggling to assert their own identities.”

Belonging is central to Rhinestone Productions’ mission, Knight said. Knight founded the group to “create an environment where you can be yourself, dress how you want to dress, identify how you want to identify, and be a part of something and have a chosen family.”

“We want to work where we’re respected and we’re welcomed. And we’ve worked places where that was not the case in Harrisonburg,” Knight said. 

Watching Reisenberg stand up for the drag community has been emotional for Knight. 

“We will be forever grateful to him. He’s given us a safe place, a home again in downtown Harrisonburg,” Knight said. “Seeing him fight for us is very special and something that we will never forget.”

In standing up for the drag community, Reisenberg said he aims to make his restaurant a welcoming space for everyone. 

“We’re just trying to have a good time,” he said in a recent Facebook video.

A good time is exactly what drag performers strive to provide, spending hours preparing intricate dance routines, perfecting their lip-syncing skills, and donning elaborate hair, makeup, and costumes. Knight said a drag performer’s secret sauce is “one cup of sass, one cup of beauty, and a pinch of patience.”

That patience has been stretched thin this week, as performers faced backlash on social media. 

Facebook has been the primary arena where commenters from inside and outside Harrisonburg shared messages criticizing Mashita’s willingness to host the drag show. For instance, Dan Chapman, whose food truck Flavor Savor BBQ is no longer operating, commented: “You’re taking an otherwise good business and turning off 50% of your potential customer base immediately.”

Some comments turned hateful, while others contained violent memes and messages. 

“If people want to engage in some kind of real discussion, instead of just hate mongering, memes are not the way to do it,” Reisenberg said in a phone call with The Citizen. 

Supporters, meanwhile, have sought to drown out negativity by reinforcing Harrisonburg’s inclusive nature. 

“Harrisonburg is called the friendly city bc it is inclusive,” Kathleen Vereb Lee commented on Mashita’s post advertising Rhinestone’s upcoming show. “Unlike people hiding behind fake profiles posting hate. They don’t represent our community values.” 

Max Dean, aka Miss Max Everything, performing her first drag show in 1989 at the Silver Fox in Charlottesville. (Photo courtesy of Rhinestone Productions)

The kings and queens of Rhinestone Productions are staying positive ahead of Saturday’s show. 

“We hope and pray that things work out. We’re staying focused on the good that we do in the community,” Knight said. Like raising money for local organizations like Anicira, Second Home, and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. 

In addition to charity work, an important part of drag culture is honoring the kings and queens who have been mentors in the community. The “Knights Out Drag Show” on Saturday will honor Max Dean, also known as Max Miss Everything, celebrating 35 years of drag. 

Max will be crowned on Saturday night in honor of her legacy. “Max empowers you to be your authentic self, to stand up tall and hold your head up high, and don’t ever let anyone dim your light,” Knight said. 

In a phone call with The Citizen, Reisenberg said he is determined to keep the lights on, both at Mashita and in his community. 

“We are starting to plant the seeds for even better things. And I’m willing to undergo the struggles and strife in order to get to a place where the sun is shining.”

Sarah Golibart Gorman, a.k.a. The Friendly City Foodie, provides her insights about the local food and restaurant scene for The Citizen.

Thanks for reading  The Citizen, which won the Virginia Press Association’s 2022 News Sweepstakes award as the top online news site in Virginia. We’re independent. We’re local. We pay our contributors, and the money you give goes directly to the reporting. No overhead. No printing costs. Just facts, stories and context. We value your support.

Scroll to the top of the page

Hosting & Maintenance by eSaner

Thanks for reading The Citizen!

We’re glad you’re enjoying The Citizen, winner of the 2022 VPA News Sweepstakes award as the best online news site in Virginia! We work hard to publish three news stories every week, and depend heavily on reader support to do that.