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At Vernal smoothie shop, liberals pay more

Published January 17, 2013 9:53 pm

Politics • Colorful owner reasons that their policies are costing his business more.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

George Burnett believes that big government, entitlement programs and reckless spending are "liberal programs" that cost jobs and bring higher taxes.

So, the Vernal businessman has no problem charging liberals a higher price than conservatives at his Main Street juice bar called I Love Drilling.

"They're costing us money," he said of his left-leaning customers. "So it only seems fair that I charge them a little bit more."

Burnett doesn't try to hide the price discrepancy. The menu board above the register clearly states that liberals will pay $5.95 for a 16-ounce smoothie or juice, while conservatives pay $4.95. (Employees pay only $3.95.). When ordering the drinks, which are named after famous oil wells, the cashier simply asks "What's your price?"

"We use the honor code," Burnett. "We're not going to quiz them, because it's not a big deal."

But it has become a big story.

Earlier this week, a local newspaper wrote about the price discrimination and the story went viral. Since then, Burnett and his smoothie shop have been a discussion topic on national television and radio shows, websites and blogs, including The Huffington Post where there are more than 5,500 reader comments. On Wednesday, during an interview with The Tribune, Burnett was headed to Salt Lake City to be featured on the Fox News' afternoon business program.

While it looks like a gimmick, Burnett insists that his varied pricing is a way to get the country to deal with its budget woes.

"In my own little way I'm saying we need to talk about this or we're not surviving," he said. He likened it to a married couple who keeps spending money they don't have and pretending the family finances are okay. "I'm not trying to create a divide. We have to deal with it."

Since the news broke Monday, the store's co-manager, Isaac Burnett (George's son), said the smoothie shop has seen a big increase in business thanks to attention to their policy.

"I haven't stopped making smoothies or juices all day today," he said. "I didn't even get a break for lunch. We've had a constant flow."

Burnett opened I Love Drilling on Nov. 7, the day after the 2012 presidential election, and since then, only a few customers have paid the liberal price — no surprise given that this big oil town is overwhelmingly Republican.

Many happy conservatives have posted supportive comments on I Love Drilling's Facebook page.

"I hope you collect a million dollars in Smoothie Liberal Tax," wrote one commenter.

"If I lived in Vernal I'd support your business, good job," added another.

Liberals, of course, are less complimentary.

"Please see your way out of the gene pool. You embarrass democracy and the framers," said one more mild-mannered poster. "Could you be anymore ignorant and foolish?"

Added another: "All this accomplishes is further division of our country ... very sad,"

But Burnett, who moved to Vernal about five years ago, doesn't shy away from controversy. He and his conservative friends regularly stand on the curb near his store at 510 S. Main, with a sign that says, "Honk If You [Heart] Drilling," to show his support for the region's main income source.

Although he gets plenty of tooting horns and waves, "I don't get honks from everybody," he said. Even when people "flip him off" or shout obscenities, he doesn't let it bother him. "You can't make everybody happy."

Especially liberals in Vernal.

kathys@sltrib.com