The owners of a new coffee shop in Brooklyn were forced to remove a novelty restroom sign after patrons complained it was promoting “rape culture.”
The Clever Blend, which opened in April, recently came under fire for posting a sign on the door of its co-ed bathroom, which depicts a man — in stick-figure form — leering over the top of an adjacent bathroom stall to supposedly peep at a similarly stick-figured woman.
While the shop's owners reportedly saw their sign as humorous, many of their customers weren’t amused by the “joke.”
Critics quickly took to Instagram, Twitter and Yelp to accuse Clever Blend of promoting everything from sexism, violence against women and rape culture — accusations that the shop’s co-owner, Luca Tesconi, initially dismissed as overreactions to “an innocent stupid sign,” reports DNAInfo New York.
“There was hate yelps and hate Instagram," explained Tesconi to Pix 11. "There were threats against my family and me."
Tesconi and his wife Nadia, also a co-owner, have since changed their tune and removed the sign, but not before further defending it in a series of online interviews and social media posts.
Nadia told DNAInfo that the tipping point came when a disgruntled customer spearheaded the backlash because she was angry about Clever Blend’s “no-laptop” policy, which the shop institutes during busier hours.
Tesconi, too, seemed to accept this as the reason for the negative reaction.
"I'm having a hard time making sense of this,” he wrote in a May 25 post to Clever Blend’s Instagram account (which has since been removed). “We bought a funny sign (this is the way it is advertised on Amazon and EBay-why don't you curse at Jeff Bezos now?) and we get a "FU@% YOU" compilation, plus a couple of "bad" Yelp reviews because a "Laptop customer" decides to translate an innocent stupid sign into a personal vendetta probably because she didn't like our laptops rules. Having said that, I'm deeply offended by the ferocity of your posts and the way you use the internet to judge people without even knowing them."
Then, on May 26, the tried to organize a “referendum” to decide the fate of the sign, by having customers vote on whether thought it was “silly” or “promote[d] violence.” (As of that evening, the referendum concluded that nine out of 12 customers felt it was “just a silly sign.”)
Nevertheless, the Tesconis eventually caved to criticism and removed the sign by May 27, erecting two “Inclusive Restroom” signs in its place.
"Some people got offended, but we didn't put anything up with the intention of offending,” Tesconi told DNAInfo on Tuesday. “We started defending ourselves … They started cursing, 'F-you.’
“Why don't we extinguish the fire? It's not a battle to pick.”
However, as Vice points out, Clever Blend’s troubles may not be over. The shop has previously stirred controversy for posting a large, pre-Civil War-era map highlighting the states that seceded to the Confederacy.
Regarding his map (which is framed and hangs inside the shop), Tesconi sent his explanation to Vice (which is also framed and hangs alongside the map), which reads: "This map is displayed in an attempt to remember to all of us that at any time Civil Rights are at risk of being tak[en] away from us."
Tesconi, who owns two other cafes in the New York area, insists that his sign snafus haven’t cost him any business.
Still, he says he’s called Yelp to try to get his shop’s negative reviews removed. He claims they initially refused, but an “Active Cleanup Alert” on Clever Blend’s Yelp page suggests Yelp may remove subsequent negative posts that appear to be “motivated more by news coverage” than “customer experiences.”