A local anti-racism group on Saturday morning demonstrated on North Main Street near Fred’s Breakfast Club in New Hope to protest online comments by defenders of an offensive sign displayed at the restaurant.
An expected counter-protest never materialized, as dozens of demonstrators gathered peacefully and conversed with passerby about their cause, several of whom had dined at Fred’s or its sister restaurant, The Landing.
A photo of the sign at the center of the controversy, which tells a joke about a dog owner applying for welfare on behalf of his pets, was first posted Tuesday on Facebook by a member of the New Hope & Lambertville Community group.
“This morning I went to sign my dogs up for welfare,” read the sign. “At first the lady said the dogs are not eligible to draw welfare. Then I explained to her my dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, can’t speak English and have no idea who their daddies are…my dogs get their first check Friday.”
After a somewhat tone-deaf initial public response, Fred’s owners removed the sign and apologized as the outcry on social media grew.
“To every person of any color, gender, orientation, and those affected by hate who feel demeaned or unwelcome by the content of the application, we are deeply sorry,” they said in a Facebook post.
But for many, comments by the restaurant’s defenders on Facebook were more disturbing than the sign in question.
“Sign was pretty funny,” read one. “I can see why snowflakes are melting.”
For protest organizer Kevin E. Leven, opening a dialogue with the restaurant owners and supporters was the main goal of Saturday’s action.
“We’re asking the owners of Fred’s Breakfast and The Landing to go on the record about the racist comments from their supporters on Facebook, to possibly urge these same supporters to retract these statements, and to consider giving a significant donation to charities of their choosing in Trenton that will have direct positive lasting impact on BIPOC people,” he said.
Protester Sue-Ann DiVito of Solebury Township agreed that the reaction from owners and defenders of Fred’s had made a bad situation much worse.
“The tipping point for me was the first responses by the restaurant, which just reinforced the toxicity of the sign itself,” she said. “Had they simply said ‘Oh my goodness, we regret this, let’s have a conversation” — any kind of response that was open for conversation — that would have been acceptable and appropriate.”
Protesters engaged several passerby in conversations about their cause, although not everyone shared their opinion.
“I’ve never seen any racism in town,” said one man who said he was a frequent customer of Fred’s. “This is BS.”
Ina Howard-Parker of New Hope summed up the mood of many in attendance.
“We have a long tradition in New Hope of being on the right side of history, whether it comes to abolition, or hosting underground railroad sites, or integrating our schools after the end of the civil war,” she said. “We have a long history of activism for gay rights and all kinds of diversity and tolerance and love, and I want to stand up for that in New Hope today.”
The owners of Fred’s Breakfast Club and The Landing did not respond to requests for comment.