Sneakers Bistro, a Winooski breakfast hot-spot, is one of several businesses that has voluntarily maintained a small garden on a plot of publicly owned land to help beautify the city. As part of “Operation Bloom,” participating businesses are allowed to post a small advertising sign in their garden. Sneakers decided to have fun with its sign at the bottom of the Winooski traffic circle.
“Yield for Sneakers Bacon,” it read.
Not everyone got the joke.
Last week, a Winooski woman who identified herself as a “vegan and member of a Muslim household,” posted a notice to Front Porch Forum, saying of the bacon sign: “Its insensitive and offensive to those who do not consume pork.”
Citing Winooski’s demographic diversity — 31 languages are spoken in the local K-12 school — she requested that it come down.
“Although I love Sneakers and the delicious food they serve, I strongly believe this sign is unnecessary, offensive, insensitive, and should therefore be taken down,” she wrote.
For a couple days, a largely respectful debate ensued on the online forum page, with some posters saying the complainer was being overly sensitive.
"While you do have the right to express your opinion, you don't have the right to not be offended,” one Winooski resident wrote. “There are things throughout our environment that offend all of us. It happens.”
Last Friday, Sneakers owner Marc Dysinger announced that the bacon sign would come down, saying he didn’t want to offend anyone.
“We regret any harm or damage caused & the sign has been removed,” Dysinger wrote on the Front Porch Forum. “Our goal is to bring joy to Winooski as a community gathering place — never a source of stress or drama. We always appreciate any advice or input to help us achieve that goal. Thank you neighbors!”
The woman posted a follow-up note on Front Porch Forum, saying that she had received several ugly e-mails attacking her position after her initial post. People accusing Sneakers of being overly PC began posting nasty messages on the bistro's Facebook page. WPTZ broke the story of the burgeoning controversy, and some conservative media outlets picked it up.
The restaurant made a plea for peace on its Facebook page:
“We are here to serve people BREAKFAST, not politics. We removed the sign that was located on public property as a gesture of respect for our diverse community. There were also concerns raised about safety. Removing it was not a difficult decision. We still love bacon. We still love eggs. Please have the political conversation elsewhere.”
The nasty comments continued to pile up online, prompting Sneakers to take down its Facebook page. Winooski police felt compelled to keep a watchful eye on the bistro over the weekend. And a new Facebook page, Tell Sneakers Bistro How You Really Feel, gave those outraged by the sign's removal a forum to share their thoughts, which, earlier this morning, included a cartoon of a Muslim apparently getting raped by a centaur-like creature, and an image of American journalist James Foley in the moments before he was beheaded by an ISIS terrorist. (Those images appear to have been removed.)
But a slew of anti-Muslim posts (the nuance of the woman identifying herself as a "vegan and member of a Muslim household" has long since been discarded) remain.
A sampling we feel comfortable publishing includes:
"Stop pandering to Muslims! This is still America! WE like our democracy served with a side of bacon!!!!"
“Stop caving to Muslim demands. We are Americans. We need to stand for our rights.”
“What a shame an AMERICAN business is bowing down just to keep a bunch of dang muslims happy. We eat pork and if muslims don't like it then there are plenty of countries they can go live in. Pack up and MOVE."
Dysinger, visibly weary at the restaurant today, declined to comment.
In City Hall, where officials are starting to receive a trickle of anti-Sneakers comments, Winooski City Manager Katherine Decarreau tried to make sense of the controversy.
“Diverse communities are not comfortable places and conversations have to happen that pull people away from their notions of what is right and wrong," said Decarreau, a city native. "Sneakers ... made a tough call in an attempt to be good neighbors, and I respect them for that. This is crazy. It’s a bacon sign. We have people in this city from every religious background, and with no basic religion. And we can live respectfully — we have for years."