Lessons Learned from the Gelato Mio Sign

***Update***: Please read the update here.

Despite most of the food and drink establishments in Springfield, Missouri being grateful for our business during Skepticon IV, the owners at Gelato Mio made it very clear — at least temporarily — that they wanted nothing to do with us:

Skepticon is NOT welcomed to my Christian Business

They have since apologized. More on that in a moment.

Now that the craziness has died down, let’s recap some of the lessons to take away from all this:

  1. Even when they write things out by hand, Christians love turning on the CAPS LOCK key…
  2. The company’s Yelp page took a huge hit — it’s rating is now at 1.5 out of 5 stars — as did it’s Urbanspoon approval (currently at 11%). I heard that at one point yesterday, the “favorite menu item” was listed as “bigotry” (Best served cold?) but I no longer see that up there. I don’t think it’s fair to change their “menu” or say anything that’s untrue, but it’s perfectly fine to explain how you were treated by the owners. Let future customers know about it.

    Moral of the story: when you discriminate against your customers in a despicable way, there are powerful ways to fight back.

    Forget boycotting the store. We’ll kick you right in the Google rankings.

  3. The apology — after it had gone through an iteration or two and it removed a reference to an unnamed isolated “incident” — seems genuine, but the image had already gone viral on Reddit and it was too little too late:

    RE Letter in the Window:

    To the Public: I sincerely apologize for the posting of the note in the window. It was an impulse reaction to an event that I witnessed and it was only up for a few minutes before I came to my senses and realized it shouldn’t have been up at all.

    So you know, nobody was turned away and everyone was given the same high level of service they have come to expect. Out of the hundreds of event attendees that I served on Friday and Saturday, all of them were extremely polite and enjoyed their time in my restaurant. The event that greatly offended me was conducted by one man and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.

    Even small business owners make mistakes, and I sincerely apologize to those whom I offended.

    All the Best,

    Andy-

    There’s a little more detail on their Facebook page:

    I have offered the owner a chance to offer a better apology — one that doesn’t sound like a PR person crafted it — on this site. He said he would think about it, but as of this moment, I haven’t heard back. If he responds, I’ll post something separately.

  4. Establishments that welcomed the 1000+ people who attended Skepticon regardless of what they thought about our beliefs, such as Farmers Gastropub, were rewarded. Just check out this (unverified) tweet:

    It’s to a business’s peril to pre-exclude a huge number of customers on the basis of religion. This has nothing to do with atheism. It’s just bad business, period.

  5. This incident shows what we can do when we band together. It took one person to snap the picture and share it online. As soon as Skepticon attendees and Reddit users heard about the story, BOOM. The resolution was swift, the sign was down in minutes, and the apology was soon up on their website.
  6. Never get between atheists and our gelato. Nothing good will ever come of it.

Think of how much discrimination we could stop if we took this kind of approach every time.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    A disturbing number of people think that businesses have some kind of “right” to turn away whoever they want. That it’s somehow their freedom to do what they want. You can notice that in comment sections whenever something like this happens.

    However, discrimination based on religion (as well as race, skin color, gender and nationality) is illegal since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That’s over 40 years and people still haven’t learned! States also have their own anti-discrimination laws that in some cases expand on that to include things like disability, age or sexual orientation. When you open your establishment to the public you can’t discriminate against such protected classes.

    In many cases it is certainly easier to simply go somewhere else where they want your money (as the usual argument by people defending such discrimination goes), but in other cases there may be no alternatives, due either the lack of similar businesses in general or a lack of of businesses that don’t practice the same discrimination

    • ACN

      Thank you. This bears repeating regularly, and vocally.

    • Newavocation

      I don’t think there are many business owners who would attempt to discriminate against other protected classes. Examples need to be made of businesses that discriminate against atheists. Get up stand up! Stand up for your rights! 

    • Armageddonkitten

      Just a small correction, Stev84: The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a Federal law, and it applies everywhere. It covers everything from handicap parking spaces to ensuring disabled students aren’t discriminated against to making sure disabled persons can get jobs and not be fired for their disabilities. I suppose it’s entirely possible states somewhere have adjuncts to the ADA, but the Federal law is pretty comprehensive.

    • Miko

      The sign said no one from Skepticon.  What makes you think that that has anything to do with religion?  Businesses do have a right to turn away anyone they want, except under very narrow circumstances.  This isn’t one of those circumstances.

      • Anonymous

        Those circumstances certainly aren’t “very narrow”. There are broad groups of people you can’t refuse. Businesses have a right to refuse individual people service based on how they behave (i.e. being violent or drunk), but not on who or what they are. I guess some things like political affiliation aren’t covered, but that doesn’t apply here.

        On the surface it’s true that he only excluded people attending a certain conference, but the underlying cause is religious discrimination based on their atheism. That his sign says “Christian business” pretty much gives it away.

        He would have been within his rights to throw out that one unruly customer who insulted him or whatever triggered this incident, but not a whole group of people sharing his beliefs

      • P. J. Reed

        Uh, the “my Christian business” part of the sign is a pretty clear indication that it had something to do with religion.  Do you really think he’d stand a chance in court if a Skepticon attendee had been turned away and then filed a legal complaint?

      • gwen

        That ‘apology’ must be in the running for the best non-apology, apology for the year. Kinda reminds me of when my two year olds would apologize for something, just because they had to, not because they wanted to, or were truly sorry for what they’d done.

      • http://dnivie.livejournal.com/ Eivind

        “my christian bussiness” and “noone from skepticon” makes that blatantly obvious.

        How do you think a judge would interpret: “My christian bussiness does not welcome anyone from the Mosque” or “My atheist bussiness does not welcome anyone from the church-choir” ?

  • Trace

    I lived in MO for years (son born there) before we moved to NY.  Not surprised and yet… Andy…WTF?

    Not cool at all.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm I’m not sure about this. On the one hand, it’s awfully tempting to imagine that someone with enough bigotry in their heart to write an equivalent to “atheists and dogs not allowed” would be more likely to post an apology out of fear of it hurting her business than out of true regret. On the other hand, it was a full apology. It wasn’t “I’m sorry you were offended” but a full recognition that the sign was not appropriate and an apology.

    How about some local atheist group publicly invite her to talk to them? Say they’ll drop by for a gelato and discuss what her concerns are and what she might not know about nonbelievers. Things tend to be a lot less heated when you’re actually face to face with someone, and maybe this can be a good learning experience. Plus hopefully the ice cream will be worth it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    No one was turned away?

    Except the ones who were turned away by the sign, right?  No one was turned away except for all the people who were.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

      Apparently, Annaigaw was.     I was also skeptical of this claim.   How could he know?

  • Annaigaw

    I saw the sign as we were walking byr after the last speaker was done. The guy inside just glared out at us – I had no interest in entering that establishment. 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Is this the beginning of Gelatogate? Will the details of the offensive “event” remain mysterious, and so keep this story going for weeks? Will the unnamed “one man” become known as Gelato Guy? Will he risk life and limb by coming forward to tell his side of the story?

    Stay tuned!

    • Anonymous

      A reference that oblique…and yet it still made me groan internally.

      This is my floor, I’m getting off!

    • 59 Norris

      Here’s what happened…

      It was late.

      The owner of the gelato store just wanted to go home to sleep.

      Then some nerdy awkward guy got on the elevator with him and insisted coffee just means coffee…

    • Trace

      We know it happened “Saturday evening” so that should narrow things down….

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      Yes, who is this “one man” who so offended him?

      Hemant?

    • Kim

      And what about Naomi?

      Sorry, couldn’t resist. :-P

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I can’t help wondering what prompted them to put up the sign. Not because I think it was justified, but just because I’m morbidly curious that way.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Posted by on Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=iZCQm-S8dONmXG1lFE5V1w

      Incident Review: As for the recent event, people don’t know the full story. The owner placed a sign stating that member of Skepticon are not welcome only AFTER a member of that group was in the store being offensive towards the owners religious beliefs. This was directed to members of Skepticon, not all Atheists and Skepticon does not represent all Atheists. The owner did NOT kick anyone out or turn anyone away based on their beliefs. The sign came down 10 minutes later after the owner regretted an emotional irrational decision to put the sign up in the first place.

      • Johann

        My impression is that this is just a rephrasing of the apology posted on the website, not supplemental information – “he didn’t just do it out of the blue, there was a mysterious Event involving one of those Skepticons”.

      • http://thatweirdatheistgirl.wordpress.com That Weird Atheist Girl

        So this owner had a problem with one individual and decided to exclude a whole group because of it? Yeah, that seems perfectly ok with me [/sarcasm]. Would this be ok if it it read: NAACP convention is NOT allowed at my white business? (I know this example seems silly, but it’s only replacing one group with another). 

        • Kevin_Of_Bangor

          I have no clue if that is true or not. I only posted what someone else had stated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emeryemery Emery Emery

    Next year perhaps there should be T-Shirts that read: I reserve the right to refuse to patronize Gelato Mio!

    Or maybe a simpler approach:Gelato Mio?No grazie!

  • Parse

    A few thoughts:
     - The owner deserves a small cookie for actually posting an apology, and not a “Sorry if you were offended” statement.  A very, very small cookie, but a cookie nonetheless.  
     - It may be appropriate to describe the event that spawned the sign.  A guy coming in, asking for baby gelato, then asking for communion-wafer gelato, then asking for jesus-fish gelato, etc, might actually garner some sympathy for the guy.  More likely than not, though, ‘the event that greatly offended him’ probably would have passed without comment if done by a Christian.  I’m thinking a shirt that made some sort of snarky comment about Christians, probably.
     - He says that nobody was turned away.  That may be true of the staff, but how many people did the sign turn away – would you want to go to a place where you might be rejected service?  And even if that didn’t deter you, would you really want to support a place that could reject you service?

    • http://twitter.com/jubydoo Andrew Juby

      The event that spawned the sign was the owner walking in to Skepticon during Brother Sam’s performance. I can see why he would be offended, but the reaction was uncalled for.

  • Thomas Horwitz

    Give Andy a break.  He admitted he took inappropriate action.  But how many of us said or did something inappropriate to some bone-headed comment by a christian?  Let’s show them that forgiveness is not just a christian act.

    • Anonymous

      Um, that’s not just inappropriate action.  It’s illegal discrimination.  What if he had posted a sign saying, ‘No Blacks’ or ‘No Jews’ or ‘No Catholics’?  Would you then consider that inappropriate action or something more serious?

    • Angie

      There are mistakes, and there are CIVIL-RIGHTS-VIOLATION mistakes. This is the latter.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, small business owners may make mistakes, but this was more than a mistake.  This was blatant, illegal discrimination.  Any small business owner should understand that to deny someone access to their business based on certain classes (and religion is one of them) is a violation of the civil right to public accommodation.

    He deserves all the 1 star reviews and loss of business he’s getting.  Also, I don’t object to the menu description on yelp  being changed since the owner was the one who decided to serve up a hefty helping of bigotry instead of gelato that day.

    I’m curious if anyone has reported the sign to the Attorney General or whoever is responsible to addressing civil rights violations by businesses.

    • Anonymous

      While that would be possible legally, I think that would be a clear overreaction in this case. From what I understand, even the guy who put up the sign realized that it was a mistake fairly quickly. And the owner doesn’t agree with it either.

      If they continued to think that they were right, then yes. Otherwise it only creates unnecessary drama

      • Anonymous

        Would it be an overreaction if the sign has said, “Jews are NOT welcome in my Christian business”?

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    I wanna know what happened to prompt the posting of the sign. (Though it probably was something innocuous, like a t-shirt. Still curious, though.)

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      He kept hearing baby Jesus crying in his mind and after a while he couln’t take it any more. The only way he could get baby Jesus to shut up was to put that sign up.

    • http://twitter.com/jubydoo Andrew Juby

      He walked in in the middle of Brother Sam’s performance.

  • Anonymous

    stupid shits like this always annoy me. “i’m all powerful! i’m in the 1%!” no you’re not, you dipshit. you’re a brownshirt, a nobody. they won’t let you in, ever. you can ‘stand up’ for believer nonsense in teh markets and all you’ll ever do is screw yourself. stupid little people like this make me sad, because they don’t realize they can be removed at any time TPTB require. you’ll be dragged and sprayed with wide eyed confusion when they come for you, little person. 

  • Thefoghorn

    I can’t wait for their smug faces to droop en masse when the ‘good news’ goes viral.

    Get the ‘good news’ here…..

    http://ohmyvolcano.blogspot.com/

    …and then rush off and let everyone know!

  • Chris

    The night before the sign was posted, I was with a skeptic group of ten or so who bought gelato and coffee at this business. As the owner was serving us, he seemed quite unhappy about something. In fact, he was just plain grumpy. I thought it was odd because I figured he’d be delighted for the extra Friday night business. Didn’t even occur to me that bigotry was an issue. Same thing happened at Springfield Brewery restaurant two nights later. I walked out of the bathroom and an entire table of customers glared at me. I thought it was odd again. But, remembering the gelato incident I quickly looked down and saw a scarlet “A” pin on my collar. I tried to tell myself “Don’t be paranoid.” Turns out I wasn’t. As I walked by I heard one say angrily and not too softly, “THAT was an ATHEIST!” He was definitely not happy. And yes, he did speak in capital letters like that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/wilzardthespy William Post

      Bwahahaha i love it.
      You made me laugh with the capital letters comment.

  • Miko

    If it was really taken down after a few minutes and no customers were actually turned away, this seems unbelievably overblown to me.

  • Anonymous

    The owner of Gelato Mio is an LLC and one of the registered agents is Gary Andrew Drennen (the other is his wife, Chantal).  He also is the registered agent for another restaurant called The Flying Tomato.

  • http://thatweirdatheistgirl.wordpress.com That Weird Atheist Girl

    Don’t give this business owner too much credit for the apology. After the apology was released, all negative comments were deleted from the facebook page last night. Then, after people pointed this out, the whole facebook page was taken down. 

    • http://thatweirdatheistgirl.wordpress.com That Weird Atheist Girl

      By the way, when the negative comments were deleted, the positive ones were left up (which looked silly in some cases because some were in reply to negative (deleted) comments). 

  • Amanda

    The owner has posted another apology, including a more in-depth description of what exactly it was that offended him so much.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/mkw6h/a_message_to_the_skeptic_community_from_the_owner/

  • http://thatweirdatheistgirl.wordpress.com That Weird Atheist Girl

    The owner of the shop apologized again and explained the “event” that he saw: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2011/11/an-apology-to-skepticon-from-gelato-mio/

    • Anonymous

      That should really end it. Given that, I can certainly understand why he was offended and made an impulsive decision. But he realized his error and apologized. What more can he do? He isn’t some die-hard fundamentalist.

      Blowing this out of proportion would only backfire.

      • Anonymous

        He is a die-hard fundamentalist.

        The fact that anyone would excuse bigotry for even a short time is not acceptable.

        If it had said “NAACP Conventioners are not welcome in my white business” or “immigrants are not welcome in my American business” would you forgive the motivation that put it up for even a second?

        • Dee

          But I suppose that if Singleton were telling racist jokes while everyone laughed that would still be okay?  Why is it not okay to mock other ethnic groups but okay to mock those who hold other beliefs?

          • Anonymous

            People who hold beliefs choose to hold them, they are not (as some would have you believe) born to them with no choice.

            That said, there are many people out there that make a very good living at mocking ethnic groups, gender, national origin, physical appearance, physical disability, mental disability and religion (another mental disability in my opinion).

            The First Amendment guarantees us all the right to speak our mind as we please (within extreme limits, i.e., no shouting fire in a crowded theater), whether or not the crowd, or individuals listening agree with what we say, or even hate what we say.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

        I agree with Stev84.

        Also, you have to accept an apology on some level at some point or you risk being the fundamentalist you so disdain. I understand that many are pretty defensive right now so they may simply respond to this in a knee-jerk way. Go for it. Prove my point. :P

        • Anonymous

          “Also, you have to accept an apology on some level at some point or you risk being the fundamentalist you so disdain.”

          Why?  Why does it matter so much to anyone whether or not I accept an apology?  I can go through life choosing to accept apologies or not and it really affects no one else one-iota except those apologizing to me and me.

          And lastly… a fundamentalist what?

  • Anonymous

    I gotta say, I couldn’t be a more certain atheist – but the apology sounds pretty good to me.  I can understand a rash reaction in the heat of a confrontation.  I’ve done things I sincerely regretted, in retrospect.  And frankly, it’s pretty hard for anyone to make a public apology of that scope.  It’s bad enough admitting when I’m wrong to my wife.  If I had to make that same apology to the whole world….

  • EJC

    The guy screwed up and then apologised. Move on. He did right.

    I might not go so far as to write up posts on Yelp or whatever, but let it go, accept the apology.

    As for PZ., I do wish he would shut up, or switch sides, because he is the atheist version of Rush Limbaugh. Full of hot air, a history of drug use, and a loud-mouth know-it-all and dumb-ass.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    What does this guy have to do to be forgiven?
    Flush Communion wafers down the toilet?

  • T-Rex

    Gelato sucks and I wouldn’t give this DB one cent of my business. His initial reaction was based on his “true” feelings. Taking that sign down 1 minute later and issuing an apology does not change the fact that initially this guy didn’t want anything to do with non believers/Xians. I guess his greed kicked in when he realized he would lose so much business $$$ by alienating an entire group of people. That isn’t his conscious apologizing, it’s his cash register.  He can take his apology and his sign and his gelato and shove it all as far up his @$$ as it will go as far as I’m concerned.

  • Hippo Crissy

    Do you think it is strange that people coming from a convention where this guy’s religion was being mocked are complaining of bigotry?

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      Mocking a belief and openly discriminating against a belief are not equivalent actions.

    • Dee

      Yep.  Apparently the owner wandered down to skepticon to see what was going on and saw someone openly mocking his beliefs while others laughed.  He was offended.  Why is it that when a guy posts a sign saying that people who offend him are welcome in his store everyone goes nuts, calls him a bigot, takes revenge in the form of bad reviews of his store, but no one thinks Singleton and those who were laughing at his act were bigots?

      Acts like Singleton’s are hateful.  You can’t mock a belief system without mocking those who ascribe to it.  You can’t mock people and then complain when they don’t like it.

  • http://twitter.com/jubydoo Andrew Juby

    Hey, I’m the one who posted the unverified tweet about Farmers Gastropub. The $8000 figure was announced by Lauren Lane from the stage at Skepticon, and the keg-blowing comment came from my girlfriend, who was told so by one of the servers at the Gastropub. Just in case you’d like citation!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    I’ve thought about it an I now have ethical issues with the commenters at Yelp and Urbanspoon who never visited the place and gave it a one star rating.     I do not have a problem with them actually visiting the store and doing so, on the basis of actual discrimination they experienced.    

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    “It’s to a business’s peril to pre-exclude a huge number of customers on
    the basis of religion. This has nothing to do with atheism. It’s just
    bad business, period.”

    Yep, free markets punish bigotry as Thomas Sowell has amply pointed out.     Businesses (with an eye to the bottom line) actually fought Jim Crow type laws in the south.

  • Sulris Campbell

    off topic but there has been something bugging me about the athiest blogs and comment i read and this is the straw that broke the camels back….

    what is up with the athiest community and celebrating alchoholism?  why should we be proud that our convention was related to the larger than everage emptying of kegs at a bar?  why do we revel in the fact that so many of our members are drunks, or poison themselves for fun, or purposefully impair their beloved rationality?  I am not against drinking but the way it is treated by the majority of internet athiest activists is not healthy.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      STFU and go back to your 12-Step Cult.

    • LeMepris

      For somebody who is not against drinking, you sure use some emotionally loaded language to paint it negatively.

  • http://www.robofusionicecream.com/ Leona Davis

    It’s great to know that they realized their mistakes!


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