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Mellow Mushroom update: drugs are family-friendly, gays aren't?

Update 8/7: Mellow Mushroom management reconsidered and have restored the Indy to its former home in their restaurants. Hurray! Read the comments to find out more, and kudos to local owner Casey for listening and engaging his customers.


Barry recently wrote about Mellow Mushroom's decision to pull the Independent Weekly newspaper bins from its restaurant, close on the heels of its publishing a cover story featuring a transgendered individual. This included the Mellow Mushroom location in downtown Durham at the American Tobacco Campus.

A reader here at BCR wrote in to Mellow Mushroom via the feedback form on their web site to find out more about the decision and what motivated the removal of this issue. He reports receiving the following answer from Casey, the owner of the Triangle's Mellow Mushroom restaurants, which he shared with me in turn (emphasis added is mine):

Hi Will,  I am Casey and I own the MMs in the area.  I regret you do not agree with our decision about the Indy.    It had absolutely nothing to do with the article but rather the picture on the front cover that was eye level of children in our waiting area.  We have carried the Indy for so long I forgot it was there until a soccer mom complained about it.  After a few more comments/complaints we removed them.  Personally it takes a lot more than a newspaper to offend me.   We understand and appreciate that Mellow Mushroom attracts all walks of life as customers as well as employees.  We also know that is what makes the concept so successful.   However, any business in the service industry should do everything they can to make sure no one is offend or complains for any reason. 

The Indy is an adult newspaper and has become more so over the years.  Since Mellow Mushroom has grown from the small college town stores to becoming more family oriented, we decided it would be best to remove the Indy.

We greatly appreciate your business.


Certainly, any business has the right to make decisions about what image they want their business to present to customers. But I find it rather odd that Mellow Mushroom, of all places, would be defending this decision in the context of trying to be "family friendly" -- in conjunction with wanting to avoid offending anyone, anywhere, anytime.

After all, Mellow Mushroom's menu s filled with references to illegal drugs... from the mention of 'munchies' on the menu instead of appetizers, to sly comments about 'stone-baked' pizzas, to the rather trippy pictures lining the restaurant's walls. Now, they're done all in good humor, one might say, and there's some truth to that. Yet one can hardly imagine most 'family friendly' restaurants going to such lengths to wink at drug use on their menus and decor.

More to the point, what do you suppose the 'Shroom would do the moment that, say, Called2Action or Focus on the Family ran one of their 'alerts' campaigns against the restaurant? Would Mellow Mushroom again continue to assert that customers should never be offended and that in turn the restaurant's theme would have to go? Somehow, I doubt it.

It's a point Durham in general has struggled with -- the need to, as the stickers say, "Love Yourself," to have pride in the elements that make the city unique and distinct. Recognize that you'll attract folks that are looking for what the city has to offer, and that such distinctiveness will steer people who don't fit the city's verve to live somewhere else.

Part of that verve in Durham's case s open-mindedness and tolerance. Now personally, I've never taken an illegal drug in my entire life, college included. But it never bothered me that there were sly drug references on the walls of the restaurant. I'm much more disappointed that one of the best media outlets in the Triangle -- and one that is a constant clarion call for tolerance -- disappears from a restaurant I frequent.

Of course, there's more than one way to lose business. I've stopped eating at the Mellow Mushroom since this little event happened, actually bypassed it on three different occasions. (Bonus: more trips to Cinelli's, whose Grandma's pizza is terrific.) And I suspect I'm not the only one.

Let's just hope that the 'soccer moms' of the Triangle that Casey's worried about don't have Don Wildmon on speed-dial.



The Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is coming to the Carolina Theatre in a couple weeks. How about organizing a good ole-fashioned sit-in? Show the soccer moms who live for Fox News fear that they actually have nothing to be afraid of.


Ummm, i spent a good part of the past 6 years as a soccer dad, in addition to all the other things i've been involved in.

I can only think of one or two of the other parents (out of about 60) on the teams my daughter played for who would have taken issue with the Indy's cover, or who would support MM in this case. Durham's soccer parents are, in my experience, just as diverse and tolerant a group as any other in Durham.

Kevin - i can't tell if there's a "don't" missing from the last sentence in your post.

Kevin Davis

Barry -- yes, there should have been a 'don't' there. My laptop keyboard's i, k, and , characters aren't working right, so I was a bit distracted typing this up...


Ahh, but your sentenced parsed well either way. If MM suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of that "family oriented" bullshit, well, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as they say.

BTW, i've posted some extended thoughts about this over at my place.

Stop by and say hi.


I've stopped eating there, too, and have spread the word to my friends. Thanks for sharing the note.

peanutbutter -- I would be up (down?) for a sit in.

Myers Sugg

Although I didn't see the Indy cover, but if this one issue caused such a problem, then just remove that week's edition. It seems to me to be a bit of a cave to the Soccer Mom. SM is offended that her child might be exposed to a picture of someone who is transgendered? Give me a break. Is a picture of a transgendered person something that is pornographic, and thus shouldn't be displayed without a plastic wrapper? I don't think so. To me, MM has done nothing but pander to Soccer Mom, and her ever so programmed perspective of what the real world is supposed to be. "Kelly" can't be exposed to such things that might "rub off" on him/her. Give me a break.

The humorous reference to mushrooms, and such on MM's walls & menus, are in my opinion, cute. Would we all be safer if I contacted Soccer Mom, to see if she can get MM to paint over them because "Kelly" might grow up and start using illicit drugs? Again, give me a break.

I hate to give MM the cold shoulder, for their food is great, and they are an asset to ATC, as one of their first pioneers. I will however think twice before ordering from there in the future.

MM needs to just stick to its good food recipes, and leave the politics at the door, or better yet, leave them beside the newspaper dispense outside.....AMS


I look at that cover and all I see is a balding person in a bra. This is no different than all the pictures of folks in underwear that I see in the newspapers' department stores sales flyers on a regular basis. Give me a break. This is intolerance and discrimination plain and simple. I doubt anyone would've complained had it not been the Pink Triangle issue. My gay dollars are clearly no longer welcome at Mellow Mushroom.

Michael Bacon

Until MM issues an apology, I'm never eating there again. If someone wants to do a sit in during the film festival, I'm game, and can probably get some other people to come.

I'm every bit as straight as my lack of fashion sense would indicate, but I'll happily sit outside MM with a stuffed bra on. (sorry for those of you who were eating when you read this...)


I am in the process of contacting people at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. They should be aware of this, as I imagine that a number of people eat at MM between films. Although I don't know if they would want to do any formal boycotting or anything, I am trying to figure out the best way to let people at the festival know about this so they can avoid the place.


Mellow Mushroom has lost my business as well. I ate there rather frequently in the past, but my pizza dollars (which make up a substantial part of my budget) are going to Cinelli's and Satisfaction.


For those that missed the cover of the issue in question I've loaded it onto my Flickr account...I'm assume that it is ok to do so. You can check it out at this link...



Seeing that cover again, made me realize how innocuous that picture is. I wonder if that child is allowed to see art with nude paintings.

Basically, that mom freaked out because she didn't want to explain to her child that there are people in this world that don't conform to their idea of the "norm". Really, I think people like that should just move to Cary and buy a Martha Stewart house since they seem to eschew diversity.


The soccer mom is probably the same type of person that complains about TV shows to the FCC because she doesn't want to be bothered with actually keeping tabs herself on the media that her child intakes.

Although, one has to wonder what would have happened if the transgendered person was eating at the restaurant instead of just appearing on the cover of the ubiquitous Indy.

Joshua Allen

I have just written to MM myself. I'm disappointed because I like to eat there but I will not eat there anymore until they apologize and begin carrying the Indy again. It's unacceptable for MM to make the GLBT community invisible because some of their customers need a lesson in diversity and acceptance. That mother needs to just tell her child that some people are born in the wrong body and that it's OK. And also it's not contagious! Get over it already.

I hope more people will continue to write MM on this issue! With enough mail, maybe they will change their stance.


This guy Casey, who owns the Mellow Mushroom, appears to be a huge hypocrite. There is the obvious contradiction of drug references being OK for children in his restaurant, while a benign picture of a man wearing a bra is not. Does he care to elaborate on this?

Additionally, he claims to have removed the Indy "after a few more comments/complaints", and justifies this response by claiming "any business in the service industry should do everything they can to make sure no one is offend or complains for any reason." Just the comments on this one blog are evidence of a "few complaints", so will Casey do everything he can to address the them? It obviously doesn't take many complaints to spur this guy into action.

The message he sent was a bunch of BS. I won't be eating there anymore.


I am Casey, the owner of MMs in the area. I absolutely regret the decision to remove the Indy from the restaurants. On Monday I was in contact with the Indy to bring it back to our stores. They want to bring it back as well and it will be there anyday.

The last thing we intended to do was discriminate against anyone. We always have and always will have employees that are gay as well as friends that are gay. Our actions as to how we treat them will hopefully speak louder than removing a newspaper. I will be more than happy to put you in touch with our staff members who are part of the gay community. Some who have been with us for years. They will certainly tell anyone how we treat everyone.

I sincerely apologize to anyone that was offended my our decision. Hopefully we will have a chance to make it up to you.



As a big fan of The Indy and a friend of a few transexuals in my time, I especially loved that particular issue of The Indy. It made me happy to think that I live in a community where this topic is addressed & treated with respect & husmanity. So obviously, it was shocking to me when a company like Mellow Mushroom decided to complete stop carrying The Indy because of that cover. I would have been disappointed if they'd merely pulled the paper that week & went back to things as usual the following week, but to completely ban The Indy?! Puhleez! Count me in as another person who won't be eating at MM.


Casey, looks like you posted while I was composing my own post. I'm glad to hear that you've had a change of heart & will be bringing back The Indy. Good to know I won't have to avoid the MM anymore!

Myers Sugg

Way to go Casey! Thank you for bringing the Indy back. I hope that if Soccer Mom expresses her concern about any future Indy edition, you will offer a different response. MM provides a good product.... good food, and an attractive atmosphere...that's what you should be known for. Let's hope that SM concentrates on what attracted her to MM in the first place. If "Kelly" is curious about the cover of another Indy, perhaps Mom and "Kelly" need to sort out some questions about the real world....


Casey - i'm glad to read of your change of heart. i've posted my thoughts in greater detail over at my place, but, speaking strictly for myself, i have to say i don't particularly see this as a "gay vs. families" thing, which your earlier comments reinforced.

Everybody i know is part of some family. Not all families look alike. That's a good thing.


Alright, I am an indy fan, a self-professed progressive, but does anyone really think little kids going in to MM find it to be drug-inspired? Are these the same 5-year olds who know the secret meaning to lucy in the sky with diamonds? On the other hand, such children might have questions about the cover shot that parents don't want to answer. I'll be clear, I don't agree with their stated decision to pull the Independent because of the cover. Maybe if they had based it on the Indy's decision to run semi-provocative phone chat line ads that kids then saw, I would be more sympathetic. Sadly, it was policy under the indy at one time not to take those ads--but, I digress. Suffice it to say that, I think it is, at the least, unfair to claim that they have held themselves out as an explicit purveyor of some alternative drug culture and in doing so sacrifice the right to make decisions consistent with running a successful business.


Thanks, Casey. I think people will give MM a second chance. Obviously, MM is a place that many people like; otherwise, there would not have been such a clamor.

Jaci Field

Casey - I am really glad you made the right decision this time. What scares me is that you made a decision based on the opinions of a few assumed right wing parents. Please consider the wide range of customers you serve in the future. My partner and I have a young son. A group of our friends (all happen to be gay) have been having an almost weekly 'pint nite' of beer, pizza, and fellowship there for a few years now. We love the waitstaff and every thing about it. We have been so close to the staff there that we made an announcement to the staff when were pregnant and have been bringing our son there since he was born last summer.
Part of what we love about MM is the accepting and eclectic atmosphere. We seek out places like this to expose our son to. We hope that you won't change that. We see MM as a important part of our social fabric and it sounds like so many others do as well.
We are not offended by all of the straight families - even when they pray ;) You know - I am just trying to say - be mindful that different and odd is all relative. We love MM and hope to continue being patrons there.
Thank you for helping to create that environment - keep it up!


So, this is to Keith. You are basically saying that stoner culture is established and accepted enough in society, so you don't have to explain it to kids. Nice. I hope one day that the transgendered will be so lucky, and then people will just accept them as human beings.

Gladly, Mellow Mushroom has come back to their senses and I hope they remember they were started in the one of the queerest of neighborhoods in Atlanta.


eh, where was that? 'college spot`...so i'm guessing near emory. north druid hills?

Sorry, i'm an transplanted durhamite from metro atllanta. Only a few things i miss from suburbanland, honestly. paolo's is one of them. Francesca's is a good substitute.


You know,
I'm really upset at the people in this world who find enough time to bitch and complain about the stupidest things in this world...It's such a waste of time!!! If their child is going to grow up being raised without the proper "real world" knowledge, that child is going to grow up to be one of the millions of ignorant people that we have in this world today...We simply don't need that...I understand that when you run a business, you have to please the consumer and keep everyone happy but I think some people are not happy even if you offered your product for free...I am happy to find out that Casey and company were thoughtful enough to place the Indy-Weekly paper back on their establishments...Like I said, there are far more things to worry and fight for in the world today than some picture that a parent does not want to educate their child about!


Thanks everyone for accepting my apology. As peanutbutter mention in an earlier post, her group of friends enjoy the atmosphere we have created. That atmosphere wasn't created by accident and it took a long time. We welcome everyone which and that is what makes MM so unique. You don't find many places that is enjoyed by so many different types of people. We look forward to earning your business in the future.


Lenore Ramm

The MM should work with the Indy to offer copies of the issues that were removed (and subsequent issues) that their customers missed.

Kevin Davis


I just wanted to say a heartfelt "thank you!" for reconsidering the decision and bringing the Indy back in. While this has clearly been a difficult decision to wrestle with, I thank you for your openness in reconsidering and in engaging the community with your thinking, here and via email.

As we've all been reminded through this, Durham is not a quiet community. :) Thanks for talking back with us, and thanks for bringing the Indy back to your restaurant.

(My wife wants to say thanks, too, for helping to put the House pizza, no mushrooms or black olives, back into our lives! We'll stop by one night soon.)


Let me just say that this blog has made me even more proud to be a Raleigh ITB transplant to Durham (2 years). How fantastic is it that we can continue the spirit of Durham activism from Kress building sit ins to virtual “blog ins” ( I just made up that term…if it catches on I want credit :-).

Here comes the BUT…maybe it is my Bush-era cynicism coming out but now that the male-to-female transgendered person is off the cover and without fear of the next “Pink” issue for another year or so…isn’t it easy for MM to bring the Indy back? I’m glad they are but does this simple action deserve all the kudos and wiping of the proverbial brows by fair-weather customers?

I’ll go ahead and say that I might be over thinking this as I am really thinking out loud…but maybe I’m not over thinking it. Doesn’t MM have those cork boards over the urinals for posting the sport section? When I go into MM and see the cover of this issue posted there or anywhere else for at least a week…then I’ll give them kudos. Until then I’ll say I appreciate Casey’s conciliatory gesture but with all respect I need a little more. What about it Casey?

Peace, Will


Congratulations Kevin. It's nice to see that your blog is such an important part of so many Durhamites' daily life. Certainly a little controversy can get a few feathers ruffled, but it should reassure you as our host, that people care. Thanks for fostering a better informed citizenry.


Thanks Casey! I too will continue going there again (after your apology).


Back to "share the road" on this point. I think you misunderstand me. I specifically said I disagreed with their position to pull the Indy because of the cover story. My point was that the better argument was to just say they shouldn't have pulled it because of the TG issue VERSUS dragging in the drug reference stuff. I say this for three reasons.

First, dragging in the drug reference issue actually suggests that it would have been fine to pull it had they not had the drug reference issue. Second, it gives supporters of the move to pull it the handy argument that we are all so PC that we even pick on poor MM over their sad gimmick--so we should be disregarded. Third, I think it's actually a dangerous type of argument to say that one perceived difference invalidates any individual or group. It's the type of argument that people make to marginalize and oppress. For example, look at this PC group of people who picks on the MM gimmick, laugh at them, don't listen to them.

So, I hope you will come to understand that I am not disagreeing with you on whether MM should have pulled the Indy, but I am disagreeing with the tactic/argument that they lost the right to do so because of their (lame) veiled drug references.


By the way, has anyone found the Indy paper located in the lobby of City Hall? If not, then why not boycott City Hall for not keeping a copy there for all to see? Look, it doesn't matter what paper we're talking about, if a business chooses to cease distribution of a paper for fear of lawsuit, lack of interest, or change of demographic, so be it. That sort of stuff happens. The fact that this establishment carried the paper for long (and, now, will continue it again) is there choice and they should be patted on the back. But it's shameful to see soooo many people here wanting to ban visiting MM because of their choice to stop displaying the paper after doing so for so many years, yet there are sooo many establishments and public venues who wouldn't, then attacking that establishment as all that loyalty, I think those who chose to take that route should be ashamed. It was like reading something authored by the mob. Disgusting.


Mark, I think you're language is rather overreactive. No one spoke of "banning" visits to Mellow Mushroom, whatever that might mean. It's true there are plenty of places that don't distribute the Independent -- that's not what this was about. This was about an establishment that, by their own admission, pulled the paper because of one specific cover image. And it was the reason for which the paper was pulled, not the fact that it wouldn't be distributed there, over which people were taking away their business.

The choice not to patronize the Mellow Mushroom after they pulled the Indy was one made by individuals. Nowhere in the comments above do I see anyone saying, "Hey everyone -- boycott the restuarant!" A similar decision made by a number of people doesn't inherently signify mob mentality; it often merely means that many people in a certain subpopulation have similar priorities. In this case, it looks like quite a few BCR readers prioritize acceptance for people living outside usual gender norms more than they priorize a particular sort of pizza. You are certainly welcome not to share that priority, but I'm a bit surprised if you truly think people's loyalty to a restaurant or business will win out over their personal values.


And that should be "your" in the first sentence. So much for proofreading.

Ian R

Don't forget that Mellow Mushroom is horrible pizza, and pricey, at that!

In the end, that's really what keeps me away. It's like boycotting being punched in the stomach.


For some reason, days later, I still can't get over the statement above that "any business in the service industry should do everything they can to make sure no one is offended or complains for any reason". I see lots of things in local businesses that I find personally repugnant. Short of swastikas or overt signs of prejudice/misogyny etc. I don't think it would occur to me to actually voice a complaint to the management.

As for myself, as a mom, I found it less difficult to address gender/sexual orientation questions from my son than to address the question I faced when he was 7 and asked me "But what does Iraq have to do with the World Trade Center?"


Would it be wrong of me to say that Mark is an idiot? Because, I have to say, that last post of his really makes him seem like an idiot.


Mark's argument was actually completely rational, just b/c you don't agree 9/9 shouldn't preclude your mind from following it. Calling him an idiot makes you seem childish. He is basically supporting a buisness's ability to make its own decisions, whether or not they fit with ours/yours/whoever.

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