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.