BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Winooski restaurant's decision to take down a bacon advertisement has become the center of an online backlash.
"It's blown up beyond all imagination," City Manager Katherine "Deac" Decarreau said in an interview Monday.
Last week, Sneakers Bistro and Cafe removed a sign reading "Yield for Sneakers Bacon" from a garden at the Winooski Rotary after a woman who described herself as "a vegan and a member of a Muslim household" called the sign offensive in a post on Front Porch Forum.
"Given the large number of Muslim families in Winooski, as well as many others who do not eat pork for a variety of reasons, it seems unnecessary for this insensitive business sign to be at the city's main crosswalk," she wrote. The woman also complained that the sign "clutters an already dangerous crosswalk."
Sneakers owner Marc Dysinger replied that the sign was meant to be fun and to show that the restaurant cares about Winooski and the gardens, but that it had lost its "relevance" due to recent traffic changes at the rotary. He apologized for the controversy.
"Our goal is to bring joy to Winooski as a community gathering place — never a source of stress or drama," Dysinger wrote on Front Porch Forum. "We always appreciate any advice or input to help us achieve that goal. Thank you neighbors!"
A swarm of Internet comments followed the decision, which was reported by television station WPTZ and several national media organizations.
"We are here to serve people BREAKFAST, not politics," Sneakers wrote in a Facebook post in response to the controversy that was cited in media reports before it was taken down. "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 restaurant later took down the Facebook page, and the restaurant's phone voicemail was full early Monday afternoon. Dysinger declined to comment further.
Facebook pages sprang up in opposition to the restaurant's decision to remove the ad.
"Please try to tell as many people as you can around there about this ISIS loving anti-American business," wrote one commenter. "Let's run them out of business and then run the owners out if the USA. They can go open a place in Palestine."
"Thanks for supporting and giving into the Muslims! I'll never eat at your restaurant!" another commenter wrote.
"Let's avoid the name calling and the other stuff," warned the creator of a page called Tell Sneakers Bistro How You Really Feel.
The restaurant's reviews on Google and Yelp have also taken a hit, with more than 50 recent one-star reviews referencing the controversy. Some of the Yelp users hail from as far away as California and Hawaii.
City Manager Decarreau said the city has no plans to make a policy decision on the advertisement, though she will be asking the Winooski Coalition for a Safe and Peaceful Community for advice.
"Like I said, it's an issue of free speech, and I'm not sure where city government gets involved," Decarreau said.
In a statement, Decarreau said she had read the original Front Porch Forum complaint differently than some commenters. "As I read her post, her request came as a vegan, not as a Muslim," Decarreau wrote.
Decarreau said the city has received dozens of comments online and by phone.
"Winooski is a diverse community, and we like it that way," Decarreau said. "It's uncomfortable, but discomfort can be a source of growth, not just a source of anger and frustration. I think as a community we'll work through this. It's unfortunate that the country seems to be reacting to reports that are blown significantly out of proportion and don't represent what actually happened."
"We welcome a rich and respectful dialogue among the people that live, work and dine here," Decarreau added in the statement. "We believe that diversity and dialogue is a critical part of what makes us a truly desirable place to be."