PARK SLOPE — A coffee shop that came under fire for its controversial bathroom sign depicting a male stick figure climbing a toilet stall to peep at a woman in the stall next to him has removed the offending image — and replaced it with a sign welcoming customers of all genders, including transgender.
Clever Blend's co-owner Luca Tesconi, who took over the Gorilla Coffee space at 97 Fifth Ave. near Park Place in April, initially waged a war of words with customers who took issue with the sign, penning a long Instagram defense of it last week as just a "silly" joke that was never meant to upset anyone.
But as the backlash mounted, Tesconi changed his tune, taking down his defense of the sign from Instagram and penning an open letter, "To Sign or Not to Sign."
"It has been an intense two days at Clever Blend. As some of you are aware of, we had a major conflict of ideals concerning a bathroom sign and its implied message. Some of you were extraordinarily offended and responded with hate. We reacted by being defensive and trying to explain our point of view ... we have come to realize that the bathroom sign was a mistake," the shop wrote on its Instagram feed Saturday. "Tomorrow, the sign will be removed."
They added a new one on Sunday with the new bathroom signs, beneath the headline "Royal Couple."
Speaking to DNAinfo at the coffee shop on Tuesday, Tesconi said he realized over the weekend that perhaps he was on the losing side of the argument, and decided to take the sign down, replacing it with two color-copy printouts of an "inclusive bathroom" sign with gender symbols for men, women and transgender people. A more permanent version of the replacement sign is in the mail, he said.
"Some people got offended, but we didn't put anything up with the intention of offending. We started defending ourselves... They started cursing, 'F-you.' ... Why don't we extinguish the fire? It's not a battle to pick," said Tesconi, who hails from Italy, told DNAinfo New York. He also runs Triple Shot World Atlas Cafe in Long Island City and the Atlas Cafe in Williamsburg.
Tesconi said he called Yelp to ask if they would take down the bad reviews from customers who railed against the sign, but they refused. He said he wished the people complaining had approached him in person rather than going online to complain, adding that the foul language of the critics was off-putting.
"They say, 'Oh you learned your lesson.' Yeah, but don't put it like you want to put me on my knees," Tesconi said. "We all learned something. Also the people that curse should learn there's no point in that. They look bad."
Tesconi denied that the sign controversy cost him any business, despite a call online to boycott his shop.
In addition, he said, a paper ballot on the door beneath the old sign that asked people to vote whether they thought the sign "promotes violence" or was just a "silly sign" tendered more votes for the latter — but he took it down anyway.
"How many people are in the U.S.: 250 million? Probably there are women who have bad experiences related to that," he said. "Even if it's 50, it's 50 human beings... It doesn't go with the business. It doesn't go with me either."
Customers cautiously praised the move online.
"I'm glad you guys had the decency to take that dad joke sexist rape culture bathroom door sign down. Too bad you didn't have the sense to see just how grimy that "joke" was in the first place. Hope this has been a learning experience for you," one customer wrote on Instagram.
Tesconi said the tempest in a teapot left him scratching his head.
"They called it 'rape culture.' Here it's just the coffee culture," Tesconi, "'Rape culture?' If we opened a coffee shop to conduct torture, then shoot me now."