Call it an unrest-room.
Web users from across the country intimidated a Park Slope café owner into removing a bathroom sign depicting a peeping tom on May 26, with cyber critics claiming it was out of touch and promoted rape culture.
“‘F--- you,’ ‘Go f--- yourself,’ ‘Go back to your country’ — they tried to destroy the business,” said Luca Tesconi, the owner of Clever Blend, at 97 5th Avenue. “It was very personal. I have a wife and a child, and it was intense.”
Tesconi now regrets hanging the notice and covered it with a new, inoffensive sign, but he said that the barrage of personal attacks he endured at the hands of anonymous strangers went well beyond the pale of decency.
The sign was up for all to see when Clever Blend opened on April 8, and went largely unnoticed until May 25, when an Instagram user posted a picture of the sign with a caption that accused Tesconi of ignoring her when she complained about it in the store.
Her post incited an internet backlash against Tesconi and Clever Blend, which quickly spread to Yelp, where users as far away as Arizona condemned the shop with one-star reviews that included hot-button terms such as rape culture and described Tesconi as “the gross pervert uncle of my grammar school best friend with the arrogance and tone-deafness of a pig.”
The one-time customer who first criticized the coffee shop owner was more upset about a store policy forbidding laptops during busy hours, Tesconi said, and focused on the sign to drum up outrage.
“It started for revenge,” Tesconi said.
But instead of immediately removing the sign after he was criticized, Tesconi defended himself on Instagram, where he wrote “Get a life” in reply to the critical post hours after it appeared. His response was met with additional online scorn, and the café owner said he should have taken the sign down instead of downplaying the initial complaint.
“I should have not defended myself, but sent out a message immediately that I made a mistake,” Tesconi said. “But we are human beings, tell me ‘F--- you,’ I get defensive.”
Some of Tesconi’s customers, while offended by the sign, said they were equally disappointed by the web users’ response.
“What troubled me was they were yelping and ingratiating themselves in the debate without having ever been here,” said Zoë Buonaiuto, a Princeton University student and Clever Blend regular. “There were also personal attacks on Yelp against Luca, who is very friendly, very kind, and has never given me any feeling of purposely trying to offend or harm someone. That’s not the way you stage a complaint.”
The invasion of privacy depicted in the sign, ironically, would not be possible in Clever Blend’s bathroom, which has a door that locks, four intact walls, and is only large enough for one.