The Garfield Historic District called for a boycott of Red Hut Coffee after the recently opened shop posted a photo of the owner posing with two sleeping, presumably homeless men on its Facebook page, a picture the district called exploitative.
“This isn’t meant to be attack or an insult, it’s meant to raise awareness,” neighborhood representative Mary Crocker said. “We’re trying to educate him in regards to the plight of the homeless in Phoenix and everywhere.”
Crocker said Red Hut co-owner David Marsh’s attitude of disregard for the homeless was what prompted the boycott, particularly in the context of the advocacy of other downtown businesses in that community.
Red Hut posted a photo on Aug. 21 with a caption that read, “Spending the day hanging out with friends at Red Hut! After this many ‘non-coffee’ drinks, these new friends could use a nice cup of Red Hut signature blend coffee … black!”
The photo, which was later taken down, showed two men lying on the sidewalk. Marsh is lying in front of them on the sidewalk giving a thumbs-up to the camera.
The photo drew the downtown Phoenix community’s ire Sunday when community advocate Sean Sweat shared it on his Facebook page with the comment, “Apparently the new coffee shop on Roosevelt and Seventh streets doesn’t just lack empathy for the homeless, but openly mocks and exploits them on their business’s Facebook page … You will never see my face in your business.”
Sweat’s post received more than 150 likes, comments and shares. He declined to comment for this article when contacted by phone Sunday night.
Marsh said he broke up a fight between the two men, who he assumed were homeless, and a third man in front of Red Hut. After the fight, he gave the two men pizza and coffee and talked to them for about 20 minutes. Marsh said he thought they had been consuming alcohol. After they fell asleep, Marsh took and posted the photo, which he said was not meant to be derogatory in any way.
“I intended it as a lighthearted comment. It wasn’t intended to provoke vitriol,” Marsh said. “I thought it was somewhat humorous that the guys I had just been visiting with suddenly, to the point of inebriation, they literally just passed out while I was there.”
Marsh said Sunday night that he has been “villainized” because of the power of social media.
“It was a lack of judgment on my part,” Marsh said. “I didn’t consider that there would have been an offense taken to it. I’m not offended by homeless people. I’m not afraid of homeless people. I don’t consider myself better than anyone like that. I talked to them like they were real people.”
Crocker said two community members sent the photo to the Garfield Facebook page. A discussion began on the Garfield page regarding a potential boycott of Red Hut.
That post read, “Neighbors, a new business in our neighborhood decided to publicly exploit homeless people on their Facebook page. We are sharing this photo because we are sickened by this business owner’s serious lack of compassion and better judgment. We are calling for a boycott of Red Hut Coffee. There are lots of local coffee shops in this ‘hood that serve great coffee and treat people with respect. Please, do not support this business.”
Marsh said he was unaware of the Garfield Historic District’s boycott.
“I think this has a negative effect on the business,” Marsh said. “I apologize for something that would be offensive to people. I didn’t consider that that would be offensive and I ask forgiveness from the community for the lack of judgment.”
Marsh also posted an apology on the Red Hut Facebook page Sunday night.
Despite the negative response he has received, Marsh said he loves the downtown community.
“I feel that it is a group of individuals who have strong opinions, and I love the fact that whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with me, there is freedom of expression in downtown,” Marsh said.
Downtown advocate Will Novak said that while he wouldn’t boycott Red Hut, Marsh still had a “cocky attitude” and “had some not nice things to say.”
“And then to post something about homeless guys? That’s not real nice,” Novak said. “I mean, if you’re going to make a joke, it’s more fun to make it at your own expense and not be a bully.”
Novak said he hadn’t thought much about how the post would affect Red Hut’s business. He said the strong sense of community in downtown Phoenix, particularly Roosevelt Row, would make the situation more difficult.
“It’s a tight-knit community, and being a part of that community is very important to your business in downtown, and you want to seem like you’re a good neighbor and you want to be neighborly,” Novak said.