Owner of Woke Breakfast & Coffee had no idea the name would be so fraught
As It Happens5:04The owner of Woke Breakfast & Coffee had no idea the name would be so full
When Carmen Quiroga opened her new restaurant last month, little did she know she would find herself in the middle of an American culture war.
Originally from Mexico, Quiroga runs Woke Breakfast & Coffee with her husband in Coventry, Connecticut. When choosing the name, she said she was trying to evoke a feeling of being refreshed after a good cup of coffee.
“When you wake up in the morning…the first thing you want to do to wake up is coffee, right?” Quiroga told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
She says she wasn’t aware that the term “woke” had a different, more politically charged connotation. Then she saw the Facebook comments.
“I’m so sad [about] the people who don’t support my business,” Quiroga said. “I know nothing about the controversy.”
A story of staying awake
The term “woke” dates back to the 1930s when it was used primarily by black people to describe waking up to the realities of oppression and racism in the United States.
According to a history of the word by Vox’s Aja Romano, one of the earliest examples of its use in pop culture was the lyric “Stay Wake” in Scottsboro Boys, a 1938 protest song by blues musician Huddie Ledbetter about a group of black teenagers accused, two white raping women.
The word enjoyed a major revival after police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mississippi in 2014. It has since been used regularly by activists and artists alike, including rapper Childish Gambino in his 2016 song Redbone, which repeats the refrain, “Stay awake.”
The term “woke” has been used by musicians like Childish Gambino (right) to mean aware of injustice and by Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) as a derogatory term for liberals. (Octavio Jones, Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
In recent years, however, it has also become a term of derision, used by right-wing figures to disparage what they see as a left-wing agenda that places too much importance on oppressed identities.
Florida Republicans have branded a new law restricting what schools can teach about race as the Stop WOKE Act. And at an event in January, Republican state Gov. Ron DeSantis declared his contempt for “awakened ideology,” saying, “In Florida, the awakened dies.”
But Quiroga knew nothing about that.
She and her family thought the name was nice and short and easy to remember. Also, they could design their logo with an egg instead of the O.
The diner’s catchphrase is, “You woke up and made the right choice.”
Woke Breakfast & Coffee’s owners say it would be too expensive and time-consuming to rebrand. (Wake up breakfast & coffee/Facebook)
It took four months to complete the restaurant, Quiroga said. But when she announced the opening on Facebook, she was shocked by the response.
“[People wrote]: “I never go there. I don’t support the people who chose that name’ – and many, many things. I don’t read too much because at that moment I just want to cry,” she said.
She says she and her family considered changing the name but decided it was too much work and money. The logo is already on menus, mugs, branding and window displays.
“So I’m saying, well, we’re going to do it like we know it — just work hard and try to make the best food we can,” she said.
Backlash and a happy ending
The negative comments filled several local Facebook groups, according to the Washington Post and ctpost.com. CBC hasn’t seen the comments as they were mostly deleted by moderators.
The Coventry CT Republican Town Committee Facebook group addressed the backlash in a post on January 22.
French toast is served at Woke Breakfast & Coffee. (Wake up breakfast & coffee/Facebook)
“While the name initially sets off alarm bells for some conservatives, it is clear that the owner never intended it to be a political statement,” it says.
“We strongly discourage any negativity towards this company or its hard-working, enterprising owners – nor do we support the impulsive chatter of the boycott. Sometimes words can mean exactly what they have always meant.”
The group did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite the rocky start, Quiroga says her story had a happy ending.
As word of the backlash spread, the community sided with them. She’s had so many deals in her first few weeks that she’s already looking for additional staff to keep up with demand.
“When I open and see a lot of people waiting outside, I’m so happy,” she said. “People look at me and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to support you. Don’t worry. We’re going to be here every day.'”
Coventry City Council leader Lisa Thomas is one of Quiroga’s supporters.
“The restaurant is filled with people hugging and welcoming every day. But just as importantly, she chose our city for her business and for her family’s relocation,” Thomas said in an emailed statement.
“This story should never have involved comments on a local social media group. It’s about Carmen choosing our town for her new business and the excitement of the community at finally having a breakfast spot with good food and coffee in town again. This type of small business is a key benefit to our community.”