Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gay couple gets lots of support, but still closing Morris eatery

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Morris town council weighed today, expressing regret that the owners of a local restaurant are closing it due to insults about their sexual orientation.

"In light of becoming aware there were problems and that they would be closing, we as a council along with our CAO, met for lunch at Pots N Hands to show support for this restaurant in our town," council said in a letter released today by chief administrative officer Brigitte Duerksen.

"In doing so, we made a public statement as a group that the people who represent Morris support our local businesses regardless of race, belief, and/or sexual orientation (which really should go without saying. It is very disappointing that this has become an issue in our town).

"People form opinions, towns do not. Towns are made up of diverse groups of people, and sometimes there are a few who do not understand how differences are what makes a particular town unique," said the council in the letter.

"The Town of Morris is saddened to be losing a business run by two very polite individuals, and especially under these circumstances. We appreciate the concern that has been voiced, but please remember that painting an entire town with the same intolerant brush is akin to the ignorance that made this front page news to begin with," the town council said.

Restaurant to close Saturday

Dave Claringbould said homophobia is forcing them to shut the doors of their Pots N Hands restaurant in the town of Morris, about 70 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

When they opened a restaurant in rural Manitoba, they knew some people might have a problem with them being gay. But they didn't expect to face blatant ignorance.

"We were asked if somebody was going to catch something off of the plate because we had prepared the food on it," Claringbould recalled Tuesday.

He said his partner calmly dealt with the customer and told the man he would be OK.

"We were very hurt and upset by it. Some of the narrow-minded things that have been said to us are absolutely shocking."

Even though the news coverage prompted many people in town -- and across the country -- to urge them to keep the eatery open, Claringbould said they plan to serve their last meal there April 13,  just four months after the restaurant opened.

Most in community welcoming: owner

The 35-year-old Claringbould, originally from the United Kingdom, has worked in the restaurant business for 15 years. After cooking in kitchens in British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, he settled in Manitoba.

He and his partner, who does not want to be identified, lived in Winnipeg before they bought a rural property near Morris. Claringbould taught a cooking class in town, then decided to pursue his dream of running his own restaurant.

The pair opened Pots N Hands in December, serving dishes such as baked potatoes stuffed with chicken curry, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Claringbould said he and his partner didn't hide their relationship but didn't flaunt it either. In February, he said a group of regular customers found out they were gay and stopped coming. Others verbally attacked the couple in the restaurant and around town.

Most people in the community of 1,700 are not homophobic and have been welcoming, said Claringbould. But the others make it difficult to run a business and live there happily.

Claringbould said he and his partner previously faced homophobia when they lived in another community, which he wouldn't name. The couple stuck it out for awhile but people just wouldn't change their attitudes.

"We're not prepared to go through that again."

Resident blames 'village-idiot rednecks'

George Ifandis, who runs George's Burgers & Subs in town, said he has nothing against the eatery's owners, but understands some customers might be uncomfortable with the men's sexuality.

"A lot of people don't like it," said Ifandis. "You don't know what they're doing in the kitchen."

In a story published Tuesday, the Free Press also spoke with an older couple and a young man in Morris who said they didn't like that the restaurant owners are gay.

"They should get the hell out of here," the newspaper quoted one man as saying. "I don't really like them, the service and who they are."

One longtime resident, who asked not to be named, said she is disgusted and embarrassed by the prejudice.

"There's a couple of village-idiot rednecks, young fellas that when they grow up they'll understand how their vicious tongues can hurt people."

She said the restaurant serves fabulous food and some people even drive down from Winnipeg to eat there. "We wish they would stay and not be bullied out of here."

The president of the Morris Chamber of Commerce, Pat Schmitke, said he's hurt and disappointed.

"It's so unfortunate, because it's not what our little town is about. It's certainly, absolutely not what the majority of people's feelings are in this town."

Schmitke said it's the second time this year the community has been in the spotlight for bigotry allegations.

The town's community newspaper published editorial comments in January calling aboriginals corrupt and lazy. The Morris Mirror went out of business in March.

With files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2013 A4

History

Updated on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 11:16 AM CDT: Removes unrelated story

11:17 AM: Corrects spelling of name.

1:30 PM: Updated with council statement

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