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Stigma of hate surrounds town

Latest allegations leave reputation in tatters

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Dave Claringbould and his partner closed their restaurant in Morris after negative experiences with townspeople.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Dave Claringbould and his partner closed their restaurant in Morris after negative experiences with townspeople.

At least Thea Morris has company.

The woman who is planning to close her diner in Morris due to what she alleges are discriminatory incidents has a couple allies: the two men who ran the Pots N Hands restaurant in the same location, which they closed in April citing homophobic slurs.

"I was very sad to hear and read the news about Thea's and I offer our sympathy and empathy towards her current situation," said Pots N Hands co-owner Matt (who has never made his last name public), who operated the restaurant with partner Dave Claringbould, in an email.

"What took place with Pots N Hands was just as devastating. However, it didn't kill us so I am proud to report that we are stronger because of it," he continued in his email. "In time, Thea will understand what I mean by that, but right now when you are facing a dream that has turned into a nightmare and it is hard to find the silver lining... but trust me, there is one waiting for you.

"For the public, please read the media reports as awareness that these types of attitudes still exist in our communities. I recognize these people as the Cancer of Morris," the email continued. "With that said, don't paint everyone with the same brush as it isn't fair. Morris is home to some incredible people."

'What took place with Pots N Hands was just as devastating. However, it didn't kill us so I am proud to report that we are stronger because of it'

-- Dave Claringbould (below), who closed his Morris eatery in April citing homophobic slurs

After the Free Press broke the story of Thea's Diner on Wednesday, the reaction was both vitriolic and swift. Once again, the Town of Morris office was being inundated with angry emails branding the community of 1,800 residents as intolerant bigots.

Even the town's Wikipedia page had been altered to read under "Community History": "Morris is also known for two businesses being run out of town in 2013. One for being run by homosexuals. The other for being run by a woman of colour from Jamaica."

That reputation has left town leaders both frustrated and angry. One Morris town councillor on Wednesday said continued reported incidents of discrimination has residents feeling persecuted.

"It feels like a pile-on," said Coun. Mike Hinchey. "It's extremely frustrating to see this happen to our town again. The vast majority are hardworking people who never want to hurt anyone else.

"We value every business person in our town. It's very unfortunate that people are fearing for their safety, real or imagined."

Morris, who was born in Jamaica, opened her diner in late June. She plans to leave at the end of December, citing a series of "disrespectful" incidents, including a response to a staff recruitment message from a bogus KKK account, which Morris concedes could have originated from anywhere. But she also cited "at least 10" occasions where groups of people would come into the restaurant, sit down, make drink orders, then leave before the staff returned.

"It's not getting any better," Morris told the Free Press on Tuesday. "Whatever force I'm fighting."

Once the article appeared, a few local residents -- via email -- said Thea's business was suffering because of poor service.

"Instead of looking at the race, sex and culture of the owners why don't we look at the restaurant qualities," wrote one resident. "Would you wait 10 minutes until a waitress delivered your menu? How about food quality -- I received burnt chicken last time I ate there. I told her it was burnt and she said she knew it before serving it and still charged me full price."

Another email: "I actually stopped there back in July/August and I have to tell you. IT WAS THE BEST ROTI I EVER HAD IN MY LIFE!!!!!!!"

RM of Morris Reeve Ralph Groening pointed out that five restaurants have been located at the same Main Street location over the last five years, including a Chicken Delight. None has lasted.

"I don't honestly believe racism played any significant role in the cause of the restaurant to fail," Groening said. "I believe it was a lack of promotion and the lack of the willingness (on the owner) to engage the community."

The former owners of Pots N Hands disagree, although their email, posted on their Facebook site, urged "all of you who read the reports not to give up on Morris and the good people of the town who try so hard to maintain a positive life.

"No one should ever be subject to this type of behaviour and I am sad to learn that the closure of Pots N Hands wasn't a loud enough message," the former owners added. "Thea is a very strong-willed person and for those of you who have met her, you know what I am talking about. She will be a success anywhere she decides to reopen and she does create amazing food. Sadly though, the ones of Morris who resent change and progression have now lost out twice... open your eyes and soon you will see what you are missing out on!"

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 7:06 AM CST: Replaces photo

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