A new breakfast spot in a quaint Connecticut town has a bright menu offering everything from chocolate chip pancakes to huevos rancheros. Residents in Coventry had been waiting for a diner for several years, and it opened last week to high hopes.
But “Woke Breakfast & Coffee,” has stirred controversy, as so much does these days, with critics adamant that its name was meant as a political statement and vowing to boycott the establishment.
Yet owner Carmen Quiroga said she was completely unaware of how the term “woke” has become tied up with national politics and the culture wars. The name was simply meant to convey a familiar morning ritual: making a cup of coffee to “wake up.”
“I just feel so sad. I don’t have any idea what’s happening with the name,” said Quiroga, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico 17 years ago. She said she does not pay attention to spats between conservatives and liberals on the news, keeping her focus on “work, work, work” and caring for her family.
Although the word “woke” has long been used to describe an awareness of systemic injustices, conservatives have wielded the term as a pejorative in recent years to disparage progressives and their beliefs.
“I don’t have any idea of the controversies that happen,” Quiroga said. “I am very lost.”
Still, the name has sparked debate, with one local Facebook group generating a number of heated comments.
A longtime resident, Tonya Ohlund initially posted a warm review about “Woke Breakfast” as a show of support, having seen small businesses routinely come and go in town. But before long sporadic comments began popping up, with people insinuating the name was meant to assert a political stance.
“What a name for a restaurant, way to get only certain people to come to your place ... won’t be going,” read one response, said Ohlund, an administrator of the group.
After deleting too many “hateful” comments to count, she issued a stern warning.
“If you are that close-minded that you can’t grasp that the name is referring to the fact that it is a breakfast establishment and nothing more then just keep that to yourself and move on,” she wrote. “It’s disgusting to read that residents are going to refuse to support a business that is trying to grow in our awesome little town because you don’t like what they’ve named it.”
In a separate group, Manuel Sotelo posted earlier this month that his family was opening up the restaurant and were taking applications for baristas and waitstaff.
A woman soon replied, pushing back against the name.
“Is that really such a good idea? Out here we r all republicans and no one would really identify as woke,” she wrote. “idk the name is gonna loose [sic] some [people].”
Lisa Thomas, chair of the Coventry Town Council, said she was irked by the debate, blaming a “very small representation” of the community for casting a negative light on the town.
Eastern Connecticut, she said, has many small towns like Coventry that struggle to find a “balance between economic development” and their rural nature, making it imperative for residents to support new businesses.
“We haven’t had a breakfast place in town for several years now,” said Thomas, a Democrat. “The word ‘woke’ is controversial everywhere, not just in Coventry. So many things have become weaponized in our communities.”
Quiroga said she sold her pizza restaurant in a nearby town to open up the breakfast spot, allowing her to have a more flexible work schedule and devote additional time to her 10-year-old son, who has autism.
“This is all I have right now,” she said. “I just want to be successful and do a good job.”
On signs outside the modest white building and splashed on the menu is a logo featuring an egg cooked sunny side up in place of the “O.” A cheeky catchphrase reading, “You woke up and made the right choice,” is written above a list of breakfast items, including benedicts and omelettes.
When Quiroga first learned about the fight brewing about the name, she began worrying about the prospects of “Woke Breakfast” and talked to her family about changing the name.
But after four months of renovations and getting the necessary permits, paying thousands for restaurant equipment, there was no turning back. The name would stay.
As the controversy has gained attention, residents have turned up in droves to try out the restaurant and many have posted glowing reviews.
“So glad this is open. So many times I’m asked by out of towners ... where can we go for breakfast,” one woman commented in the local Facebook group. “Woke is an excellent name. It’s breakfast.”
The discussion spurred the Coventry Republican Town Committee to discourage “any negativity toward this business or [its] hard working, entrepreneurial owners” in a Facebook post on Sunday. “Nor do we support the impulsive chatter of boycott.”
“It is clear that the owner never intended for it to be a political statement,” the committee said. “Sometimes, words can mean just what they’ve always meant.”
It’s a turn of events that has left Quiroga feeling more than a little relieved.
“A lot of people came to support. They say, ‘We’re going to be here every day. We’re going to come to get coffee.’ They like the space, the food,” she said. “I feel so happy. That was my goal.”
Shannon Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.