One cafe owner claims a “vengeful” customer tried to shut down his small business with a number of gluten allergies – by calling a Facebook mob on a “threatening witch hunt” and even calling Trading Standards.
Emma Price, the co-owner of The Lighthouse cafe in Mevagissey, Cornwall, says the spit broke when they informed the woman that they couldn’t guarantee that their ingredients were completely gluten-free to be safe enough for celiac disease .
Despite being honest and putting “customer safety above her profits”, Emma claims the “disgruntled” visitor was so angry that she went to a celiac Facebook group to beg the other 26,500 members not to close the cafe to visit.
The 48-year-old was brought to the attention of the malicious post by another business owner on Thursday, August 19, and discovered abusive comments alleging a user threatened to hit the staff on the head with a frying pan.
The customer even reported the tiny cafe to the local government, which meant Emma and her team were exposed to an impromptu and stressful visit from Trading Standards during a busy lunch service.
Despite the inspection, which found that the cafe had not broken rules and regulations, the owner admits that she was “extremely upset” and felt “vulnerable” by the incident.
She shares the ordeal of the cafe to encourage others to think about the impact they can have on a small business before posting “vengeful” and “untrue” reviews or comments online.
Emma said, “I was very upset when I saw these comments.
“The problem with Facebook is that people can say what they want, and then there is this huge bunch of people who have never visited our café, never looked at our products, and never talked to us, but us have threatened physical violence.
“It makes you feel quite vulnerable and you know that we are not the only ones who work in the café.
“Myself and my partner own the business, but we have other employees and especially in the summer months there are students and young people working in our café and I really don’t want them to be confronted with someone who threatens to hit you on the head beat frying pan.
“I think the fact that there are 26,500 in this group is really quite a sobering thought. If those 26,500 believe what they read, it could be disastrous.
“They obviously wanted us to close and there are six people who depend on this business for their salaries. Not including all of our suppliers and customers.
“It has so far-reaching implications when someone makes this untrue statement on a Facebook group [that we could not reply in]. “
After reading the client’s scathing review, The Lighthouse café posted two posts on Facebook that added their side of the story and encouraged people to think before posting “untrue” allegations.
Since their posts went online, the client’s original post appears to have been deleted from the group it was posted to.
The customer originally wrote: “Please don’t go here!
“Went for a gluten free breakfast, they said they did? [sic] gluten free toast, it wasn’t until I sat down and waited for my food that the lady said to the other lady that they know everything is cooked according to the same plan and she wasn’t? [sic] won’t tell me anything.
“So I pulled the lady and asked if it was cooked separately and she said no, I said what about the gluten free toast, she said it was done in the same toaster as regular bread.
“I told them you did [sic] Making someone seriously ill with their lack of knowledge and just because something is labeled gluten-free doesn’t mean it’ll be good, it’s about cooking and preparing it too. I just got a weird look! “
However, Emma emphasized that the café is always very open to what they can safely get hold of.
Emma said, “We spoke to the lady in question and she wanted breakfast. We have stated that we have a lot of gluten-free ingredients, but we cannot guarantee that this will not be the case.” [completely free of gluten] [as gluten is] an allergen in the air and obviously upset about it.
“Our allergy poster is visible right in the cafe. They know all we could do, we did it and the only thing we didn’t like was not to serve her any food.
“But the alternatives would have been terrible, if we had served her and she was doing badly, then I could see what her complaint would be about, but we were just protecting her.
“We have a lot of people who come here who are gluten intolerant, which is obviously very different from celiac disease, which is a real allergy.
“We always talk to customers to find out exactly how high their allergies are.
“All other customers either say yes, that’s okay, my kitchen house is not completely sterile, because what can a kitchen really be?
“And we talk to them about how we can minimize the risk, for example using additional utensils or washing things.
“Our deep fryers do not contain products containing gluten, so we’re really trying, but of course you can’t be 100% and most customers totally agree.
“And if there are customers who react really badly to gluten and who have celiac disease, they appreciate us saying that to them, and I always say, ‘Maybe our little café is not for you’.
“We would never put anyone’s health above our profit, we could, but we don’t.
“So I really don’t know what she complained about, I think it was more the fact that we couldn’t serve her than what we did wrong.
“The vast majority of our customers are really nice, we get a lot of repeat business and a lot of positive support.
“It’s a customer in a summer of thousands, it’s been a very stressful week.”
After the café was made aware of the customer’s devastating attack, it published its own public post.
It read: “Today I was made aware that there is a very worrying post about our gluten-free offer in circulation today on a certain celiac group page on Facebook.
“This original post leaves an unfair, harmful and untrue portrayal of our business.
“This is followed by several comments, ranging from threats to report us to the Environmental Protection Agency, saying our 5-star rating should be removed, to personal threats and threats of physical attacks on our employees and our business . […]
“For those of you who realized this turned into a witch hunt or gave positive feedback, thank you. We are very grateful and love to see you.
“For those who contributed to this witch hunt without ever stepping foot in our cafe, please stay away and perhaps consider how your reckless actions could affect 6 people’s livelihoods and an honest company reputation could affect.
“After all, we’re tiny. We cannot accommodate additional equipment in our kitchen. We have kept our business going even in the toughest times, just trying to keep our customers safe.
“Contributions like this could destroy our business through no fault of their own and it’s extremely annoying. We do our best and hopefully the vast majority of our customers will see it.”
A Cornwall Council spokesperson said: “A customer with a food allergy contacted Cornwall Trading Standards to raise concerns about their experience in the business.
“A trade standards officer visited the premises and found that the appropriate food allergen information was appropriate. The officer discussed the matter with the shop owner and provided advice.
“We would always encourage companies and their customers to have discussions about allergies and to contact their local environmental health or commercial standards team with any concerns or questions.”
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