Last Sunday, at the end of Pride month, during the worst health crisis in a century and as the world grapples with racial discrimination through the Black Lives Matter movement, the owner of Poets Cafe in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, chose the moment to demand an inter-racial pair of lesbian health workers leave his cafe and “never come back.”
C is a doctor who currently works in an Emergency Department. J is a student midwife on call to deliver babies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. QNews chooses not to divulge the names of the couple because they remain working in the health system at a time of global crisis.
Like most health workers, the two women work long shifts during the pandemic.
Last Sunday, enjoying rare time off together, they took a drive through the Sunshine Coast hinterland. They made the most of a rare opportunity to enjoy some downtime together and reconnoitre potential wedding venues for their planned nuptials. They arrived at scenic Montville — as the name suggests — a mountain village, just 20 minutes drive from Australia Zoo. With sweeping views across the Sunshine Coast from high atop the green hills of the Blackall Range, Montville enjoys a thriving tourist trade.
Swept away by the beauty of the small township and reassured of a friendly welcome by the rainbow flags dotted about the town, the couple looked around for a wedding venue.
Poets Cafe, Montville
C and J found the Poets Cafe. The cafe’s website boasts of “uninterrupted views of the beautiful Sunshine Coast.
“Imagine walking down the aisle of the Beautiful Stone Chapel on your wedding day and enjoying sunset canapes and champange [sic] while watching the full moon rise over the ocean.”
Reviews on the Poets Cafe Facebook page all agree the views are breathtaking.
While waiting for someone to take their order, the couple held hands as loving couples commonly do. They noticed that an older man they assumed owned the venue became visibly angry as he watched them.
C said, “We ordered coffee, took a menu, sat at a table and caught up on paperwork.” (With their work hours monopolised by caring for patients, they take paperwork home to do in their own time.)
J told QNews, ” We told four different waitstaff we wished to order food after our coffee.”
However, the moment the women took the first sip from their coffees, the older man instructed a staff member to present them with a bill.
C asked the man if he needed the table back. Although the cafe was not following COVID-19 restrictions, there were plenty of empty tables.
“Finish up and leave!”
The man responded angrily.
“I want you to just finish up and leave!”
Not comprehending what inspired the anger and adverse to causing a scene, the pair went outside. They thought the owner might follow and explain. Instead, one of the waitstaff came out and asked for payment for the coffees. The couple stated they would not pay after such poor treatment. They asked to speak to the owner but the staff member said he would not come out and somewhat defensively stated: “That’s just what he’s like.”
Seeing him standing at the counter unoccupied, C returned and asked for a word with him. He answered curtly.
“I want you to never come back here.”
The two told QNews they watched the cafe for a while to see if there was perhaps some reasonable explanation for the owner’s behaviour.
However, they saw other customers lingering over their coffees. Other patrons of the cafe also read while yet others, just as the two women had, caught up on paperwork.
Poets Cafe reviews
Reviews from the Poets Cafe Facebook page indicate C & J are far from the first patrons of the Poets Cafe to undergo such an unpleasant experience at the venue.
Reviewers tend to either love or hate the place, and many of the negative reviews mention a common factor — the presence of the owner.
“Feeling worried. No COVID safe plan visible and def no social distancing with lack of COVID safe hygiene with menus and condiments.”
“If you’re looking for poor customer service including management. And poor quality food at an expensive price this is the cafe for you. Very disappointed, would never go back.”
“Old man who I think was the owner was terribly rude. We had our kids with us who were happily playing on the veranda, no one else was outside so they weren’t bothering anyone and he came and told them off. We received our food and straight after they bought us the bill because they wanted us gone. Coffee was terrible and scones were very dry!”
“The owner was so rude to us! We asked one of the staff to see if we could take some photos inside the cafe, and also told her that we will order coffee and cake. The owner then turned to us and basically pushed us out! I would never imagine experiencing something like us. On our way out, he followed us and said that no photos are allowed outside the cafe either because he owns the whole block.”
“The owner proceeded to tell A* it was ‘f***ing fine’ and that nothing was wrong with it. In reply A* repeated herself. The owner continues to raise his voice as A* asks if this is how they treat customers and he told her ‘Get f***ed and get out!'”
Trip Advisor Reviews
“This could be a wonderful cafe but it has, for years, suffered from a shockingly poor attitude towards customer service and satisfaction which I can only assume emanates from its owners and management.”
“We have been here a few times when in Montville. The view and food are good but the service is again, dreadful. The same man that we have seen on a number of occasions, is still there. He still refuses to smile or acknowledge the presence of customers. Clearly he is not happy in his job.”
“Older gentleman (possibly the owner) lounged on the counter with a scowl on his face the whole time…”
QNews attempted to contact Poets Cafe for a response but on both occasions we rang, the phone hung up before we could say a word.
The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of the following attributes:
- relationship status
- parental status
- religious belief or religious activity
- political belief or activity
- trade union activity
- lawful sexual activity
- gender identity
- family responsibilities
- association with, or relation to, a person identified on the basis of any of these attributes.
Among other areas, the Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
C and J told QNews they will be pursuing action under the Anti-Discrimination Act through the Queensland Human Rights Commission.
A veteran LGBTIQ+ activist who lives in the Sunshine Coast hinterland told QNews, “the alleged incident is atypical of a beautiful generous and tolerant region that celebrates diversity and inclusion and extends a warm welcome to all visitors.”
Shelley Argent OAM, National Spokesperson for PFLAG said the attitude shocked her.
“I am amazed at this time when businesses are struggling for custom that any business owner would prove so small-minded that he would turn customers away because he is either homophobic or racist and worse still both. Its time that business owners learnt that it is no longer acceptable to treat people in this manner.
“I congratulate the two women for standing up and saying “enough is enough”. Their rights need to be recognized and respected the same as any other customer just wanting a coffee and some lunch.”
Update 2 July
Despite their distress after the incident, C and J enjoy wonderful support from family and friends and also from advocates within the LGBTIQ+ communities. PFLAG Brisbane deserves special commendation for rallying support for the couple.
PFLAG Brisbane President Jane Hopkins told QNews that when J first told her what happened she felt shocked and angry but then determined not to let this incident pass.
“When patients present to the hospital emergency department where C works, they rightfully expect to be treated with respect and common courtesy. They do not expect that their race, sexuality or any similar matter will affect their treatment. Yet, some people in private business seem to think they have the right to treat some customers as lesser because of their own bigotry.”
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