A Fullerton, California, coffee shop owner says he was falsely accused of racism online, which left his business in shambles after an already tough year due to the pandemic.
Joe Rosati is the owner of The Night Owl coffee shop in downtown Fullerton, where he hosts special nights featuring live music, poetry, and open mic performances. One evening in late July, two college-aged women walked into his store carrying the coffee of a nearby competitor’s shop, sat down at the tables, and began listening to the live music.
“I was on the patio, and they walked in, they had our competition’s coffee in their hands, which is just down the street, in a bright orange cup,” Rosati told The Epoch Times, noting that there are signs everywhere in his shop saying outside drinks are not allowed.
“So, I walked in and explained they can’t bring outside drinks in. And the girl walks past me and she goes, ‘Who does this man think he is?’ So I introduce myself as Joe, the owner of the shop and explain that it’s just our policy [with outside drinks], but said she could throw the cup in the trash and come in and get some of our coffee.”
Rosati says at that point the two women decided to leave, and he didn’t think much of it until the following morning. He woke up to find a review of his shop on the website Yelp, where one of the women he interacted with, named Katie, claimed she was kicked out of the store because of the color of her skin.
“Racism isn’t worth a cup of coffee,” she wrote in the review. “Because my skin is brown. And his skin is white. I look different than he does, but no one deserves to be humiliated or treated this way.”
“She wrote that I was like breathing down her neck and staring at her and pointing to the street and telling her to throw her trash in the street,” Rosati said. “It’s like, what? There’s a trashcan right there. Just throw it over there in the trash and come over and hang out and listen to music like everybody else,” he said of the situation.
Quickly after the Yelp review was posted, the shop received dozens more 1-star reviews from people calling Rosati a racist and that he harasses potential customers because of the color of their skin. Rosati said he believes Katie put out the word to her friends to go write bad reviews on Yelp in order to hurt his business, and that the people behind the reviews had never been to his store or met him.
Rosati said the situation had absolutely nothing to do with race, and that he was flabbergasted by the whole situation.
“Every type of person in the world is welcome at The Night Owl, 100 percent. We only ask that you respect everybody else. That’s it,” Rosati said, noting he has a variety of diverse customers and staff in his shop.
“This is where people are actually going to figure out that they’re more alike than different.”
After the onslaught of negative Yelp reviews, The Night Owl’s page now features a banner with a big exclamation point on it saying the business is being investigated for racism.
Rosati said the false accusations really damaged his business, and that in the last 10 days the store has had its lowest sales ever, even compared to the last year and a half of the pandemic, which was already very economically difficult for him.
“I have one store and it’s totally community driven. I’m a member of Rotary International, that’s all we do is raise money for marginal communities, without thought, without any prejudice whatsoever, we just help [marginalized people].”
He continued: “I own a coffee shop in Southern California, there’s one every 20 feet. It is the most competitive business out here, I really believe. And for somebody to do that and after 10 years of just doing nothing but being part of the community, it really [hurts],” he said.
Alexcis Brereton, a barista at The Night Owl, said the allegations against Rosati are completely baseless.
“All these allegations are so not true, Joe has never been the type of person to discriminate or make anyone feel bad about themselves,” she told The Epoch Times.
Brereton said that no other coffee shop would have allowed any other person to bring in coffee from a different business and just sit there.
“I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Joe, I have a great relationship with him. I’ve learned so much from him honestly and he’s helped me so much with school. He’s a great person and it makes me really sad that a lot of people are lying about him,” she said.
Kayde Dandridge, a longtime Night Owl customer, said she wished the woman writing the allegations would have done her research before trying to tear down a family business.
“I am a 24-year-old female African American who has been a Night Owl regular for over 6 years, and I would like to say for the record, that I have never seen anyone treated unfairly or without respect,” she told The Epoch Times.
“In fact, Joe is the type of guy who would not stand for such intolerance and neither would the employees who work for him. The Night Owl atmosphere has been carefully built as a safe haven for any and all walks of life and for someone to come in and indiscriminately destroy that without doing their due diligence is really shameful.”
Mike Johnson, another longtime customer, said that shop is an extremely inclusive environment, and that’s what makes it such a great place.
“I have been a customer of The Night Owl for nearly 10 years,” Johnson told The Epoch Times.
“In that time I have never seen anyone associated with The Night Owl treat anyone with disrespect, for any reason. On the contrary, [Rosati] demands that his employees are friendly and professional. … As a hang-out for artists, musicians, and students, it is the epitome of tolerance and diversity.”
Drew Van Voorhis is a California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. He has been a journalist for four years, during which time he has broken several viral national news stories and has been interviewed for his work on both radio and internet shows.