By 6 a.m. Monday, Curtis Park and Five Points community members and supporters are expected to gather once again outside Ink! Coffee on Larimer Street to protest the coffee shop’s ill-received joke about gentrification.
This is the second protest in as many days against the three-year-old coffee shop that made international headlines over the holiday weekend. Ink! made a marketing joke of gentrification inside its historically black neighborhood, with signage reading, “Happily Gentrifying The Neighborhood Since 2014.” Now protestors, including the NAACP Denver chapter, will ask customers of Ink! to take their business elsewhere.
“With racial tensions growing out of control in our nation, it is sad that newcomers to communities that were once predominately people of color are insensitive to the history, as well as the families who reside there,” reads the Facebook event page for NAACP’s Monday protest against Ink!. “Please help the community to put an end to Ink Coffee by asking those who patron there to find alternative places to purchase their cup of joe.”
A cup of coffee became the lightening rod for racial and class tensions in this Denver community on Wednesday when Aspen-based Ink!, a relative newcomer to the district now known as RiNo, set up a sandwich board outside its 16th store location. “Happily Gentrifying The Neighborhood Since 2014” was on the front, and continued on the back, reading: “Nothing Says Gentrification Like Being Able To Order A Cortado.”
yo @inkcoffee we are not cool with this sign on 29th and Larimer. Bad decision. Bad design. BAD. W.T.F. pic.twitter.com/81UkXfM9kh— La Suprema Pistola (@theperfectRu) November 22, 2017
The sign has since been removed, and the company has attempted apologies, starting with a quick sequence over Twitter that began with the word “Hmmm” followed by a light joke. The message then ended on a more humble and serious note: “We should know better.”
Hmmm. We clearly drank too much of our own product and lost sight of what makes our community great.— ink! Coffee (@inkcoffee) November 22, 2017
We sincerely apologize for our street sign. Our (bad) joke was never meant to offend our vibrant and diverse community.— ink! Coffee (@inkcoffee) November 22, 2017
We should know better. We hope you will forgive us.— ink! Coffee (@inkcoffee) November 22, 2017
Following the backlash on social media, Ink! Coffee’s building was vandalized and painted in graffiti Thanksgiving Eve with the words “White Coffee” underneath the shop’s slogan, “Coffee. Above All Else.” In response, Ink! and its advertising firm Cultivator both issued separate Thanksgiving Day statements on Facebook.
Ink coffee vandalized overnight after fury over sign joking about gentrification. pic.twitter.com/uj8mb9W5nB— Jaclyn Allen (@jaclynreporting) November 23, 2017
For its part, Cultivator says the gentrification campaign “intended to offer a cynical perspective on the rapid development of our RiNo District neighborhood.” And Ink! founder Keith Herbert wrote: “When our advertising firm presented this campaign to us, I interpreted it as taking pride in being part of a dynamic, evolving community that is inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, religions and gender identities.” Both parties then admitted wrongdoing and echoed apologies. “I recognize now that we had a blind spot to other legitimate interpretations. I sincerely apologize – absolutely and unequivocally,” Herbert added.
I join a few of my favorite Denverites in discussing why communities with thriving cultures must be preserved in this piece for The Guardian. Ink Coffee, we're looking at YOU. https://t.co/XcRstgpiZV— La Suprema Pistola (@theperfectRu) November 24, 2017
The question now is how this business and others — citizens and lawmakers — will respond to continued concern regarding increasingly inaccessible Denver neighborhoods. Around 200 demonstrators gathered Saturday in front of the still-closed Ink! Coffee. Protest organizer Tay Anderson told the crowd that he and other community members from across Denver will be forming a coalition “to make sure we are putting a curb to gentrification within our entire city.” Since Saturday, the conversation has started to shift from angered initial reactions to lamentations over a lost community and much larger, city-wide questions.
I grew up in Denver when Five Points was a neglected black neighborhood with a rich history as the "Harlem of the West." @InkCoffee was dead wrong, and an apology is the least they owed that community. Gentrification isn't an adorable marketing strategy. https://t.co/5t9Te8SJl7— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) November 24, 2017
Gentrification protest at ink Coffee: "When you rename our historic communities Highlands, LoHi, RiNo ... this is defacing our community." pic.twitter.com/ID6CMFlIRY— Alex Burness (@alex_burness) November 25, 2017
If gentrification to you means “cleaning up” an area of town you don’t live in/actually know nothing about, you inhabit the colonizer mindset. It implies that you believe you have authority over other peoples’ space and that you somehow know what they need.— Bree Davies (@CocoDavies) November 26, 2017
- 'Happily gentrifying since 2014': Denver coffee shop sign sparks fury [The Guardian]
- A Denver coffee shop celebrated gentrification — and is now profusely apologizing [Chicago Tribune]
- A coffee shop celebrated gentrification — and is now profusely penitent [Washington Post]
- Demonstrators protest Ink Coffee Sign Celebrating Gentrification [Denver Post]
- ink! Coffee’s ‘happily gentrifying’ ad sparks broader conversation about Denver changing [Denverite]
- Ink! Coffee Opens Home Hub in RiNo [EDEN]