A vegan restaurant owner in Sydney has courted backlash after declaring that his restaurant was a “Donald Trump safe zone,” inviting patrons for pancakes with a “side of racism” and using homophobic slurs on social media.

Mark Da Costa, owner of vegan fast food restaurant Hale And Hearty, located in the heart of Waterloo, Sydney, has claimed on social media that the “left wing fake vegan community” was out to destroy his restaurant and that the “mess was created by the gay/vegan community.”

This is the second restaurant in Waterloo in the past few months that has found itself facing boycott calls after its owner’s controversial posts on social media. Last month, another Waterloo restaurant Yilmaz Grill And Bakehouse shut down following a boycott over owner Iftekhar Hasan’s homophobic social media posts.

Waterloo, located close to Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, is a popular suburb with a large LGBTQI population. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Waterloo is on the top 10 list of suburbs in the country with the highest proportion of same sex couples as per the 2016 census.

Da Costa and Hale And Hearty’s social media handles are peppered with pro Trump and pro Pauline Hanson messages and memes. When questioned about the posts, Da Costa responded to some with homophobic and trans-phobic slurs. The posts were subsequently deleted but not before the screenshots were widely shared in the local community.

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 After a social media user called out Da Costa’s comments, Hale And Hearty’s official social media handle responded, “Hahahah we are busier than ever. Take care little man/woman… who fuckin knows with you re%#&%s.” To another person, the handle asks: “are you a p%%f?”.

As the online boycott calls started, the restaurant deleted the posts. But, Da Costa was not done. On October 26, he posted a video with the message “the racist vegan has spoken.” In the video he invites patrons saying, “If you want Sydney’s best pancakes, with a side of racism, then come and see us.”

Da Costa positioned the backlash he was facing as an issue of “free speech” and because he was a Trump supporter. In a subsequent post, the restaurant made an attempt to claim that it was a safe space for the LGBTQI community.

“Yes because of (name redacted) of the Sydney Vegans Facebook page the Trump thing became an issue with Hale And Hearty. Although the owner (Mark supports Donald Trump) we want you to know we have always and will always be a safe house for the LGBT, left wing, right wing and all religious communities that make this country Australia, a great place! Peace.”

In another message, the restaurant declared that after the “inbox abuse we received by community members of the LGBT and gay community for being @realdonaldtrump & @senatorpaulinehanson supporters we thought it was appropriate to classify ourselves now a safe zone in Waterloo for the Straight community.”

In yet another post it sought to remind the gay community of its support for the 2017 same sex marriage equality vote claiming that the restaurant had put its reputation on the line.”

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 Writer Jenna Guillaume posted on Twitter that “I will never be eating there (at H&H) again.”

“Anyone have Vegan Restaurant in Sydney, declares themselves a straight safe space after coming out in support of Trump on their 2020 bingo? I think I might have.” posted singer Brendan Maclean.

Star Observer asked Da Costa about the controversy and this is what he had to say in an email interview.

You have declared your restaurant Hale & Hearty as a ‘Donald Trump Safe’ zone? What was the reason for doing so?

Da Costa: I did. Why? I did so because my private Facebook posts were stolen and shared by a gay vegan gentlemen offended that I (owner of Hale & Hearty) was a Trump supporter. Once he (name redacted) shared my private screen shots and posts on popular vegan Facebook pages which included my brand, thousands of vegans and local gay community members bombarded me declaring they would automatically boycott the restaurant for that reason alone. So I came out and admitted I was a proud TRUMPION! & ONE NATION supporter.

In your video on October 26, 2020, you appear to be ok with being a “racist vegan” and claim that Hale And Hearty serves “Sydney’s best pancakes with a side of racism.” Are you being serious or joking? Either way, how is it fine to seem to be ok with racism?

Da Costa: Obviously I’m joking. I do have a silly personality and was only making fun of those who called me racist, a bigot, homophobic, transgender phobic, pedo and God knows what else for having only mentioned I was a Trump and Pauline Hanson supporter. The harassment was diabolical and threatening to say the least lol.

You have called people homophobic slurs on Facebook? Now you are claiming the restaurant is an LGBTQI safe zone? How do you expect LGBTQI people and allies to be comfortable about an owner who uses such slurs?

Da Costa: This mess was created by the gay/vegan community. I could have behaved much better and I am regretful with my words used in anger which they (the gay community did not deserve). But the issue here is herd mentality and a new world that cancels people out for a sheer opinion different to their own. We’ve never not welcomed all cultures and sexual preferences into our home and that won’t change.

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 A change.org petition calling on the “vegan and queer communities of Inner-Sydney, and local representatives” to boycott the restaurant for promoting “hate-speech, homophobia, and uses offensive and discriminatory language on social media” has garnered around 100 supporters.

“The social media accounts of this restaurant have regularly directed ableist, sexist, and homophobic hate-speech at anyone critical of their views,” said the petition, adding that hate-speech on the restaurant’s social media handles was threatening the safety of the local LGBTQI community.

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