By Andrew Z. Galarneau
Social media is important to startup restaurants because it's free advertising, the only marketing plan many new owners can afford. Facebook and Twitter are their Ogilvy & Mathers.
Upside: shows prospective customers how much fun you're having.
Downside: may provoke an Internet critic to come by and call you a racist rapist sympathizer. Then when a staffer responds nastily, show the world the nasty.
That's what happened yesterday to Gabrielle Mattina of The Gypsy Parlor, 376 Grant St. After painstakingly rehabbing the place and opening up a tavern with a bar food menu and music performance space, Mattina and her crew have gotten a pretty decent response from the neighborhood.
On Thanksgiving Eve, the Super Bowl of drinking nights in Buffalo, Mattina posted this picture of herself, on the left, and bartender Anna Todaro :
They were dressed up as Pocahotties. You know, sexy Pocahontases. (Pocahonti?) "There is nothing sexy about pilgrims," she wrote.
Which drew the ire of Jodi Lynn Maracle, an American Studies PhD student at the University at Buffalo who is part Mohawk. In a post published yesterday, Maracle teed off on the photo:
Above we see Gabrielle Mattina, owner of The Gypsy Parlor in Buffalo, NY, posing with bartender, Anna Todaro, dressed as some bizarre mashup of the ever present racist, sexist Pocahottie mixed with a dash of some fabricated notion of the Gypsy, who, much like the Indian, exists more in the mythologized, Disney realm than any where in reality.
In response to Facebook commenters posting "Hey, sexy" comments and "I don't remember the Native Americans looking like this in my history books," Maracle dropped the big one, linking the ain't-we-having-fun photo to the rape of Native American women and racist depictions of Roma people:
And, ya know, I think these commenters are right. We Indian Maidens bust (sic) be sexy given the reality that we are at least 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted, 88% of those crimes committed by non-Natives, and a sickeningly low prosecution rate against perpetrators of violent sexual crimes against Native women because, ya know, we're just too darn sexy.
It was bad enough these women opted to deck out their new business venture as "The Gypsy Parlor", replete with mood lighting and an attempt at some New Agey bohemian vibe, touting all that is dehumanizing, false, and racist towards Roma populations, but then, in a sheer stroke of genius, they thought, "Hey, why do we combine our two favorite fantasies: Indians and Gypsies?!"
And lo, the hippest of the Buffalo hepcats flock to the promised land of Indians and Gypsies on Thanksgiving Eve.
So, to paraphrase, you contribute to rape culture, and you are appropriating poseurs.
After that the back and forth got ugly and interesting by turns, depending on who was firing off messages to Maracle, including some of the bar's staffers. Maracle posted a bunch of it. I'm not going to link to it because of the nastiness that ensued. Sometimes smartphones help people do dumb things, and as the police post-crash press releases are wont to say, alcohol may have been a contributing factor.
The lasting question is, does this work in favor of Mattina and The Gypsy Parlor? Perhaps it's true after all that there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Hard to believe, considering the reviews that have started showing up on Gypsy Parlor's Yelp page, some with statements that seem fabricated. "I asked some fairly reasonable questions about some of the menu items (in regards to preparation and ingredients) and the waitress responded by throwing a smallpox covered blanket at me and telling me to go back to the reservation," one Mark D wrote.
Note to restaurant owners: If you haven't given your staff clear instructions on how to handle social media interactions, this might be a good time.