The owner of a cafe that shut down after he made a series of offensive comments online, including telling members of the gay community they were not welcome, has revealed his intention to re-open the business.
Mark Da Costa’s Hale & Hearty in Sydney’s inner southern suburb of Waterloo closed in 2020 after its involvement in a series of internet controversies, which Mr Da Costa has now told news.com.au was fuelled by an ugly combination of pandemic confusion, financial stress, and alcohol.
His cafe gained national attention when he branded it a “safe zone” for supporters of former US president Donald Trump and told people who criticised his attitude to “go f**k yourself”.
At the time, he blamed the “left wing fake vegan community” and accused it of trying to destroy his family’s livelihood because of the political views he expressed online.
This week, after taking an extended break from both Australia and business, he announced he would attempt to raise enough money to relaunch the cafe.
He claimed he used his time away – spent largely with his wife and her family in Argentina – to reflect on where he failed, admitting he wrongly let “anger take over”.
“My response was vulgar to certain individuals because we had just gone through Covid, I spent a lot of down time drinking at the time, I was losing business … and to see the vegan community attack a family business the way it did, for having an opinion outside its own, I guess anger took over,” Mr Da Costa said.
“I wasn’t well enough equipped or stable enough or settled enough in the business to respond in a more professional manner. At that stage I had lost hope in what was going on.”
He said he “cracked” after one person posted online about his support for Trump, and from then on, the floodgates were open.
Mr Da Costa said he regretted how he handled himself in 2020 and apologised for his unprofessionalism, however has doubled down on some of his conservative views.
The LGBTQI+ community was just one minority group he caused offence to in 2020, and has stood by his opinion that some of those belonging to it were part of a “fantasy”.
“Being gay is completely normal but the LGBTQI community has gone down a different route,” he told news.com.au.
“It’s a political vehicle. You can’t compare Mardi Gras and the gay lifestyle to LGBTQI. It’s totally different,” he argued.
When asked if he understood why gay Aussies might feel insulted by his rejection of the LGBTQI+ community, he argued the two groups were separate and that anyone who disagreed was wrong.
He also claimed the rainbow flag “caused division” because it promoted a “promiscuous lifestyle”, revealing he refused to acknowledge the validity of people with diverse gender identifiers.
Mr Da Costa fell short of apologising for offending minority groups during his business downfall and said he was only prepared to apologise for not responding to feedback in a professional way.
He remained convinced his business would be welcomed into Sydney’s inner east – home to one of the city’s biggest LGBTQI+ populations.
His comeback plan however hinges entirely on whether he can raise enough money, which if his GoFundMe page was anything to go by, wasn’t looking good. Not one person has donated at the time of publishing.
Mr Da Costa, who would need to raise at least $50,000 but ideally wanted to raise more than $100,000, thought that once his campaign caught the attention of “the right Christians”, he would easily raise half a million dollars.
The cafe had been completely vegan but in its final days, Mr Da Costa decided to add meat to its menu. Its relaunch would not be vegan, according to its Facebook page.
Several members within the vegan community have already made it clear they would not be supporting Hale & Hearty if its relaunch, which could be as early as later this year, went ahead.
“Can he do a fundraiser for not opening the store ever again? I feel like it would be more popular,” one wrote in response to a post of the GoFundMe page to Facebook.
“The guy has a better chance of winning Australian Idol,” another joked.
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