MORRIS, Man. – When Dave Claringbould and his partner opened a restaurant in rural Manitoba, they knew some people might have a problem with them being gay.
But they didn’t expect to face blatant ignorance and insults.
“We were asked if somebody was going to catch something off of the plate because we had prepared the food on it,” Claringbould recalled Tuesday.
He said his partner calmly dealt with the customer and told the man he would be OK.
“We were very hurt and upset by it. Some of the narrow-minded things that have been said to us are absolutely shocking.”
Claringbould said homophobia is forcing them to shut the doors of their Pots N Hands restaurant in the town of Morris, about 70 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
Supportive emails and phone calls have poured in from across the country and many people in town have asked the couple to keep the eatery open. But Claringbould said he plans to serve his last meal there April 13 — just four months after the restaurant opened.
The 35-year-old chef, originally from the United Kingdom, has worked in the restaurant business for 15 years. After cooking in kitchens in British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, he settled in Manitoba.
He and his partner, who does not want to be identified, lived in Winnipeg before they bought a rural property near Morris. Claringbould taught a cooking class in town, then decided to pursue his dream of running his own restaurant.
The pair opened Pots N Hands in December, serving dishes such as baked potatoes stuffed with chicken curry, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Claringbould said he and his partner didn’t hide their relationship but didn’t flaunt it either. In February, he said a group of regular customers found out they were gay and stopped coming. Others verbally attacked the couple in the restaurant and around town.
Most people in the community of 1,700 are not homophobic and have been welcoming, said Claringbould. But the others make it difficult to run a business and live there happily.
Claringbould said he and his partner previously faced homophobia when they lived in another community, which he wouldn’t name. The couple stuck it out for awhile but people just wouldn’t change their attitudes.
“We’re not prepared to go through that again.”
George Ifantis, who runs George’s Burgers & Subs in town, said he has nothing against the Pots N Hands owners, but understands that some customers might be uncomfortable with the men’s sexuality.
“A lot of people don’t like it,” said Ifantis. “You don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen.”
The Winnipeg Free Press also spoke with an older couple and a young man in Morris who said they didn’t like that the restaurant owners are gay.
“They should get the hell out of here,” the newspaper quoted one man as saying. “I don’t really like them, the service and who they are.”
One longtime resident, who asked not to be named, said she is disgusted and embarrassed by the prejudice.
“There’s a couple of village-idiot rednecks, young fellas that when they grow up they’ll understand how their vicious tongues can hurt people.”
She said the restaurant serves fabulous food and some people even drive down from Winnipeg to eat there. “We wish they would stay and not be bullied out of here.”
President of the Morris Chamber of Commerce, Pat Schmitke, said he’s hurt and disappointed.
“It’s so unfortunate, because it’s not what our little town is about. It’s certainly, absolutely not what the majority of people’s feelings are in this town.”
Schmitke said it’s the second time this year the community has been in the spotlight for bigotry allegations.
The town’s community newspaper published editorial comments in January calling aboriginals corrupt and lazy. The Morris Mirror went out of business in March.