Vegan restaurant that fought with customers to close

The Hale & Hearty restaurant at Waterloo. Photo: Zomato.

By ALEC SMART

A vegan restaurant that was at the heart of slanging matches on social media over its hostility to the LGBTQI community and some sections of the vegan community has announced it will close.

The Hale & Hearty diner in Waterloo initially blamed their fallout with customers on a disgruntled student who publicly criticised manager Mark Da Costa’s pro-Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson political endorsements.

However, after proclaiming the diner was a ‘safe zone’ for heterosexuals to escape the LGBTQI community, then later insulting “fake left wing” vegans, Da Costa changed tack and tried to attract Trump supporters. He did this by launching a vegan ‘Trump Burger’ and professing his love for the outgoing US president on his company’s social media pages.

The actions alienated many of his vegan customers, alarmed at Da Costa’s support for a president that has reduced protections for farmed animals and American wildlife during his tenure.

They also drew a torrent of criticism from the surrounding LGBTQI community. Waterloo is among Australia’s top 10 suburbs with the highest proportion of same-sex couples, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Nevertheless, Da Costa did attract support from a number of Trump fans, who praised Da Costa for his stance, some of whom attended a gathering of like minds at the diner on the eve of the US election.

Vegans “unforgiving”

In the early hours of 6 November, when it became apparent Donald Trump had lost the US election, Da Costa issued a public declaration on social media that from 16 November, Hale & Hearty would serve meat alongside its once-celebrated vegan meals.

Da Costa blamed the decision on the “Sydney vegan community”, claiming they were “unforgiving and full of hate”, despite only launching the venue as 100 per cent ‘animal friendly’ a few months earlier.

A social media post announcing Hale and Hearty would no longer be exclusively vegan.

After another massive backlash, Da Costa then removed his ‘meat-on-the-menu’ posts and issued a retraction, saying the claim was only done as a ‘fake’ announcement.

On 13 November, Da Costa deleted and then relaunched Hale & Hearty’s social media accounts, removing all the public comments from disappointed customers and weeks of slanging matches between political rivals.

But in a sign that the diner was in trouble – perhaps attributable to the adverse reactions caused by Da Costa’s political endorsements and his taunting of the LGBTQI community, which attracted national media attention – Da Costa announced today that he was pulling the plug completely on the whole venture.

“We are closing and would like to thank all those who supported us over the last 5 years. 7 more days left and then its out,” the message read, above the comment, “Thank you to all, it’s time for a new venture.”

A social media post announcing Hale & Hearty’s closure.

Afterwards, Hale & Hearty’s social media accounts were completely shut down.

Reviews

The online controversies, arguably proof that Da Costa is a PR nightmare and his own restaurant’s worst enemy, have followed the diner to other social media outlets.

For example, on the Zomato website, where patrons can ‘discover the best food & drinks in Sydney”, above Hale & Hearty’s entry the following message is prominent: “This restaurant is receiving a lot of media attention due to recent events. We are monitoring all reviews closely to ensure that they comply with our content guidelines.

“As a neutral platform, we can’t have reviews that are based on opinions biased by the media reports, whether positive or negative. Millions of foodies depend on Zomato for credible reviews, so we need to ensure that content on this page is trustworthy and based on personal experiences.”

Zomato encourages diners to write their own reviews of restaurants and cafes. Prior to Da Costa’s public endorsement for Pauline Hanson and public quarrels with customers, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive – however, in the wake of Da Costa’s hostility to vegans and the LGBTQI community, the reviews became overwhelming negative.

History

Da Costa, also known as Marc Lima, is a 41-year-old former Australian Idol contestant who, after being knocked out in the 2007 season series in ninth place, fronted covers band The Backlist before pursuing a catering career.

Da Costa opened the Hale & Hearty diner in Bourke St, Waterloo in 2015. It became renowned as a pancake venue before it went 100 per cent vegan on 1 June after a refurbishment.

According to Hale & Hearty’s webpage, their motivation for going 100 per cent vegan was: “Our menu although healthy on the surface, was actually doing more harm than good … we refuse to further add to the demise of this planet, and the deterioration of mankind’s health. In addition to being vegan now we will only purchase and supply products that are non GMO and chemical free which include milks, the dirty dozen fruit and vegetable, grains, seeds, nuts, flour, bread, frozen produce & more.”

Da Costa’s mother, Alberta, is an outspoken animal rights supporter on her Facebook page. It will be interesting to see whether her son makes good on his 6 November promise to return to serving meat, and whether the “new venture” advertised on 16 November will include serving meat-based meals.

Mark Da Costa was contacted for this article but declined to comment.

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