At least three Michigan-based coffee shops described as queer-identified have reported receiving threatening and hateful letters in the past week, forcing them to close temporarily for the safety of employees and guests. Gathering Coffee Co. in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction area reopened on Wednesday, March 1, after sharing in an Instagram post published late last week that the shop received a 10-page letter that included “dates and threats of potential harm,” prompting the cafe to shutter until the stated threats had passed.
Strange Matter Coffee, with two locations in Lansing, posted a similar announcement on Tuesday, February 28, followed by a post on Wednesday, March 1, shared more details about the contents of the letter it received — including that the ownership believes that the business was targeted because of a Pride flag on display — and said that the cafes would remain closed through Thursday, and reopen on Friday, March 3. “Initially when we received this letter, we were only aware of two other locations that had received it. All queer owned, or flying a pride flag. Since our original post other businesses have contacted us with similar letter experiences from the same author,” Wednesday’s statement read.
The post went on to urge other businesses to notify their local FBI office if they have also received a letter.
According to the Gathering Instagram post, the east side coffee shop received a 10-page letter one Tuesday, February 21, that included “dates and threats of potential harm,” prompting the cafe to shutter until the stated dates had passed. The shop organized a GoFundMe campaign to help offset lost wages and loss of sales, which so far, has raised more than $7,400.
“Due to the nature of this letter, out of protection for our team and for you, our community, we have decided to close our doors for the next week, until these dates have passed. This decision will give us time to implement new safety protocols as we seek to re-open our doors, and will not do so, until these protocols are put into place,” reads the social media post.
Meanwhile at Strange Matter, the company shared that it also received a 10-page letter, postmarked more than two weeks ago, that also contained specific dates, hateful images, and threatening phrases — all of which caused enough concern to close.
“While it seems reasonable that we were singled out due to our Pride flag, along with the other businesses, we have no evidence to directly suggest the author[‘]s motives. We just know how the letter made us feel and what the symbols and words encompass. The letter we received was extremely antisemitic, but again, our letter provided no specific or direct threat. The ramblings included some close dates in March that made us uncomfortable. The dates did not indicate any specific threat. There were many dates past and future scribbled all over the 10 pages. Considering how endemic violence and hate are, we decided to err on the side of extreme caution and shut down for a few days,” Wednesday’s statement says.
Cara Nader, owner of Strange Matter, tells Eater that she checks her business mail only every couple of weeks but when she went to pick up the mail on Tuesday, February 28, she came across the letter — hand-written, but appearing to have been copied. At first, she assumed it might have come from a disgruntled customer that had been banned from the cafe a few weeks prior, but she said that it was addressed to the police and had no return address, suggesting it came from a different source. Nader did not disclose the entirety of the letter’s contents but did say disjointed references to World War III, bombs, and the swastika were scrawled throughout the 10 pages.
This isn’t the first instance of controversy to come out of the Lansing-based coffee shops, says Nader. In March 2022, the business faced backlash for calling out the Lansing Brewing Co. for hosting a “MAGA Mixer.”
“No matter what you do, there’s always gonna be people who don’t like what you do, no matter what it is, and no matter how you do it, you’re not going to please everyone,” says Nader. “But this very much feels to me, like this was meant to instill that fear that comes from this kind of threat, and whether the threat is real or not, who knows? That feeling doesn’t really change.”
Nader says she reported the letter to local authorities, who took possession of the document and, according to Lansing Police Public Information Officer Jordan Gulkis, the FBI is now investigating. FBI Detroit Public Affairs Special Agent Mara Schneider did not respond to questions emailed by Eater but did confirm on Wednesday afternoon that the office is aware of the situation.
“We are aware of the threats received by coffee shops in Lansing and Detroit, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance as needed. The FBI takes threats to the public very seriously. We work closely with our local partners to assess and respond to threats and keep our community safe. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities that could represent a threat to public safety,” said Schneider in a written statement provided to Eater.
Nader also shared basic details about the letter to a colleague, who was already aware of the letter sent to Gathering in Detroit. Immediately after sharing the incident on social media, Nader says she was contacted by three other businesses in Lansing with their own reports of receiving letters and learned about another Detroit-based company that was also targeted.
Update: March 1, 2023, 3 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Cara Nader and again at 3:30 p.m. to include comments from FBI Detroit Public Affairs Agent Mara Schneider.