Conway’s Mean Bean Cafe owners Terry and Dawnel Verkler have come out against a white supremacist meeting that occurred at their restaurant on Saturday.
The Log Cabin Democrat spoke with Dawnel on Monday about the incident.
Dawnel said an employee, who has since been fired, came to them and asked if he could use the restaurant after hours — the Verklers were to be out of town — and assured her that it was just going to be a couple of friends talking over burgers.
While Dawnel would not release the name of the employee, she said he has posted on Facebook accepting responsibility for his actions.
Kenneth Ellis made the post.
"I did it," Ellis wrote on Facebook. "I lied to the owner about the reason I wanted to rent the place.
"She trusted me and I deceived her. She had nothing to do with what happened.
"I have since been fired for my inappropriate actions."
He wrote that he was sorry for the public outcry that Mean Bean is receiving because he was the only staff member there during the meeting and the only one who knew. He also wrote that he was paid $200 by the group to keep his mouth shut.
Dawnel said the employee was a friend and had given no reason in the past to think he could not be trusted.
"It was the one and only time that I’ve let somebody use my facility without my presence and it was a huge mistake," she told the LCD. "I regret it. I don’t regret that I trusted somebody because we can’t undo that.
"When you trust someone, you trust them, and you can only realize you can’t trust them when they’ve betrayed that and that’s what’s happened."
Dawnel said through this incident the Verklers and Mean Bean Cafe lost a good friend and what she considers the best manager she’s ever had.
The restaurant released two statements via Facebook on Sunday stating that they questioned the employee in detail about the purposes of the gathering and were assured that no extremist or hateful views would be expressed because that is something they do not condone.
The posts received several responses — one more than 80 comments and the other nearly 200 — with some users questioning the restaurant’s knowledge of the meeting beforehand and its intended content. Dawnel adamantly denied the accusations and insisted she and her husband do not tolerate hate.
One Facebook group, Central Arkansas Antifa, wrote that the cafe was refusing to take responsibility for the backlash and was deleting reviews on their page. The group went as far as to encourage users to find alternative means of communication including leaving reviews on the restaurant’s Yelp page and Google. As of press time Monday, there were more than 15 negative reviews left on Yelp.
Yelp user Spencer R. wrote: "Fascists should get 0 stars. Enjoy having your own business ripped from your hands." Another, Emily P., wrote: "I don’t support any establishment that welcomes white supremacists to gather at their place of business."
Dawnel said she hopes the incident will serve as a learning experience.
"I don’t know why we can’t just all accept each other for who we are," she said. "Conway needs to use this as [a] way to unite and know that we don’t need to be divided on this."
She said she feels this is a call to the community.
"People better know what they believe in and they better stand up for what they believe in because when you’re the one challenged and it shows up on your doorstep, you’ve got to make it … you’ve got to make that call," Dawnel said. "That’s what happened. Who would have thought it would show up at little Mean Bean Cafe that employs like nine other people in a little town?"
She said the employee was a good person and she’s not angry, just disappointed.
"You stand by and watch somebody make one of the worst decisions of their lives," Dawnel said. "It’s heartbreaking to do and people need to quit hating people for it. That’s the problem with the whole society.
"He asked me if I hate him. I don’t hate him.
"That’s the problem with this whole situation is that people want to hate; that’s their answer."
She said in addition to the negative reactions, they have received a major outpouring of support.
"That gives me hope and encouragement," Dawnel said. "It just gives me a reason to continue. We have received support from unexpected sources … just enormous contributions from people who have gone well out of their way to help us out and to help us manage this situation and they didn’t have to."