(See updates at the end of this story)
Pastor Jordan Brown ordered a cake from the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin for his Church of Open Doors, which according to its website is "a non-denominational, non-traditional, Christ-centered, welcoming, LGBT-friendly" congregation. His order called for a phrase celebrating LGBTQ rights to be written atop the cake in icing: "Love Wins." What he got back was a baked good marked with bigotry.
Someone apparently wrote a homophobic slur on top. According to Austin's KXAN, Brown immediately reported the incident to Whole Foods. Earlier today, Brown uploaded a video to YouTube explaining his ordeal:
Strangely, Whole Foods seemed to deny that its employees authored the disgraceful edit. In a prepared statement sent to the Houston Press by Whole Foods' Austin-San Antonio spokesperson, Rachel Malish, Whole Foods said:
"The team member wrote 'Love Wins' at the top of the cake as requested by the guest and that’s exactly how the cake was packaged and sold at the store. Our team members do not accept or design bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive. Whole Foods Market has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination."
We called Malish again to clarify what this meant. As Brown indicated in the YouTube video, the cake box was still sealed with the receipt when he noticed the slur. We asked Malish if Whole Foods actually believes that the slur, written in the same handwriting and color icing as the "Love Wins" at the top, was somehow scrawled by someone outside of Whole Foods — an expert Whole Foods cake icing forger, perhaps.
"I'm going to direct you back to our statement," Malish said. We also asked her if Whole Foods is continuing to investigate the incident. "I'm going to direct you back to our statement," Malish said. (Maybe we should have "I'm going to direct you back to our statement" written on a cake and send it to Whole Foods and Malish?)
Perhaps Whole Foods will provide more answers in court. Brown has filed a lawsuit in Travis County against the grocery store, alleging Whole Foods caused Brown emotional distress.
“Pastor Brown never asked for this to happen," Brown's lawyer, Austin Kaplan, said in a statement, according to the Austin American-Statesman. "He continues to be overwhelmed by the feelings of pain, anguish and humiliation because of this incident. He frequently shopped at Whole Foods, which makes this all the more shocking and disappointing. What really concerns him is knowing that unless some action is taken, this kind of thing could happen again, and that someone else might have to go through a similarly excruciating experience.”
You can read Brown's entire complaint here:
Update 4/18 at 6:30 p.m.:
Malish sent us an updated statement, adding that, interestingly, the bakery team member in question is "a part of the LGBTQ community":
"Our team member wrote “Love Wins” at the top of the cake as requested by the guest, and that’s exactly how the cake was packaged and sold at the store. Our team members do not accept or design bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive. Whole Foods Market has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination. We stand behind our bakery team member, who is part of the LGBTQ community, and the additional team members from the store, who confirmed the cake was decorated with only the message “Love Wins.”
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Update 4/19/16 at 2:15 p.m.:
Adding yet another strange wrinkle to this cake controversy, Whole Foods said in another statement today that Brown's claims "are fraudulent," and that it intends to "take legal action" against the pastor and his attorney. The company also released a surveillance video, which it argues proves its bakery's innocence in the case, claiming that the placement of the cake box's label was on top of the box at the time Brown checked out — in Brown's video, the label appears to be on the side of the box. From the company's statement:
After a deeper investigation of Mr. Brown’s claim, we believe his accusations are fraudulent and we intend to take legal action against both Mr. Brown and his attorney. Here’s what we know:
· Our bakery team member wrote “Love Wins” at the top of the cake, which was visible to Mr. Brown through the clear portion of the packaging. That’s exactly how the cake was packaged and sold at the store. Whole Foods Market has a strict policy that prohibits team members from accepting or designing bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive.
· Mr. Brown admits that he was in sole possession and control of the cake until he posted his video, which showed the UPC label on the bottom and side of the box.
· After reviewing our security footage of Mr. Brown, it’s clear that the UPC label was in fact on top of the cake box, not on the side of the package. This is evident as the cashier scans the UPC code on top of the box, which you can view here.
· We stand behind our bakery team member, who is part of the LGBTQ community, and we appreciate the team members and shoppers who recognize that this claim is completely false and directly contradicts Whole Foods Market’s inclusive culture, which celebrates diversity.
Here's the video that Whole Foods sent out today: