Calgary

Calgary coffee shop owner sent Hitler meme to doctor who criticized crowded patio

A Calgary doctor who expressed concern over a local coffee shop's crowded patio received a Hitler meme from the cafe's owner comparing her to people in Nazi Germany who turned in their neighbours.

Purple Perk owner says he was tired and angry when he responded

Alberta Health Services said customers were sitting on the patio of The Purple Perk in Mission with Purple Perk cups this week. (Anis Robert Heydari/CBC)

A Calgary doctor who expressed concern over a local coffee shop's crowded patio received a Hitler meme from the cafe's owner comparing her to people in Nazi Germany who turned in their neighbours.

Last week, Dr. Nicola Watkins wrote an email to Purple Perk owner Paul Overholt urging him to be more strict about enforcing physical distancing amid the global pandemic.

The cafe is on Fourth Street in the southwest community of Mission.

Overholt read CBC News the portion of the email he says was "way over the top." 

"Groups of people are still socializing on your patio property," reads the email. "Stop this now unless your cafe would like to be responsible for hospitalizations and deaths in Alberta."

Watkins is a family doctor whose clinic remains open for patients. She said she works long hours in personal protective equipment, returning home after work to her young family.

She says she feels "a certain level of offence" when she sees crowded public spaces like patios as she's on her way to work.

"It just felt like such a slap in the face to see someone not closing down their patio," said Watkins.

The Purple Perk coffee shop in the southwest community of Mission sent a local doctor this meme after she wrote an email encouraging the cafe to enforce physical distancing. (Twitter/Crackmacs)

Overholt says that when he received Watkins' email, he had fielded calls complaining of the crowded patio and had become "tired, angry."

That's when he replied with a meme — a photo of Hitler with the words: 

"To those turning in your neighbors and local businesses — you did the Reich thing."

A screen grab of the Purple Perk's response as well as Watkins' reaction to the emailed reply have been widely shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Overholt says he felt as though he was being harassed. 

"We've been receiving many phone calls and I was just tired and a little bit upset so I just fired off that meme."

Dr. Nicola Watkins posted this on Facebook, tagging the Purple Perk coffee shop after the owner of the cafe sent her a meme featuring Hitler when she complained the patio was too crowded. (Twitter/Crackmacs)

Overholt reluctantly agreed the meme "was maybe a bit much, but again, I was shocked that a doctor would write this. I just think that's way over the top."

He does apologize for the way he responded.

"Yes, OK, I am sorry that I did send this email to her," said Overholt. "I was just tired of receiving phone calls from people that were upset with people coming here for coffee."

When she called the Purple Perk after receiving the meme, Watkins says Overholt told her "you're not on the front lines, you're on maternity leave," apparently in reference to an outdated message on her clinic's old website.

He says that after the email, the Purple Perk shut down its patio and is in compliance with all AHS physical-distancing guidelines.

A city spokesperson said over the weekend, officers from the city's business licence unit and AHS responded to a complaint about the patio.

"The officers spoke with management and provided education on the provincial public health orders. The business owner understood the need to comply and took the necessary steps to block off the patio to discourage citizens from using it," the spokesperson said in an email.

Overholt initially said the cafe's patio was not crowded on the day Watkins complained but then added that "from a certain perspective, I guess it could have looked like there were too many people here."

When asked if he understood why people would be upset by a Hitler meme, Overholt said "um, sure, yeah, yes."

Coffee shop's response 'despicable'

Alex Bradley has been buying coffee from the Purple Perk for more than 10 years. He says he's been to the cafe more than 100 times. 

When he saw the social media posts about the Hitler meme, he called the coffee shop to ask whether the business had actually sent the image to one of its customers. 

Bradley says he wanted to give the cafe the benefit of the doubt but the manager he spoke with confirmed the meme had been sent to Watkins.

"He told me to mind my business, it's none of my business what his business shares," said Bradley.

'Ignorant, selfish and uninformed'

Bradley calls the coffee shop's response "despicable" and says he's "1,000 per cent done" with the Purple Perk.

The Calgary Police Service says it is aware of the crowded patio complaints at Purple Perk but that Alberta Health Services is handling the investigation. 

Watkins' public Facebook post tagging the coffee shop called the cafe response "ignorant, selfish and uninformed."

"Thanks for responding to my concerns, as a physician, about your customers socializing on your patio during a global pandemic … with a Hitler meme … This is one local business that should be a thing of the past. Just like Hitler."

Watkins says people who don't take COVID-19 seriously could be spreading it with potentially deadly consequences. 

"We're not doing [social distancing] because it's fun; it isn't fun," she said. "We're trying to halt the exponential spread of this deadly virus."

"[The meme was] so incredibly offensive, inappropriate and appalling."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach her at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCMeg.

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