How a breakfast spot named ‘Woke’ landed CT’s little Coventry in the center of a national controversy

Carmen Quiroga was “sad” at first to see that the name of her small breakfast eatery “Woke” was being politicized and as a result, creating controversy on a local Facebook page.

But after two weeks in business her sunny side is up because customers are pouring into the Coventry breakfast/brunch spot she owns with her husband at 1201 Main St.

“I’m very happy they know about my business because of all this controversy,” Quiroga said, adding she wished it hadn’t happened in that manner. “Everybody knows my name now. They say we love your food and everyone’s going to support us.”

A few negative comments in the weeks before she opened took the name to be political, reflecting attentiveness to societal issues relating to social and racial injustice. It is a word used often by activists and is sometimes used as a weapon by the far right.

But Quiroga, who emigrated from Mexico several years ago, said she had no idea about the political connotation. Rather, she meant it in the most breakfast-y way - as in you wake up in the morning, have coffee and breakfast.

The nine-table restaurant opened Jan. 19 and it is so busy that they had to shut down for a day to train additional staff after their first, jam-packed weekend.

Quiroga, her husband and son, 9, moved to Coventry Dec. 23 and that’s when she heard through a community Facebook page that a few folks were taking the name as a political statement. Those statements have since been shut down by a page administrator.

Quiroga said she started to cry when it occurred because they had done so much work on the place.

She said they considered changing the name, but they had already spent a lot of time and money to put the logo on signs, menu and custom to go coffee cups.

The logo features a sunny side up egg in the letter “o” in Woke,

“I thought if I don’t have customers I’ll be very sad,” she said.

It turns out Coventry residents are indeed woke for breakfast and they’re scrambling to the new place, the town’s only breakfast spot.

‘Great place, very busy’

Lisa Thomas, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Coventry Town Council, said she believes the broad media attention the issue has received is a product of “click bait headlines,” but she’s happy to have local media covering it now because they understand Connecticut’s small towns. The story regarding the brief Facebook controversy gained national attention.

“There has been an overwhelming outpouring of support for Carmen from our community, but just as important is that she chose our town for her business and to move her family to,” Thomas said.

“This story should never have been about comments in social media. It’s about Carmen choosing our town for her new business and the community’s excitement over finally having a breakfast place with good food and coffee back in town,” Thomas said. “This type of small business is a critical asset for our community. It also creates a vital space for social interactions. That can, in turn, help us attract additional investments to Coventry. This is especially important as our rural towns continue to move forward from the fiscal and social impacts of the COVID pandemic.”

Council member Robyn Gallagher said she’s also excited Woke Breakfast made Coventry its home.

“My family ate there this weekend and the food was absolutely delicious,” Gallagher said.

“I really appreciate the outpouring of support we have seen from our community and surrounding communities after the apparent misunderstanding regarding the intention behind the name Woke,” she said. “One of the things I love about Coventry is that we are a very supportive community and I know many community members who have turned out to support Woke.”

Coventry Town Council Vice Chairman Marty Milkovic said he ate breakfast there Monday.

“Great place, very busy. The community’s response to this shows that Coventry supports its small businesses,” he said.

Coventry Town Manager John Elsesser had breakfast at Woke Sunday with his family.

“It was busy and the food was good,” he said. “We are very glad to have another small business in our Main Street village area.”

Alexander Tiva Taubes, a Connecticut civil rights attorney who is active in the organization Black Lives Matter, often associated with the expression, “woke,” said, “I’m pretty sure that place just likes to sell eggs.”

Upon hearing that the Courant’s election results in 2020 showed President Biden took over 51 percent of the election against Donald Trump, Taubes said, “That’s pretty woke.”

He said the controversy and success of the eatery so far may be an example of the old saying, “All publicity is good publicity,” believed to have been first said publicly in the 19th century by showman and circus owner Phineas T. Barnum, who also made Connecticut home.

“A lot of times we react to other people’s overreactions,” Taubes said.

In terms of the political definition of woke, Taubes said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ lawyers recently were asked to define it in relation to a lawsuit involving DeSantis, and did so as, “The belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Taubes said it’s “scary” that someone would find that offensive.

Quiroga said she and her husband formerly owned a pizzeria and Italian restaurant in another town, but they had to work too many hours. They sold the business.

Her husband knew someone with the space for rent in Coventry, so they took it and spent months fixing it up. in late December they moved to Coventry, in part because it’s “nice and quiet” and their son does best in that environment.

“The people here are so nice,” Quiroga said.

She said they decided to open a breakfast/brunch place because the hours are shorter and he had experience as a breakfast chef.

One aspect of Woke there is no debate about is the quality of its food and coffee.

They have waffles, pancakes and omelets with their own signature twists, and crepes that are proving popular, but they also have a Mexican breakfast section that customers can’t get enough of, Quiroga said.