The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

She named her breakfast cafe Woke. A conservative backlash followed.

Woke Breakfast & Coffee spurred a political debate in Coventry, Conn. (Erin Knapp)
3 min

When Carmen Quiroga named her new breakfast restaurant, she wanted people to associate the cafe with waking up in the morning.

She settled on Woke Breakfast & Coffee and spent six months renovating a building and developing a logo. Quiroga moved to Coventry, Conn., a few weeks before the restaurant’s opening this month. While finalizing the permits at town hall, another resident advised her to check Facebook.

There, Quiroga saw several town residents criticizing her restaurant’s name, suggesting she’d chosen Woke to make a political statement.

That was false, Quiroga told The Washington Post. She filled her days with work and never watched the news, she said. After viewing Facebook, she researched the term’s definition and recognized the misunderstanding the name provoked.

“If nobody supports this,” Quiroga, 42, recalled thinking, “I’m going to lose everything.”

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When Woke opened Jan. 19, however, Quiroga faced different stresses. The controversy spurred other residents to support the restaurant, which led to long lines and sold-out menu items.

Quiroga said she became enamored with food as a child in Mexico City eating her mother’s enchiladas and pozole. In 2005, she and her husband moved to Willimantic, Conn., only speaking Spanish and seeking work in the food industry. They cooked in restaurants in the following years.

They opened Sotelo’s Pizza & Restaurant in Granby, Conn., in March 2015. Quiroga said she worked 12 hours a day but desired more time with her 9-year-old son. She sold the Italian restaurant last summer and rented a white building in August for her breakfast cafe in downtown Coventry. She’d only work in the mornings and afternoons.

While Quiroga planned renovations to the building, her 23-year-old son created the logo, featuring a fried egg in place of the “O” in Woke. The family included the logo on the restaurant’s website, menus and mugs. The shop’s catchphrase: “You woke up and made the right choice.”

After Quiroga put up a sign with the logo on the building in September, residents began condemning the restaurant’s name. Still living about 40 miles away in Granby, Quiroga said she was unaware of the backlash.

Quiroga moved to the town of about 12,000 people on Christmas Eve and visited town hall two weeks later to obtain signatures for her property’s permits. That’s when she learned about the controversy, which intensified on Facebook as the restaurant’s opening approached.

One commenter posted that the restaurant would lose some Republican patrons, adding, “Naming it ‘woke.’ Is that really such a good idea?”

Lisa Thomas, the Coventry Town Council chairwoman, said about a dozen people left comments bashing the restaurant in a private town Facebook group and arguing it would fail. The Facebook group’s moderators later deleted posts for their insensitivity, Thomas said.

Quiroga panicked and considered changing the name, but she said she didn’t have the money for rebranding.

Her anxiety persisted until opening day on Jan. 19. Quiroga said visitors to her small cafe, which has nine tables, saw an hour-long wait. The restaurant soon ran out of ingredients for its Mexican egg dishes. Quiroga said many customers comforted her, claiming the offensive comments didn’t represent the opinions of most residents.

Coventry’s Republican Town Committee also came out in support of Woke last week, writing on Facebook: “While the name at first may set off some conservatives’ alarm bells, it is clear that the owner never intended for it to be a political statement.”

After weeks of restlessness over the name, Quiroga has settled back into the routine of running a restaurant.

“We are very happy,” Quiroga said before pausing.

“Well, you know, it’s stressful because there’s many, many people waiting in line, and they’re waiting for tables to come.”