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New hip-hop cookie shop downtown stirs up racial controversy

Cookie shop stirs up racial controversy

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Cookie Plug‘s opening week was anything but sweet, with some Hoosiers calling the retailer’s marketing strategy racist and misappropriating Black culture.

“Those comments are hurtful so I’m not even watching it,” said Doreen Walters, co-owner of Cookie Plug.

Doreen and her husband, Michael, opened up the cookie shop at 646 Massachusetts Ave. It’s a California-based franchise.

On Monday, a steady amount of diverse customers flowed in and out of the eatery. Most were curious about the new establishment. Inside their Indy shop, graffiti lines the walls, hip-hop references are everywhere, and a boombox hangs from the ceiling.

But, some of the phrases and slang the shop uses is usually associated with drugs — from boxes with cash illustrations to references like “thank you for supporting your neighborhood doughp dealer.”

Cookies are called “phatties,” a term for marijuana joints, and a purple lemonade drink called “purple drank” harkens back to a deadly drug mix some rappers would drink.

Doreen said, “I grew up at this time and I’ve never done drugs. ‘Purple drank’ is just that, ‘purple drank.’ It’s lemonade.”

One person who’s concerned is Feeray Phillips. Phillips grew up in the culture and recalled “purple drank” was deadly, and not a joke. 

“When the franchise is not aware of what the terminology they’re dealing with and, to be honest, tropes as gimmicks to sell people lemonade and children lemonade, that’s a problem,” Phillips said.

Phillips is part of the Black community and the hip-hop culture in Indianapolis. He says he’s speaking up because hip hop is synonymous with Black people and culture. He wants the company to do better, and maybe get rid of references to drugs.  

He said, “Why is the entire theme of the organization (franchise) based on drug references terminology? You are painting the picture that drugs and hip hop are synonymous, which is not the truth.”

Cookie Plug founder Erik Martinez is not new to the controversy. His other cookie shop in Texas had protesters say he was using a slavery caricature.

Others have referenced his restaurant in Redlands with MAGA-themed Acai bowls called Freedom Bowls.

But, Martinez, who is Puerto Rican, says it’s really about freedom of expression. He grew up with listening to hip hop.

“That’s exactly my point. You can be a proud American and love hip hop and love cookies and love graffiti, and you don’t have to fit in a box,” Martinez said.

He makes references to rapper 50 Cent. Martinez said, “America has a thing for this gangsterish they do. That’s why I thought, ‘Let’s make this cookie shop gangster.’ That’s really all it is.”