INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A downtown Indianapolis business owner faces backlash over comments he made on social media over the turnout for the Red For Ed teacher’s rally this week.
Tom Sutton, owner of Coaches Tavern in the first block of South Pennsylvania Street, made a post on someone else’s Facebook page, referencing teachers dining Tuesday at his restaurant.
Sutton said Friday, “I just kind of questioned the need for them to be out eating and drinking if they’re on a limited budget, but it’s not my right to tell them what to do with their discretionary income. I want to first thank them for coming here. They were very respectful, very nice. I do want to apologize if what I said hurt them in any way.”
The social media backlash was swift.
Teacher Rachel Long said in a message to News 8: “I work a second job to supplement my income so I can do those type of things with friends. So do many other teachers!!! But no longer will at coaches.”
Teacher Stephanie Gregory of New Albany told News 8 in a message: “We eventually went into Coaches to get out of the rain, warm up, and get something to eat (we hadn’t eaten since 6:30). I ordered the special (it was some type of chicken sandwich with bacon on it) and broccoli. I also had a WATER. We even put our sign that we were carrying in the window on the little stage they had. No, I didn’t have a beer. I don’t think my colleagues did either, but seeing as how they are adults, using a personal day, and not working or driving, I really didn’t pay attention. I was more interested in using the restroom, warming up, and connecting with other professionals. I was interested in hearing the struggles that other teachers face every day; homeless children coming to school hungry and not able to focus, under medicated children having seizures in the classroom, over medicated children turning into zombies, testing students adnausem without actually having time to teach them, class sizes that are too large, understaffed schools, tax payer money going to private for profit virtual schools, etc. I really wasn’t looking to see if other educators had a glass of alcohol. I then paid for my meal with a credit card with about $30 left before I hit my credit limit. (I have had to use it multiple times to purchase erasers, glue sticks, guided reading books, etc. for my classroom.) If Coaches Tavern cannot support teachers I guess I’ll just stick to packing my lunch the next time I’m in Indy, just like I do at school.”
The tavern owner said Friday, “It’s been very hard on me. I said some things on Facebook that upset our teacher community and that devastates me. I did not intend to upset them, but I did. I have to own up to that and I do own up to that.”
Not all the comments were negative.
Kris Gouty, a teacher from Indianapolis, said, “What I left out and the teachers do not know is the generosity Tom has always shown to my school and students. Every classroom or athletic fundraiser I have done Tom has supported, giving hundred of his own dollars to help my students have classroom supplies, uniforms, or once in a lifetime experiences. I will forever be grateful for Tom’s generosity and will continue to support Coaches Tavern.”
On Friday, dozens of 1-star reviews and scathing comments about the tavern were on Yelp, Google, Facebook and Twitter. One Yelp reviewer wrote, “I have dined here on one occasion- and will most definitely be taking my hard earn teacher salary else where.”
Sutton replied, “I would say that’s their right. They may do that. I wish they’d get to know me.”
Another Yelp reviewer wrote, “You should practice empathy, compassion and kindness. These three things I TEACH to my students every day.”
“I deeply and humbly apologize to those teachers and those members of our teaching community who are so invaluable to our kids and our neighborhoods,” Sutton said.
On Tuesday, not far from his restaurant, thousands of teachers rallied at the Statehouse for better pay, more resources, and smaller class sizes.
“I want them to get their funding,” Sutton said. “Our teachers deserve to be paid. For what they do every day, the sacrifices they make.”
Sutton said the teachers and educators don’t have to accept his apology, but he hopes they do. He also told News 8 that teachers from across the state are welcome to come into his restaurant whenever they want and he would love to have them.