Community rallies around Merion Village bakery following racial threats
Shortly after Bake Me Happy closed Sunday amid racial threats of violence, the community covered the business in love.
Customers taped colorful paper hearts with messages including “we’ve got your back” and “you are loved” to the Merion Village gluten-free bakery’s door and window.
When the business reopened early Tuesday morning, people continued the support by placing a steady stream of orders.
Erin Satterwhite, a first-time customer, emerged from the building with a bag of oatmeal cookies, zebra cakes and more.
“I was extremely outraged,” said the 28-year-old PhD student from Ohio State. “To see a well-respected business being targeted, it’s just absolutely ridiculous. … So, this is just me doing something small, and I’ll continue to share on Facebook to let people know what’s going on.”
Jack Morgan, an employee of Fox in the Snow, which has a location nearby in German Village, said he bought a couple boxes of treats and left a tip to show support to a fellow small business.
“It’s despicable,” said Morgan, 35, of Italian Village. “People shouldn’t have to deal with that.”
The Dublin location of Bake Me Happy also has seen increased sales, according to Letha Pugh, who co-owns the shop with her wife, Wendy Miller Pugh.
“The support has been amazing,” said Letha Pugh, 48, who is Black. “People have been very thoughtful. … But you lay down at night and you think, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I know why I’m being targeted, but that’s a hard thing to deal with as well. I don’t know if I’ve really been able to deal with the emotional part of it.”
Letha Pugh made the decision to close early on Sunday after the business received two calls involving threats and racial slurs, including the N-word. She said police are investigating the incident.
She said she wasn’t surprised that it happened; she is always aware of the possibility of racist and homophobic attacks.
“I think that being Black and being gay, I always carry that with me,” she said. “And that is heavy for people. That is the public health emergency piece of it. That is stress. It’s taxing on your mental [health]. … This is not the first time somebody has called me [the N-word]. This is not the first time that I’ve been threatened, but it’s probably the first time that I said I’m not going to sweep it under the rug.”
Pugh and her wife promptly posted a Facebook message describing what happened. Though they were met with an immediate outpouring of support, they also experienced what they believe was a retaliatory act. That night, neighbors reported seeing a van appearing to intentionally back into the Bake Me Happy sign in the parking lot.
“They were trying to knock it over and the neighbors started yelling, and (the van) drove off,” Pugh said.
The sign is currently leaning at an angle, and police are looking into the matter.
“That’s what people fear,” Pugh said. “‘If I say something, then somebody might come down here and break out my windows.’ … [But] I’m not going to live in fear with this.”
Michelle Allen, owner of MMELO Boutique Confections in Polaris, said it was important for local businesses, especially those that are minority-owned, to support Bake Me Happy.
“I think if you speak to any person of color who grew up in Columbus, if they open up their family history, you’re going to find many stories of things like this that have happened,” she said. “I think it’s time to circle the wagons. … Our community has to reject this kind of hateful, ignorant, mean-spirited stuff.”
Deb Papesh, a 54-year old former educator in Dublin, also was inspired to help. She posted support for the bakery on Instagram, and pledged to match donations for every friend tagged in the comments. As of Monday night, she had raised more than $200, and secured additional donations from Dublin business Create Your Curry.
“It floored me,” Papesh said of the racial threats. “Hate is hate, and we’re done with it. We know that when you give a little bit of an inch of that, it takes over. … We have to stand up and say something about it because it’s not OK.”
Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther visited the bakery Tuesday afternoon to make a purchase, meet with Pugh and offer support.
"I think it’s really important that we state loud and clear that this is unacceptable," he said.
"It will not be tolerated, and it’s important for us to also step up and support these incredible, local businesses that have been faced with incredible challenges with COVID-19. Many of our small businesses have barely survived. So many of them have closed, and the last thing that ought to be on their mind is hate and violence and threats."
Ginther's Deputy Chief of Staff of External Affairs, Dawn Tyler Lee, also shared a post on Facebook, encouraging others to place orders.
“For a moment, I was like, ‘Are we back in the ‘50s and the '60s?’” Tyler Lee said. “That intimidation tactics were being used against a business here in Columbus, it was hard to wrap my mind around.”
Pugh said people have also purchased gift cards and sent donations to her staff to make up for lost tips.
“We’ve been getting Venmos from people all over the country,” said Bake me Happy manager Nikole Meadows, 32, of Clintonville. “We weren’t expecting that. For people to go above and beyond and care about us was mind-blowing.”
Pugh said the community has definitely turned a negative situation into a positive outcome, but people shouldn’t be surprised.
“It’s very interesting to me to see how many people can’t believe this happened,” Pugh said. “And I know that their intentions are good when they say that, but there is an element of that here in the United States. ... This may not be anything significant, but that thought was empowered somewhere.”