WTF Is Going On with the 'Baby Butthole' Drama at This Vegan Cafe?

Welcome to #Buttholegate.

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Jul 6 2017, 10:14pm

There's little that could enter the news cycle at this point and feel truly, genuinely weird; the relativity quotient of all that has happened on the internet in 2017 has rendered virtually anything believable at this point. This past weekend, the President of the United States Donald Trump tweeted a meme of himself bodyslamming an anthropomorphized CNN, and the internet peanut gallery basically did "the wave" and got over it in a day or two. Yesterday, Kim Kardashian's sock-selling brother let loose an inflammatory "exposure" of Blac Chyna on Instagram—complete with revenge porn—and the internet was back to "normal" in a matter of hours. (For perspective, it was a mere four years ago that Miley Cyrus's purportedly scandalous performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV VMAs launched literally weeks, even years, of thinkpieces; nowadays, the same showing would likely be but a blip in our daily feed of gonzo pseudoreality.)

But there is one happening that stands out as genuinely puzzling on this beautiful July day, and it all started with a poor review of a vegan cafe in Memphis.

Imagine Vegan Cafe sounds charming enough. It's family-owned by married couple Adam and Kristie Jeffrey, and describes itself as "Just good food in a laid-back environment" on its website; "Where Comfort and Compassion Meet." From its menu, you can order meatless chicken and waffles, or a dairy-free quesadilla. Their pie looks great.

But this morning, just after East Coasters finished their first cup of watery office coffee, Twitter user @curtofranklin noticed an unusual review on Imagine Vegan Cafe's Facebook page and shared it with the Twittersphere:

The review, from one Chelsea Bartley, alleges that on a recent visit, "a bare butt naked baby was running around," and proceeded to stand on a table with its dirty, un-shoed feet and show Ms. Bartley its, well, "butthole." (The previous sentence made me profoundly uncomfortable to type out and I hate that my name will forever be attached to this article about an infant exposing its anus to a concerned veggie-burger-seeking customer, but this is The Internet and I have no choice but to share this Premium Internet Content with the world. So I'll continue.) Bartley also says that another, older child approached her "and started like yodeling" and staring at her while she ate.

"Like I get it's a family establishment and kids do weird things but naked baby was running around for like 15 minutes while all the workers ... are just standing to the side talking and laughing over it," she added.

The review—which is simultaneously hilarious, disgusting, and just plain strange—is still visible on the cafe's Google Reviews page. But the conversation regarding the owners' baby's butthole somehow moved on over to the cafe's (currently inactive) page on Facebook, where all great debates go to become vindictive, personal, and inflammatory. At this point, while most businesses would perhaps attempt to apologize to the customer whose meal was disrupted by an anal presence, Imagine Vegan Cafe instead opted to take a defensive stance and dismiss Ms. Bartley's concerns as "drama."

"If a one-year-old was upside down on a table showing everyone there [sic] butt hole I don't think that's the biggest problem," the cafe responded, as screenshots show. They also shot back that "grown adults" should "grab the baby before they fell" instead of sitting there gawking at the baby's exposed body parts.

Then, in another post from yesterday morning, the owners of Imagine Vegan Cafe went on to threaten to "start calling out names and pictures of people who leave us bad reviews, especially when it deals with our children." They don't deny that their children were permitted to run naked and free throughout the restaurant, or refute that their babies may or may not have shown their buttholes to diners. "Haters are not welcome at Imagine!!!!" they declare.

In one comment, the cafe's account says, "if you are uncomfortable with a naked baby then do not come to our restaurant. Periodically she will not have a diaper on and that is life."

Things continued to run amok from there. Another Facebook user named Karen Long chimed in, claiming that when she was eating at Imagine, one of the children relieved themselves on the floor of the restaurant.

While the owners of Imagine Vegan Cafe's laissez faire attitude may be an advantage in this harsh realm we know as The World in 2017, it doesn't hold up so well with food safety regulations. The food sanitation guidelines put forth by the Tennessee Department of Health doesn't forbid baby butthole specifically, but they do mention that employees are supposed to be washing their hands thoroughly "after touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms"—including naked infant butts, presumably. (Defecating on the floor is also, needless to say, not up to code.)

Twitter users went even crazier about the whole ordeal when further digging on Imagine Vegan Cafe's Facebook page surfaced a June 10 post about the owners hitting an "85-year-old woman with dementia" with their car. She survived, but was hospitalized, and the harrowing incident led the Jeffrey family to close the restaurant for the rest of the day "to recover mentally and emotionally."

While the internet is engaged in its usual cycle of fascinated schadenfreude regarding what is being dubbed #Buttholegate, it seems to be in a particularly upbeat vein.

Reached for comment, owner Kristie Jeffrey, who sounded extremely friendly and quite carefree on the phone, said that she was happy to discuss the incident and ensuing drama but would return our call once her shift at the restaurant was complete.

Overall, the cafe has a rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars on Google, and four out of five stars on Yelp, although there appears to be a string of new, largely negative reviews post-Buttholegate. The owners are also currently running a GoFundMe page to purchase a soft-serve ice cream machine, and since last October have raised about $2,900 of their $8,000 goal.

And for all of the controversy that her story has created, Bartley said in her review that she "still probably will" eat at Imagine Vegan Cafe, regardless of the clothed or unclothed status of their brood. But...

That's probably no longer the case.

Update, 7 PM: Reached for comment, Kristie Jeffrey refutes Bartley's version of the story. "We get negative reviews all the time. It's part of the vegan restaurant business. It's not a big deal at all. We usually let it go," she told MUNCHIES over the phone. "But this one in particular hit me really hard ... When you maliciously bring my children into it. That's what strikes a nerve."

Jeffrey says that she "instantly knew" which day Bartley was referring to when she read the review, and that her 21-month-old daughter only had her diaper off for a split second. "She has a playroom in the back of the restaurant. She has just realized that she can undo the Velcro on her diaper," she told me. "I was in the back cooking... She just instantly undid her diaper and took off out the door [into the restaurant]. My husband ran after her and she was very quickly apprehended and redressed."

She said that if her child had exposed herself in the way Bartley described, her concerns would be justified. "Children don't need to be walking around naked," she said. "This isn't the norm and doesn't happen every single day. It was a freak accident, whether we're a hippie establishment or not ... We still clothe and diaper our children."

Jeffrey says that she wishes Bartley had confronted her directly rather than waiting to post a review online later. "We'd try to resolve it ... We fix things all the time. She waited and then posted a nasty review and brought my children into it. It was just completely uncalled for."

She firmly denies Karen Long's claim that she saw one of their children defecate on the floor of the restaurant, calling the allegation "hilarious," and adding, "We've always had a health score, all six years, in the 90s ... Our last two scores were both a 98. We have a very good standing with the health department."

She says that this isn't the first time the restaurant has faced controversy; it previously received a backlash, including threats and prank calls, when Jeffrey and her husband expressed strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Negative reviews are just a part of life ... If someone did that again, and said something horrendous or damaging about my child, I'd say, 'I'm sorry but you're no longer welcome here at Imagine. You're free to take your business elsewhere.'"