On Cake Shop, Elm Citizens Search For Right Recipe

The pride flag at a vigil and rally for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Lucy Gellman Photo.

The pride flag at a vigil and rally for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Lucy Gellman Photo.

As the U.S. Supreme Court continues to debate whether the owner of a cake shop has the constitutional right to turn away a gay couple, New Haven bakers are weighing in—and asking how far First Amendment rights actually go.

The case is Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, for which the Supreme Court heard arguments on Dec. 5 and has yet to make a ruling. Facing a divided court, the case pits a business owner’s ostensible freedom of speech and artistic expression against his obligation to abide by civil rights under state law. As the New York Times has reported, it has uncanny echoes an ocean away, where Britain’s Supreme Court will be ruling on a similar case in a few months. 

Has Jack Phillips violated civil rights?
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The case goes back five years, to a July day fiancés David Mullins and Charlie Craig walked into Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop to ask owner Jack Phillips to make a cake for their wedding. Phillips, who identifies as Christian, said that he believes marriage is strictly between a man and a woman, and told the couple he couldn’t do it. He has since maintained that he does not have a moral issue with members of the LGBTQ+ community, but cannot make a custom wedding cake for them, or any gay couple, without violating his set of beliefs. 

The shop is classified under U.S. and state law as a public accommodation, under which discrimination is prohibited. On those grounds, the couple filed civil rights charges with the state’s civil rights commission, a longstanding battle that has now landed them at the Supreme Court.

As the battle unfolds in Washington, several New Haven bakers from Downtown to Wooster Square to Winchester Avenue found themselves weighing in. Here are six business owners, all who make cakes or sweets, who wanted to go on the record. All text, with the exception of italics, is their words. 

Claire Criscuolo, Claire’s Corner Copia, 1000 Chapel St., New Haven 

They should be ashamed of themselves. I fully believe … we have to protect people’s freedoms. I tell my friends: I may not agree with you. But I will fight for your right to have your own opinion. 

Then again, I call Claire’s my microcosm of non-reality. We just love people. I don’t understand … I wish I could have a conversation with him.

Probably, legally, he has a right. At a private business, you can turn anyone away [that is in fact up for debate, per public accommodation law]. He has a right to serve whomever he wants or not serve whomever he wants. But imagine if you were brought up to believe that people who weren’t like you were terrible. I think that’s sad. 

He has a right to feel that way, but we have a right to convince everybody otherwise. Boy, it’s a different Jesus than [the one] I’m used to. I’m absolutely a Christian, without a doubt. But I think part of that responsibility is loving and showing respect for everyone just as Jesus did. We are commanded to love. What book are they reading? 

How would you feel if that was you and you loved somebody? What if your parents didn’t respect and love the person you chose? 

I have quite a left hook from growing up. Every time I heard, ‘Oh there’s the queer’s sister,’ [I gave a] a pop to the nose. My mother was deaf. I had a cousin with Down Syndrome. And I think that helps—it gives you empathy.

You can come into Claire’s and hear different languages spoken, you can see people of different backgrounds. That’s just a blessing. We had a marriage of two women at our restaurant last year. I think that we should be so grateful that we live in a country where we can do this. 

If I was there [in Colorado] I would have gone to him and tried to talk to him. Shouldn’t we be embracing marriage? I think I’ll send them a note. 

Brenda DePonte, Sugar Bakery, 424 Main St., East Haven

Sugar Bakery Photo. 

Sugar Bakery Photo. 

While I think someone does have the right to make their own decision, that’s not what I would have done. He [Phillips] owns his own business. 

Generally, we like to sweeten someone’s celebration. We make cakes for everyone—a cake is a cake is a cake regardless. And everyone is entitled to celebrate with a cake. Or a cupcake! 

Peter Faggio, Lucibello’s Italian Pastry Shop, 935 Grand Ave., New Haven

I have been in the bakery business for over 25 years, and long before that I watched and learned from my father. Over the years, I have fulfilled an array of orders accommodating a variety of different religious ceremonies along with celebrations of both marriage and friendship. 

I have never been biased towards my clients, or rejected a client based on my own personal beliefs. What they are asking of me is not to make judgements or assumptions, but to simply make them a cake that honors their special day, whatever that may entail. 

When you own a business, you have to keep an open mind and refrain from prejudices. People of all different cultures, ethnicities, and races enter my doors and each of them are treated as equals. People of different sexual orientations, people with different religious beliefs all have the right to enter my business and be treated with respect and kindness. It is not our job as business owners to magistrate and dictate who is allowed to not be served based solely on ethnicity, sexual, or religious preferences.   

Katalina “Kathy” Riegelmann, Katalina’s Bakery, 74 Whitney Ave., New Haven

I believe that he has the right to do what he wants. I feel that every other religion has the right to voice their opinion and never gets crucified, and then a Christian opens their mouth and the entire world jumps on them. No one questions a Jewish person, or a Muslim, and we’re all expected to show respect to them. But if a Christian is viewing and exercising their right, their freedom of speech, then all of a sudden, it’s like, you’re a basher. I don’t think it’s anybody’s business.

I serve anybody. I too am a Christian, but I believe it [the Bible] says ‘do not judge and take the plank out of your own eye,’ So that’s what I believe. But if the guy didn’t want to serve them, it’s his decision. But no, I don’t turn anybody away. 

Darrell Nurse, Chip In A Bottle,  837 Whalley Ave., New Haven

If it were me, I would make the cake, or the items on request. I do not believe in discrimination under any notion, and that is my store policy.

The only limit that I have is direct hate. This is a matter of direct discrimination. That’s just saying ‘I do not want to serve you because you have a certain perspective on life that I do not agree with.’

Let’s say you have a bunch of people walk into the store … two men who walk in, two women who walk in. They say: 'I want to have two men hugging each other on a cake.' They might be getting married. They might be business partners. You don’t know. That baker was saying, he doesn’t want to serve gay people, and that was the end of story.  I don’t believe the case is artistic expression, so much as he looked at two guys, and he didn’t agree with their lifestyle. 

Does he have a right to say no to certain orders? Yes. Like if he's really busy with orders and doesn't have the time for another. But saying no to someone because they look a certain way is discrimination. He’s working under the auspices of the city government, which means he has to follow the city government. If it was him in his own backyard at his house, that’s different. But if it’s a city like New Haven, he would have to make it [the cake].

And that’s the problem, I think. I don’t make artistic-based cakes like [the ones that] you would see on Food Network. But I make artistic chocolates. So if someone said, ‘Can you make me chocolates for a gay wedding?’ or if someone is a Jew, or a Muslim, I’ll make you the gayest, Halalest, Kosherist chocolates in the world.  

If a person came in ... with the Klan symbol, I would still make them chocolate. I’ve had people walk into the store, see that I was the owner, and walk out. I would still serve that person. It’s a business transaction.

Stanley Hair, Stan’s World, cakes by order or at the ConnCAT Orchid Cafe on Winchester Avenue

Stanley Hair at a recent baking demonstration at ConnCAT. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

Stanley Hair at a recent baking demonstration at ConnCAT. Lucy Gellman Photo. 

I understand where the baker is coming from because that is his strong belief. However I do not agree with his actions. 

No one in this world should be turned away from what they also believe in or who they are!! And I would not refuse service to anyone no matter what. That is the way I do my business.