After weeks of vegan activists protesting in front of his nose-to-tail bistro, chef Michael Hunter decided to make a statement by butchering a freshly-killed deer’s leg in the window of his Toronto restaurant, Antler Kitchen & Bar, right in front of the demonstrators. “I figured, I’ll show them,” Hunter tells writer Corey Mintz. “I’m going to have my own protest.”
The feud began late last year when an Antler staffer put out a playful chalkboard sign in front of the restaurant with the message “Venison is the new kale.” This was intended to be a joke geared at a restaurant down the block that Hunter and his crew are friendly with, but the message did not sit well with vegan activist Marni Ugar, who operates a dog-walking business in the neighborhood.
She arranged a small protest with about six people on a Thursday night in front of the restaurant, with activists holding signs with messages like “speciesism = discrimination = injustice.” Ugar and her cronies specifically wanted to send the message that eating pasture-raised, hormone-free meat — like the kind served by chef Hunter at Antler — is not more ethical than eating commodity meat in the long run.
Hunter attempted to placate the crowd by advertising vegan dishes on the sandwich board outside the restaurant, but this did not deter the activists. “The goal always is for a restaurant to go fully vegan,” Ugar tells Mintz. “To reduce the animals they kill, for me, isn’t good enough.”
As the winter dragged on, Hunter worried that the protests were turning customers away his restaurant. “I just felt helpless,” he explains. “It’s hurting our business. I hoped it would fizzle out and go away.” Last Friday, when the protesters started shouting “murderer” whenever the door to the restaurant opened, Hunter decided he needed to push back in some way. That’s when he got the idea to bring the deer leg to the window and break it down in front of the vegans.
The chef was initially satisfied with his counter-demonstration, but now says, ”I felt like they got to me and I played into them.” Ugar emailed him the next day, offering to limit the protests to once a month if he would put a sign in the Antler’s window explaining that animals have rights and killing them is wrong. Hunter countered with an offer to cook his vegan tasting menu for the protesters and bring them on a foraging trip.
Ugar hasn’t accepted, but in a surprising twist, the press attention surrounding this incident has lead to a bump in reservations for Antler.
• Toronto restaurateur bites back against animal-rights protesters [Globe and Mail]
• Toronto restaurant owner cuts animal leg at front window while vegan protest occurs outside: activists [Global News]