March 26, 2018 8:57 pm
Updated: March 27, 2018 9:48 am

Toronto’s ‘Sweet Jesus’ ice cream shop faces backlash over name

WATCH ABOVE: An online petition to change the name of the “Sweet Jesus” ice cream shop calls the branding both blasphemous and offensive to Christians. But as Jamie Mauracher reports, the founders say the name is all in good fun and it isn't going anywhere.

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Toronto-based ice cream parlour “Sweet Jesus” has gained notoriety for its Instagram-worthy treats, but now the brand is getting attention for another reason — its name.

Leaving a bad taste in some Christian consumers’ mouths, petitions have been popping up online asking for the chain to consider a name change.

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One petition found on citizengo.org condemns “Sweet Jesus” for its religious imagery, calling it “offensive” and “blasphemous.” It also said “Sweet Jesus is all about trashing Christianity” and “choosing the name of our lord for a brand of soft-serve ice cream is totally offensive and revolting.”

READ MORE: Moby Dick restaurant name too offensive for Vancouver strata

David Cooke, the founder of the CitizenGO in Canada and the man behind the petition, told Global News he is “absolutely outraged [the co-founders] are treating our faith in our God as a joke.” However, the restaurant’s founders said that’s not their intention.

In a statement to Global News, Andrew Richmond said the name “was created from the popular phrase that people use as an expression of joy, surprise or disbelief.”

“We are conscious of the fact that, to some, our name can be off-putting. That fact is something we struggle with because we sincerely do not wish to give offence or show disrespect in any way toward anyone’s personal beliefs,” he said.

But Richmond said it’s a name that is sticking around. It’s a move Paul Bies, branding expert and partner at Mystique Brand Communications in North York, said he agrees with.

“You can’t please everybody but by creating a little bit of noise, you get a lot of free press,” Bies said.

“There are going to be certain groups that have never heard of this company before who will now be totally aware of it and next time they see it will be, ‘Oh, I am going to visit that shop. I heard about them.'”

Bies said from a marketing perspective “Sweet Jesus” has hit a sweet spot with its godly gimmick.

“People who don’t like it don’t have to go there. [The company] knows who their target demographic is and they are succeeding,” he said.

READ MORE: U.K. coffee shop told to remove ‘offensive’ sign responds with slight change

Even on a cold day, Sweet Jesus’ John Street location had people popping by for a creative cone. Many told Global News they don’t mind the holy humour.

“I think it’s lighthearted. It’s not meant to poke fun at any particular religion, so I don’t see any harm with some fun,” Colin Standish said.

Meawhile, Cooke said there at least 9,000 others who are just as offended as him and have signed his petition.

“They are calling our Lord and Saviour a flavour of ice cream — it sickens me,” he said.

“I frankly do not believe for one second this was “unintended.” If it was, then now that they know how offended everyone is, shouldn’t they change it? I don’t buy their claim.”

And he said he won’t be buying their ice cream, either.

Full statement from Andrew Richmond, co-founder of Sweet Jesus:

We are conscious of the fact that, to some, our name can be off-putting. That fact is something we struggle with because we sincerely do not wish to give offense or show disrespect in any way toward anyone’s personal beliefs. Neither is it our intention to be exploitative or flagrantly provocative. Our name is an exclamation. It was created from the popular phrase that people use as an expression of joy, surprise or disbelief. We found this firsthand, often using it while testing new items in our kitchens.

After a lot of thought, we have decided that we will not make a change. The best brands come from an honest place. Sweet Jesus is an honest reflection of our experiences and that of our customers and how they react when they try our product. In our experience, the majority of people understand that we’re not trying to make a statement about religion. Our aim is not to offer commentary on anyone’s religion or belief systems; our own organization is made up of amazing people that represent a wide range of cultural and religious beliefs. We’re just hoping that our customers come away enthusiastic and ready to return.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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