Bad Ass: Coffee shop with provocative name opens in Alabama city months after official claimed vulgarity

Bad Ass: Coffee shop with provocative name opens in Alabama city months after official claimed vulgarity

Amy Schnitzler stopped into Orange Beach’s newest coffee shop on Friday, familiar with the brand and its catchy name.

“I wished I was here tomorrow to get a free T-shirt that has ‘Bad Ass’ on it,” Schnitzler, of River Falls, Wisconsin, who was vacationing this week on the Alabama Gulf Coast said of a give-a-way tomorrow.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii is holding a two-day grand opening at its small coffee shop within a strip mall along Canal Road.

The opening comes approximately five months after the coffee shop’s name stirred reaction in Orange Beach after city officials, following a council meeting, blasted it as inappropriate for children.

“My feelings are the same on the name,” said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon on Thursday. He initially weighed in on the name after a Facebook commenter noticed the slogan, “In God We Trust” displayed in the council chambers and questioned why the city would allow a coffee shop in town with “profanity clearly in the title.”

“The only point I was trying to make is that our society has lowered the bar in what is acceptable with mixed company and kids around, and that it bothers me,” Kennon said. “In my day, when I was growing up, children did not say certain things, or they were at risk of getting backhanded by mom and dad.”

Hawaiian heritage

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii, a chain of around 30 coffee shops in nine states, held a grand opening for its Orange Beach, Ala., location on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. The coffee shop’s name stirred controversy in Orange Beach after city officials, following a council meeting, said they would not patronize it. Bad Ass Coffee officials say the brand is named after the reliably stubborn but strong donkeys that once hauled coffee beans in Hawaii. (John Sharp/[email protected]).

Scott Snyder, CEO of Bad Ass Coffee Company of Hawaii – a chain of about 30 coffee shops in nine states – said the name is not meant to be profane. He said the coffee shop’s brand embraces the historical and cultural significance of the donkey, which hauled coffee products in Hawaii.

“The name follows a story about when they first started farming coffee in Hawaii and they did that in the early 1800s,” said Snyder. “There were no machines to go up and down the hills. The volcanic slopes were rugged. So they would use donkeys. The biblical term for donkeys is asses. The indigenous people of Hawaii would called them the bad ass one.”

He added, “There heritage is about the donkey. It’s nothing else regarding the name.”

Kat Hammac, the Orange Beach franchise owner, said the brand is “really about the donkey.”

“Getting them up and down (the rugged hills), would require them to bellow, and they were called the little bad ass ones,” she said. “It’s really cute.”

Snyder said there have been questions raised before about the brand’s name, but never to the extent as the attention the company got after the objections raised by Orange Beach city officials.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii was first founded in 1989, and first arrived to the Florida Gulf Coast in 2007 and 2009, when shops were opened in Miramar Beach and Santa Rosa Beach.

“The name has been questioned a few times,” he said. “We are very deliberate about that. We try to reinforce the story. When you have a name like Bad Ass Coffee, you need to tell your story.”

Snyder points to a visible placard on the coffee shop’s wall near its entrance entitled, “The Bad Ass Legend” that explains the story of the hardworking donkeys. The story is also written on the back of coffee mugs, shirts, and the packaged coffee that is sold inside the coffee shop.

“I think generally when there are questions about the name, in most cases, it takes a little education and for the franchisee to make an impact in the community like what we are doing this weekend,” Snyder said. He said part of the grand opening event includes donating 15% of proceeds to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Animals from the zoo are supposed to be there as part of the celebration.

Snyder also noted that the approximately 15 or so jobs are local. Hammac, herself, is a local resident who is a graduate of Baker High School in Mobile and who has owned Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii franchises in Florida for several years.

Orange Beach objections

The reaction in Orange Beach, Snyder said, “has been outstanding.” He added, “the people here are so kind.”

Kennon said while he does not plan to buy a cup of coffee from the store, he has no intention of interfering with the business. He said that some media stories in August “mischaracterized” his objections to the coffee shop’s name. Kennon said some reporting erroneously suggested of pursuing legal action against the company.

Orange Beach has a vulgarity ordinance on the books, which was enacted about a decade ago amid concerns about vulgar or indecent T-shirts and other merchandise sold at souvenir stores.

“We have no intentions of taking action whatsoever,” he said. “I will personally no buy a cup of coffee from those guys. But they have a right to name their company however they want. It’s a First Amendment issue.”

Kennon said that despite the company’s story about the donkeys, he believes the provocative name “Bad Ass” is meant as a marketing ploy to boost business.

The city has other businesses with similar controversial names. Among them is Dick’s Last Resort, a company purchased by strip club operator Déjà vu in 2019, opened a venue last year at The Wharf. The establishment markets itself as putting the “F U in Fun,” and the bar and restaurant is known for its intentional employment of obnoxious staff. T-shirts and other merchandise contain sexual innuendos.

Slutty Fries from Slutty Vegan

An order of Slutty Fries accompanies the Dancehall Queen, a burger from Slutty Vegan in Birmingham. (Mary Colurso | [email protected])

Related: ‘Slutty,’ ‘Bad Ass,’ ‘Wacked Out Weiner’: Provocative business names stir debates in Alabama

Alabama has other controversial or suggestive business labels that draw attention, and are aimed at marketing products. Wacked Out Weiner, a chain of hot dog eateries, opened in 2016 in Foley, and has since expanded to 11 restaurants in three states.

Birmingham is home to Atlanta-based Slutty Vegan, and its menu packed with innuendos to describe its plant-based burgers: Sloppy Topping, Menage-A-Trois, One Night Stand and Fussy Hussy.

Kennon said he does not appreciate the use of foul language in public, and frowns upon foul language used in front of women and children.

“It’s really sad,” he said.

For Lynn and Doug Wood of Minneapolis, who are vacationing in Gulf Shores, the coffee shop reminds them of a visit they first had to the area and stopping at the Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii shop in Pensacola.

“We loved it,” said Lynn Wood. “We were delighted there was a Kick Ass Coffee here too.”

She then caught herself over misnaming the company.

“Bad Ass, sorry,” she laughed. “We just love the coffee. We will be back tomorrow.”

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