Burgers from Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley.
Burgers from Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley. Photo: Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley Facebook page

Georgina Mitchell

A Hunter restaurant owner says he has received threats and is afraid for the safety of his workmates after comments on Facebook about a vegan customer.

Mark Clews, part-owner of Tuk Tuk – in the Tempus Two complex at Pokolbin – was deluged with online complaints and phone calls after he said a customer's clothing was probably made in a "sweat shop" and responded to complaints by calling commenters "cretins" and "Nazis".

"Well we had our first ever vegan in yesterday," the first post by Mr Clews, which was quickly deleted, read.

The slur that sparked the flame war.
The slur that sparked the flame war. Photo: Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley Facebook page

"Wearing a tie dyed T-shirt, I'm serious, didn't matter that it was made in a Chinese sweat shop.

"Anyway it went as well as could be expected," he continued, adding the woman was told her felafel burger would be cooked on the same grill as meat but ate it anyway.

Vegans don't eat animal products including meat, milk, egg and butter.

After the comment, Mr Clews was hit with a torrent of complaints on his page. 

"To publicly shame a customer with special dietary requirements, comment on her attire and be so blatantly nasty is inexcusable. I will never step foot in this establishment," one reviewer said.

"Rude and disgusting," another added.

The woman  referenced in the original post also weighed in, saying she was not told her meal would be cooked on the same grill as meat.

"The shirt [I was wearing] is a very old Kuta Lines T-shirt, tag says 'Made in Australia'," she added. "I tie dyed it myself about 5 years ago. I'll certainly not be returning to your shop."

At the time of writing, the restaurant's Facebook page had been swamped with more than 900 one-star reviews.

A new Facebook page – "Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley Honest Reviews" – has since been created after critical comments were deleted from the restaurant's page.

In screen-shots of posts, Mr Clews refuses to apologise and labels detractors "vegan Nazis".

Although he originally stood by his "flippant" comments on social media,  Mr Clews later told the Newcastle Herald he would apologise to the customer if she came back.

"If I upset the girl, so be it, I'm very sorry for it," he said. "But human life and human nature is, once you've done something you can't take it back. I can't take it back."

Mr Clews said disgruntled social media users had tracked down his mobile number and made threatening calls up until midnight. He feared for his safety and that of his family: "What I have learnt is some people have thinner skins than I."

Mr Clews is on the look-out for a new premises for his business after his lease at Tempus Two was not renewed earlier this year, but he said he didn't think the incident would harm trade.

In a statement posted online, Tempus Two winery distanced itself from the issue: "We would like to advise that [these] comments and views are not supported by Tempus Two, and we in no way condone this behaviour by Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley."

Newcastle Herald