Group protests Middleton coffee shop over mask policy

MIDDLETON, Wis. — A small group of protesters gathered outside of a Middleton coffee shop Saturday morning to voice their disdain for the business’ choice to not require it’s customers or employees to wear masks.

Helbachs first came under fire on Monday after a photo spread on social media that appeared to show a sign on the shop’s door calling it ‘A Mask-Free Zone.’ When News 3 Now crews visited the shop there was no sign and the owner denied ever putting one up.

The man who shared the image online however told News 3 Now his 6-year old daughter was shamed and even laughed at for wearing one inside. 

Organizers of Saturday’s protest said their efforts are about keeping everyone safe from Hellbach’s disgraceful policy.

“If you’re going to have a business of this magnitude you really need to respect the fact that we are in crisis mode,” said Protest Organizer Tulin Waters.

She also said the coffee shop should be held accountable for not following Dane County’s Mask Mandate that began earlier that week.

“They should be fined and then after a certain amount of times they should be shut down,” Waters said. “I mean in essence if somebody gets sick and dies they should be held accountable–period. “

However the shop’s customer traffic didn’t seem to be affected by the mandate or the protest and with so many customers coming in and out of the shop maskless it’s clear not everyone agrees.

One Helbachs supporter said as a private business Helbachs should have the right to choose its own policy.

“Mask or no mask I should have that choice, ” said the supporter who would only identify himself as Eric.

“I have no problem in public buildings doing whatever they want,” he continued. “The government can do what they want to the public places but they should not be able to infringe on private companies.”

Another customer took her support of Helbachs a step further and started her own counter protest. Taryn, the woman also only willing to share her first name, even brought her son along and said he at 13 was old enough to make his own decisions.

“I want to fight for my freedom,” said her son Noah.

However organizers from the original protest also said their opposition to the coffee shop was not just based on the mask policy but an alleged history of xenophobic behavior.

Among that group was Rebeca Alvarez, a woman who claims to be a former employee of the family. She said while working for the Helbachs she experienced multiple instances of racism before quitting.

Alvarez said though she should have quit sooner, one incident in particular with owner Melissa Helbach was the final straw.

“When I asked Melissa for a mop she said ‘I don’t understand why you Latinos refuse to get on your knees to clean my floor’ and that’s when I decided to get up and said I’m not cleaning your floor anymore,” she recounted.

Now a senior in college Alvarez said, though she didn’t leave on the best terms, she has no anger for the family but wants people to understand that wearing a mask is a necessity.

“If I get sick I’ll be okay but my mom won’t,” she said. “I’m here to bring awareness to the importance of wearing a mask not for you but for others.”

Supporters of Helbachs instead suggest those who disagree simply find somewhere else to go buy their coffee.

“Don’t come to these places if you’re worried about your health,” Eric said.

Helbachs employees said though people are welcomed to wear masks into the shop they won’t be required to. Evidently inside the coffee shop Saturday morning almost no one was wearing a mask or social distancing.

News 3 Now reporters did attempt to interview one of the owners, Casey Helbach but he chose not to comment.

According to Dane County Health officials, of the 140 non-compliance complaints they received on day one of the mask order over 100 referred to Helbachs coffee.