A Riverside restaurant stirred up a passionate — and sometimes ugly — social media debate on Saturday with a Facebook post that announced "guns are welcome on our premises."
The post, which sparked dozens of comments from customers on both sides of the gun debate, had people all weekend vowing to either increase their visits to Riverside Cafe — or to never set foot in the restaurant again.
It also highlighted a divide between diners who say they feel safer when people nearby are armed and those who are alarmed by the sight of a stranger packing while dining.
The post, which went up at 8:41 a.m. on Saturday, included a picture of a handgun with a green circle around it. "Guns are welcome on our premises," the sign said. The text that accompanied the post said, "We fully support the Second Amendment."
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The same sign hangs in the front window of the cafe.
In Kansas, anyone 21 years and older who can legally own a firearm can carry one without a permit.
Owner Paul Cohlmia said that he has someone new managing his social media and was unaware of the post until people alerted him to it on Saturday.
Cohlmia eventually posted as Riverside Cafe, saying, "Have been broken in to 16 times, and robbed 3 time with a knife to my face."
He said that in most of the robberies, he's had things like televisions stolen. But when he was threatened face-to-face, it changed his perspective. Last year's shooting of Ruben Acosta, owner of Ruben’s Mexican Grill, by an armed robber really alarmed him.
"I just don't want to be a number," he said. "I don't want to be in that situation ever again. It is scary, and everybody wants to give their two cents, but when it comes down to being robbed, it's a whole different story."
He said he was surprised by the uproar, especially since the sign has been hanging in the window for 10 to 12 years. He's the type of guy who has all kinds of friends with all kinds of opinions on issues, he said. And they can always agree to disagree.
Most of the responses on Facebook have been okay, he said.
"But some of it is just flat out telling me I'm a bigot, and they don't know me," he said. "I have all kinds of friends of all kinds of religions. I'm not going to prove that to anybody, but the proof is in the pudding. I can deal with a lot of stuff, and you can't fight everybody."
People who responded to their post had their own perspectives.
"I don't have an issue with business owners having guns for self protection. I'm a gun owner myself," one person commented on the post. "I have issue with customers being encouraged to carry guns in your establishment. Too much potential for accidents. Even the most trained people have gun accidents, and people who carry in public without training and a permit scare me."
Another person wrote, "Great food, great service and thank you for supporting our 2nd Amendment!"
The post even got the attention of former Wichitans, including one who commented, "I'm not in Wichita anymore. But this post is awesome, bold and worthy of recognition for the simple fact that there’s a RIGHT to bear arms and you support that right! Next time I’m in town, I’ll be sure to stop by and support your business!"
Later, another former Wichitan commented, "I grew up in Wichita. Coming back to visit this summer. Will be sure to NOT visit this place."
The Wichita area has three Riverside Cafes. The original is at 739 W. 13th St. and there are also restaurants at 9129 W. Central and at 824 N. Baltimore Ave. in Derby. A south location closed last summer.