KENTWOOD, Mich. — The Coffeehouse Clubhouse just off 52nd St. opened up its doors for the first time in February 2022, after Levi and Morgan Williams left their jobs in the healthcare industry to focus on a family-friendly passion project.
While they serve all sorts of food and drink for kids and their parents, the clubhouse is intended as a space for kids to play and interact with others.
There are climbing structures, magnetic walls, and toys galore. The Williams hope it serves as a catalyst for parents and other caregivers to connect with other people in their community.
“Sip on a cup of coffee, let your kid play, get some energy out, make a mess here, so you don't have to clean up a mess at home,” Levi Williams said on Thursday. "We have a two-year-old, a one-year-old. They were part of the journey of getting this open."
Meant as a refuge from the stress of day-to-day family life, the Williams never intended for the business to court controversy.
That is what happened though, when they scheduled a small evening event on Tuesday, December 5, featuring live reindeer for the kids and their families to meet.
Williams said that PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, got wind of the planned event.
Approximately 15,000 people have since reached out to the Coffee Clubhouse over the event, according to PETA.
"Will you please leave reindeer out of this year’s event and host only animal-free entertainment moving forward?" a letter from someone identifying themselves as a captive wildlife advocacy specialist with the organization read. "May I please hear from you by the end of the day, Monday, November 13? If I don’t hear from you by then, I’ll be left with no option but to alert PETA’s supporters about reindeer at the upcoming Coffee Clubhouse event."
“Like threatening behavior... It's not what we're going for here, and it's not at all what the event is about,” Levi Williams said on Thursday. "These are actually rehabilitated reindeer that wouldn't actually be able to survive on their own, so they rely on human care because that's how they were rehabilitated.”
He says the calls have ranged from gentle to truly concerning.
“It has been very hard… we had to disconnect our phone because of all the phone calls we're getting,“ he explained.
"This is twisted sadistic and extremely cruel what kind of idiots are you people these animals are not toys... your (sic) very bad and uncaring demons to do this to reindeer let them go you monsters," one message from a woman in Corbin, Kentucky wrote.
They are planning to move ahead with the event planned for December 5, with a select few tickets still available.
“We're gonna have security there in case of anything, because of the threats that we've been getting about potential protesters and such, but it's just kind of frustrating,” Levi Williams said.
FOX 17 spoke with PETA's director of captive animal welfare Thursday afternoon, who said they had record of about 15,000 people reaching out in protest to the Coffee Clubhouse in some capacity.
“These animals are denied adequate veterinary care, sometimes left emaciated. Their hooves are allowed to get too long, and they have very sensitive feet because they're designed to walk on snow and ice," Debbie Metzler said.
"So, we shared all this information with them, and then followed up with them a couple of weeks later, and they still didn't respond. So at that point, PETA does feel the need and feels like we're left with no option but to alert our supporters.”
She pointed to a municipal ordinance passed in the City of Ferndale back in 2018, which outlawed the incorporation of certain animals such as reindeer into entertainment-based events.
“There are so many humane alternatives and ways to celebrate the holidays that don't involve exploiting live animals," Metzler said on Thursday. "We will continue to urge the Coffee Clubhouse to make this decision. If they can't do it this year, commit to never hosting reindeer again... if they want the calls to stop, all they have to do is make that decision.”
As for the Williams family, they are hopeful that the event will play out as they intended— as a chance for families to create those magical holiday memories surrounded by friendly faces.