A vegan cafe owner who was issued an ultimatum to serve cow's milk has generated 14,000 signatures of support, but will still close shop to walk the length of New Zealand barefoot in protest.
Morgan Redfern-Hardisty roused controversy last week after he revealed the community trust that controls his Cool Beans Cafe in Mangawhai insisted he serve dairy options on the menu.
Redfern-Hardisty had altered his menu on July 27 to exclusively plant-based products, including homemade oat milk for coffee, in an effort to reduce his environmental impact.
But the Mangawhai Activity Zone (MAZ) Charitable Trust that owns the land, premises, and pays all the overheads for Cool Beans Cafe, said amid public complaints he must include some dairy options.
MAZ is a large public park that includes a skate bowl, outdoor gym and children's play equipment, well frequented by families in the Northland community.
Redfern-Hardisty confirmed last week he still plans to end his business this Labour Day, October 22, because he refuses to make the choice between "taste and suffering".
He did, however, raise questions over the true motives for the pro-dairy menu demands thrust on him, claiming MAZ only cited nine complaints.
"Mangawhai's surrounded by dairy farms so there's heaps of suspicion around that," Redfern-Hardisty said.
"I don't think the trust has received any donations from dairy money but I don't know.
"You'd have to look into each individual member of the trust to find out their interest in dairy. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them had worked with dairy or ice cream or something.
"It's New Zealand's backbone, and it's a sensitive, challenging time for the country, looking like dairy's on the decline."
MAZ chairman Colin Gallagher, who fronted the trust's decision to enforce menu demands, does have a background in dairy.
From 2009 to 2013, Gallagher was the director of Bennetts Of Mangawhai, a boutique chocolate manufacturer and cafe 3km down the road from Cool Beans.
Gallagher also ran an ice cream business called Holy Moly in 2012.
"I resigned from Bennetts five years ago. End of story as I will just continue my work making life better for the community," Gallagher said via email.
"Customers deserve choice and he is not prepared to offer this.
"We have been extremely fair and generous and it is squarely his decision not ours that he changed from offering both dairy and vegan additives to coffee for our customers, to vegan only."
Redfern-Hardisty doesn't claim there's any conspiracy in MAZ's decision to enforce a dairy menu, and believes there has been public complaints.
He accepts MAZ is within its rights to end its business arrangement with him. The trust takes 5 per cent of Cool Beans takings but pays all business overheads, and there's no official lease.
But the Cool Beans owner/operator says the nine alleged public objections pale in comparison to the support he's received.
He says business is up 25 per cent since the menu vegan changes, and he's had no complaints to his face.
"I think I had one customer over those four weeks that said 'Oh no, I only drink normal milk', but 98 per cent of New Zealanders were adaptable," Redfern-Hardisty said.
"I had three or four dairy farmers who came through and they all had a crack at oat milk. They were adaptable to try something new."
An online petition was set up to encourage MAZ to reverse its decision to force dairy on Cool Beans and has received more than 14,000 signatures since August 30.
But Redfern-Hardisty says the business relationship with MAZ is irretrievable.
"I know there's this petition that's gone around the world but they've [MAZ trust] gone about this all the wrong way and I don't really want anything to do with them any more," he said.
"There's tensions and it's tainted and they're stuck in the past."
Redfern-Hardisty says he plans to walk the length of New Zealand barefoot, along the Te Araroa trail.
He is calling it "the barefoot walk for those who can't talk" and hopes to raise funds to fight animal cruelty.