Brunch spot transforms into community flashpoint

Warwick. Video created by the co-owner of Caffe a la Mode from D.C. on Jan. 6 sparks the uproar.

12 Jan 2021 | 03:27

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Tom Torres, co-owner of Caffe a la Mode in Warwick, made a video of himself speaking in front of the window of a Washington, D.C., hotel room.

The day would leave five people dead and more than 50 police officers injured, but as someone in the room cracked a beer, the only hint of the chaos unfolding nearby were sirens converging on the Capitol in the distance.

While a slow stream of people and cars passed on the street below, Torres laughed about the “100 percent bull....” news on TV, apparently making the point that the Trump rally underway was peaceful, even laughably boring.

“I’m getting too old for this,” he said in the video. “But listen, if Antifa, BLM were here? I’d be in that stuff,” he said. “Listen, if Mike Pence was being dragged out, Goddamn, I’d be part of that. I promise you I’d be part of that.”

Torres, along with café co-owner Scott Elfant, declined to comment for this story, according to the woman who picked up the phone at the café.

The video was taken down, but not before a copy went viral on Facebook.

A show of support

In the days that followed, the café at the prominent corner of the village transformed from a popular brunch spot into a community flashpoint. Social media exploded with calls to boycott the café, which Torres, of Port Jervis, took over in 2003 with Elfant, his business partner.

On Sunday, a responding pro-Trump crowd of a few dozen – including members of the Hudson River Valley and Pike County, Pa., “Loud Majority” groups – showed their support by having lunch at the cafe and rallying on the sidewalk outside. They waved MAGA flags, including a black flag that used an obscenity to describe Antifa in white block letters. That flag hung next to a cluster of three small children, one of whom held a Trump flag.

‘Knowing what I know’

“This outrage you hear about is not about free speech,” wrote Ken Witlse of Warwick, who had been a café regular, in a letter to the editor of The Warwick Advertiser. “It is about a pandemic and the pandemic is not Covid. It is far worse and will probably get much more people killed.

“As someone, especially now more than ever, who has always supported local Warwick businesses, I didn’t care what side of the political aisle they were on,” he wrote. “Knowing what I know, I cannot step foot in this place again.”

Torres’ social media accounts have been taken down, but screen grabs and video clips still circulate online in which he gives voice to a patchwork of far-right conspiracy theories, including a tweet in praise of Hitler.

‘Join with the rational voices’

“We are dismayed by the recent reports of anti-Semitic social media posts by the local business owners of Caffe A La Mode in Warwick,” said the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County in a comment released Sunday. “Statements such as ‘hitler [sic] was actually very kind to all people’ are not only factually inaccurate, they blatantly dismiss the horrific lived experiences of the Holocaust survivors in our families and community.

“We have seen this week that words have tremendous power,” the federation’s statement continued. “We mourn the loss of life occasioned by the seditious attack on our nation’s capital on January 6th, and join with the rational voices in our community who condemn all acts of violence and hate speech.”