Some have called the new coffee and sandwich shop that popped up on Grand Street earlier this fall charming – “the atmosphere is cozy and cute with some warm wood and touches of pink” reports one patron online- although more seasoned Brooklynites might roll their eyes at another cookie cutter coffee shop.
As it turns out, there might something shadier than the bland creep of gentrification lurking underneath the blankly trendy facade- namely the accusations against owner Guy Sands that went viral a few weeks ago, causing the shop to close its doors for the foreseeable future.
Sands, named for its owner, closed late last month after what Eater NY called a ‘firestorm’ of online controversy, kicked off when Twitter user Colin Hagendorf, author of the NYC pizza shop chronicle Slice Harvester, outed Sands as a member of the far right group the Proud Boys, writing:
Though Hagendorf didn’t respond to Eater or Bushwick Daily’s requests for further comment, the tweet was enough to spark a flood of negative Yelp and Google Reviews, most reading along the lines of “The owner is White Supremacist. Will never eat here again. Don’t give them your money,”
Sands closed shop, citing fear for his business and family, and quickly denied holding any such beliefs to Eater and Gothamist, telling the latter publication he was “not a goddamn Nazi.”
Some of his statements were somewhat contradictory: he claimed to be a lifelong Democrat to Gothamist, though Eater identified him as a registered Republican. He denied maintaining an alt right Twitter account, though below the Gothamist article a commenter posted what appeared to be content from Sands’s deleted account expressing boilerplate far right sentiments and other similar tweets under the handle @SandsGuy remain aggregated on various other sites.
Sands seems to have used it until at least late 2017, and described himself on it as a “Brooklyn Songwriter : Philosophy Guy : Cineaste : Restaurant Manager : Evergreen Alumni : Political Unicorn.”
Most damning- and ironic, considering Sands’s claim that he closed his restaurant due to online harassment and threats- is a 2016 Vanity Fair article documenting his attendance at a party thrown by far right wing instigator Milo Yiannopoulos, a party the disgraced former Breitbart writer threw for himself after his own Twitter account was deleted due to his incitement of a racist harassment campaign against SNL actress Leslie Jones.
Sands admitted to attending the event and traveling to Washington DC with the Proud Boys as part of what he called an “investigatory” trip.
For those less familiar with the queasy cultural underbelly of the Trump Era, The Proud Boys are a group that – although they considers themselves mere “western chauvinists” and claim to welcome non-white and gay members- are considered an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which portrays the group as organized to launder white supremacist type beliefs under a veneer of irony and sensationalist obfuscation.
Proud Boys recently made headlines for fighting with protesters in NYC earlier this week:
Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s deadly Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, was a member, and the group mainly makes headlines for starting fights at protests and demonstrations.
Some of Guy’s former coworkers describe an average bohemian Brooklynite whose love for expressing ‘extremely controversial views’ in the spirit of debate rendered him obnoxious and somewhat toxic.
“I just thought he was a fucked up kid” said a former employer who recalled letting Sands go from a position at his Greenpoint establishment, telling Bushwick Daily that he later instructed employees to ban Sands from the premises after too many ‘contrarian’ debates.
A former coworker describes Sands as a “sweet guy” and “never saw him treat anyone differently,” but whose radicalization into an “armchair fascist” caused rifts in their social circle.
“Everybody was really surprised… it was hard to connect the two things. It definitely broke up a lot friendships.”
A YouTube channel Sands maintained at the time hosts moody black and white videos of the cafe owner lip syncing to languidly strummed songs with titles like “Woe” and “Valhalla”. Across the top of the page, slightly out of focus, a long haired Sands glowers in front of an American flag.
If Sands seems more like a pedantic hippie dork turned Trump supporter than a Neo Nazi street thug, and if a perky breakfast joint seems like an odd choice of venue for such a personality, both certainly fit the post Charlottesville profile of white supremacist as tiki torch wielding suburban internet geek. Perhaps the more alarming fact is that there might not be such a big difference between the two anymore.
Sands’s denial to Gothamist: “I was very naive to think that I could hear other opinions that would not bring guilt by association”, doesn’t quite track, considering his time seems to have been spent doing a bit more than hearing opinions. However, central to the controversy is Sands’s choice to name the cafe after himself, after already publicly associating his personal brand with such toxicity. It’s a decision that does seem to display a remarkable naïveté- or is it a confidence of a bolder, more unsettling nature?
“He was a bit of a narcissist,” said the former acquaintance.
Guy Sands did not respond to Bushwick Daily’s request for comment and the cafe currently remains closed.