CEO Series

Coming From An Animal Lover, The Sudo Brew Controversy Has Blown Out Of Hand. Here's Why.

What started out as a bit of bad PR for a small café called Sudo Brew turned into a boycott campaign that left the team scrambling into damage control mode.

Just yesterday, a ‘Boycott Sudo Brew‘ rallying cry circulated Facebook depicting a screenshot of a since removed review of the cafe, alleging that one of the staff at the establishment “threw” a dog out of the establishment.

A review left on their page

What turned this into a fully-fledged scandal however, was when Managing Partner Hwa YangJerng responded.

The response.

As a fallout of that comment, netizens went in droves to leave bad reviews of the space. The aforementioned ‘Boycott Sudo Brew’ campaign gained virality. As a direct consequence to Hwa YangJerng who replied to the review, his role as Sudo Brew’s Managing Partner has been limited, and he continues to face netizen ire.

Meanwhile, as an unfortunate side effect, other staff at Sudo Brew are getting physical and verbal threats from animal rights activists, though some netizens argue that these same staff have watched Jerng kick and “discipline” Stinky without speaking up against him.

Editor’s Note: The previous sentence has been edited to clarify the nature of the threats. 

I’m inclined to agree with that particular point, but if this is a small defense for the staff at Sudo Brew, it can be difficult to speak up about similar abuses to your boss, or maybe they just haven’t noticed.

We empathise with how everyone is feeling. Unfortunately, this came as a shock to us too—the partnership is rather enraged, and we are honestly doing all we can to right this wrong that has been done by one man,” said a Sudo Brew representative in a Facebook post.

But even as someone against animal cruelty, I think that the response has painted them in an unnecessarily aggressive bad light.

While I’ve never owned a pet myself, you won’t see me in a 5-meter radius of a kitty without petting it. The only reason that has stopped me from adopting adorable strays is because I am not confident that I can give them the care that they deserve.

With that being said, I am sympathetic to Sudo Brew, and to a certain extent, even Hwa YangJerng.

A F&B premise needs to be kept clean, and for some eateries, that includes removing strays from the premises that could bring contamination or a fine from an inspector.

With a name like ‘Stinky’, we can imagine that some customers might object to enjoying their food and beverages with it around. Sudo Brew never claimed to be pet-friendly either.

Despite what reads as very questionable methods, he and the staff of Sudo Brew have the right to remove a stray from their premises if it was disrupting business.

And apart from the netizens that have stepped in to help notify animal shelters regarding the mistreatment of the animal, my concern is that many individuals are simply painting everyone in Sudo Brew with the same brush. The company, and its many workers are faced with accusations that they do not actually deserve.

It’s as if they are guilty simply by association.

As a bit of good news though, Cherishlife Home (a no-kill rescuer and shelter) has expressed interest in taking in Stinky the dog, and they are working closely with the cafe to capture the stray, and will be bringing it to a vet for checkup before they can find it a furever home.

With all that being said, I do think that the Sudo Brew controversy could have gone down differently, and all with minimal harm to Stinky too.

So for any other F&B premises that faces a stray problem, here are some suggestions on what could be done instead.

1. Having a fence around the premises to prevent strays from walking in.

Image Credit: Sudo Brew

Other netizens have pointed this out as well. Based on the picture above, it is possible for the store to erect a small, dog-sized fence around the premises’ entrance as a humane deterrent for strays.

By including a gate, it won’t impede guest trying to make their way into the store either; all they have to do is swing a gate open and close to walk in.

Using this method has the added benefit of ensuring that staff do not unnecessarily touch any strays to shoo them away too, which helps reduce potential for contaminated hands handling food.

We’ve also heard of other F&B establishments that feed strays some distance away from their premises, to prevent the animals from disturbing their customers.

2. Putting in more efforts into solving the problem.

In all fairness to Sudo Brew, the cafe has made efforts into finding what is clearly a friendly furkid a home.

Posted on the 13th of January 2016 on Jerng’s Instagram

While their efforts into getting Stinky adopted isn’t zero, it can be agreed that more can be done. We’ve seen feel-good stories of brands going on a social media campaign that finally led to the adoption of an animal. Sudo Brew could have been more targeted in their approach, by perhaps posting into dog-lover groups, among others that would perhaps take a personal investment in the case of Stinky.

For example, once news broke of the alleged animal abuse, Cherishlife Home was quick to respond to the news with a plea to bring Stinky to their premises.

While there is a possibility that the speediness of Cherishlife Home’s action lies in their worry for Stinky’s safety, this goes to show that with enough effort, someone is bound to take notice.

Also, the problem with Stinky had been going on for quite a long time. If it really was such an issue, perhaps more could have been done since the start to prevent the dog from stepping on their premises.

Obviously, their methods weren’t working, so changing up the strategy could have work better and solved it before it blew up like this.

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But that was all before the issue became a full-blown controversy. Here are other things that the team can observe as well:

3. Don’t wait too long to issue an apology .

An excerpt of Sudo Brew’s initial apology / Screenshot taken from Sudo Brew

Screenshots of the offending response have been circulating, as far as we can tell, since the 8th of November 2017, 4.00pm. Meanwhile, Sudo Brew’s official response came in at 11.39pm that same day—after Jerng posted about the Stinky situation twice, and showcased his remorselessness.

By then, any move made by Sudo Brew will just be seen as damage control, as displayed by the comments on his page. Even when the cafe has made efforts to help rescue, and even foot the vet bills, it seems too little too late.

In the world of social media, those crucial 7 hours and 39 minutes was an eternity.

Had Sudo Brew responded differently, or taken a more active voice in their apologies, perhaps they could have tided the floodgates of Netizen ire before it really blew up into the proportion that it is at right now.

Perhaps Sudo Brew hoped that the issue would die down before they committed any admissions into black and white. But in this case, it was extremely important for them to separate themselves from Jerng’s admissions, and do it fast, especially since Jerng himself responded to the review on behalf of the company.

Which leads me to:

4. The initial response to the review could have been managed better. 

A boring, but tried and true method of responding to bad reviews / Image Credit: Vendasta

Of course it can be disheartening for any business to receive a 1 star review, and in this case, it seemingly had little to do with the food or service of the business.

This is why it’s important for voices and representatives of the brand to carefully consider how to respond to a poor review.

What makes the response more damning is that he signed off the response identifying himself as the Managing Partner of Sudo Brew, after admitting to more than what the review indicated he did.

The review only called him out for throwing the dog, while Jerng admitted that he “carried, pushed, kicked and otherwise shoved” the animal to shoo it away from the premises.

By identifying as one of the top guns to Sudo Brew, it became difficult for netizens to separate between him and the brand, even though Jerng began the response by stating that this was all “a reflection of his personal point of view”.

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Jerng is welcome to hold any opinions on animals. But animals—particularly dogs and cats—hold a certain sentimental regard in the eyes of many Malaysians. It is also now against the law to abuse animals.

When it comes to this situation, the initial review to the admissions and escalations of social media, this ended with Sudo Brew receiving a lot of flak. This negative perception could probably hinder the business on a longer scale, even if he may no longer be in the picture.

And again, I don’t agree with animal abuse. As outlined above, I agree that there are ways to manage their Stinky situation without resorting to any violent acts.

But I do also think that the narrative behind this Sudo Brew issue has blown way out of proportion. Too many people have jumped onto the bandwagon with voices of outrage, without actually doing anything productive to change the situation.

However, in this age of social media, businesses need to be careful of how they deal with sticky situations, because even when you don’t realise it, there are always eyes watching, and thumbs a few clicks away from turning your story into viral news.

 

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