Spreading positivi'tea': Mostly supportive feedback for controversial NH billboard
SOMERSWORTH — A new billboard on West High Street is sparking conversation.
The ad is for the cafe Teatotaller on High Street. It shows local resident Michael Cummings in a pink half-shirt and short, jean shorts with the caption, “I like my men like I like my coffee, with breakfast at Teatotaller.”
The reception, said cafe owner Emmett Soldati, has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. He said neighbors have actively come out to tell them how much they liked the billboard and its playfulness.
In the public group Somersworth Now on Facebook most of the more than hundred comments are positive in nature.
But a few people expressed their dislike.
Regardless, Soldati said it gets people talking and enables the community to come together and "share in their personal beliefs."
Soldati opened his business 2011 on Main Street then moved to the larger High Street location in 2016. Teatotaller went from a small tea house to a full cafe with music concerts, poetry readings and variety shows for all ages. Soldati refers to Teatotaller as an "oasis", a safe space for patrons and it's LGBTQ friendly. He said you can find decadent flavors and unique ideas — where one night may be drag bingo and the next a cooking class.
When asked about naysayers, Soldati remained positive, but did comment on criticism that these types of billboards should only happen in big cities. He said that's not accurate because their business model is local. Soldati was born and raised in Somersworth as well as Cummings, and the photographer is also from Somersworth.
Cummings, who is 18-years-old, said he wanted to be part of the project to inspire others, and he believes he's achieved that. He attributes the encouraging reception, in part, to the tight-knit community of Somersworth. "As a male who dresses very feminine, I get a lot of positive feedback. I think I'm very loved in our little town."
Cummings said not everyone likes his new model status but he remained positive.
"Times are changing. Your views need to be changing with them," he said. "Spread love. Happiness. Never hate."
Operations Manager Palana Belken said those who dislike the ad or think its pushing the wrong message aren't necessarily the target audience.
"Those are people who wouldn't necessarily come into the cafe anyway," she said. But also added, "They are welcome to."
Even though Teatotaller has expanded, Soldati said they have no plans to ever serve alcohol. In fact, the name is a pun on the word teetotaler, which means someone who abstains from drinking alcohol. Belken said it’s not the vibe they are going for.
“It’s a safe space,” she said.
Soldati said they will keep moving forward and growing as a place for all people in this city he calls home.
“I’ve been humbled by the things people have said, my neighbors and community," he said. "And I love them even more than I did yesterday.”