Queen Beans Espresso has found itself the target of negative comments on social media over swimsuit-wearing baristas in a conservative town. But with the right approach, the future could be buzzing.
Queen Beans Espresso has found itself the target of negative comments on social media over swimsuit-wearing baristas in a conservative town. But with the right approach, the future could be buzzing.

Queen Beans Espresso is a small, female-owned coffee shop that was established in 2022 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The company’s owner, Katie Mac, recently announced that she would be opening a second location from a food truck in the parking lot of JD’s Restoration Services in Fort Smith, Arkansas, on March 16, 2023. By the time you’re reading this, you may have even tried one of their delicious Honeycombs.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement has sparked controversy on social media, particularly on Facebook. Why “unsurprisingly”? Isn’t this just coffee?

What Could Possibly Be So Controversial?

Well, a) have you met social media? And b) I failed to mention that the baristas wear swimsuits. Two-piece swimsuits, in many cases, and that leaves less to the imagination than many people in the Bible Belt are comfortable with.

The marketer in me likes to observe these situations from a neutral place. I’m young-ish, so still in the coffee shop’s demographic. Nevertheless, it’s not my intention to get into the fruitless right vs. wrong stuff playing out on the company’s Facebook page.

Instead, I like to see how businesses like Queen Beans Espresso can swim against the current to find success. I think there’s a valuable business lesson in that for all of us. It’s clear that Queen Beans will face some challenges ahead. But let’s take a closer look at how they’re handling them.

Challenge No. 1: Politics

The political climate in Fort Smith can be less than forgiving toward what’s perceived as “progressiveness,” a four-letter word if there ever was one. Unlike Fayetteville, which is known for embracing such attitudes and ideas, Fort Smith is MAGA Country. Less than 30 percent of the county where it’s located voted for Joe Biden in 2020, with more than 66 percent going for former President Trump.

Allegations of sexual misconduct and his own admission to grabbing women “by the p***y” aside, these voters tend to identify with traditional family values. Some may have even held their nose to vote for Trump. To them, he was the only candidate with a viable chance of winning who aligned with that agenda, at least in words. Progressives, to them, are the party of radical feminism, LGBTQIA+, anti-police, pro-abortion, etc.

Opening a business that puts a spotlight on sexual power is uncomfortable for them. Of note, there is a “gentleman’s club” over the bridge in Roland, Oklahoma, and a lingerie shop on one of Fort Smith’s major thoroughfares, along with a Hooter’s.

Little is made of the existence of these businesses. However, Queen Beans Espresso is new and more social media-accessible, so it’s not as much of a surprise that they’re feeling this initial burst of pushback.

Fortunately for the business, Katie Mac seems to be up for the challenge. More on that in the next section.

Challenge No. 2: Social Media

We all know that social media is like pouring gasoline on a fire. It doesn’t take long for opposition to spread. But the flip side of that coin is that it doesn’t take long to find your tribe either.

In a post explaining the business and its mission, Katie seems to be doing just that. She emphasizes the company’s dedication to its customers and its employees. Rather than “punching back,” she is settling on the high road.

The controversy surrounding the company’s Fort Smith opening is bringing in negative comments and reviews on Facebook, all before the shop has even opened. The threat of attracting an organized Facebook lynch mob is all too real for small businesses of any type, let alone one that goes against the grain. (See my previous post on The Black Bison Controversy.)

How do you fight something like this?

Through consistency, positivity, and solicitation. Keep with your messaging, show people that you’re not out to offend or humiliate, and show the public what you’re all about. Feature the girls, yes, but also show the product and provide a great customer experience for everyone. A review of the Queen Beans Espresso Facebook shows that Katie Mac and her Baristas are doing just that.

Challenge No. 3: Winning Detractors

As tempting as it may be in a continuously polarized climate, Queen Beans Espresso must be careful to avoid alienating people. The company must stay true to its mission and values while being sensitive to the beliefs and attitudes of its community. This means knowing your audience and not poking the bear if you don’t have to.

To find success in Fort Smith, Queen Beans Espresso must strike a balance between the two. And one phenomenal way they’re doing that is the emphasis on bettering the lives of the women who work there. As Katie Mac writes:

My long term goal is to create a ‘Queen Beans University’ where girls come to work for us and we help elevate them to their next career goals by sponsoring them in school, courses or whatever it may be! I want girls to look back and think… ‘I couldn’t be where I am today without Queen Beans.’ On Wednesdays we celebrate our lady customers with a $1 off any drink! Huge shout out to Justin Daniels for giving us this opportunity and supporting not only Cody [the deceased Queen Beans founder] but a woman owned business. We couldn’t do this without him! Cody’s family and I are so excited about our second location. I totally understand everyone has an opinion, and i completely respect it, I just hope you come try our coffee before judging us. We are all about our coffee and customer service… plain and simple.

Queen Beans Espresso Facebook

Showing this altruistic side to the business speaks to a higher purpose. It wins the trust of the silent majority (aka political independents) while ingratiating itself to the more progressive-minded.

Last but not least, it goes a long way in winning the trust of the very demographic that critics claim they are exploiting: women. It also gives current and future employees a chance to build personal followings that can be monetized outside of the business and parlayed into other businesses. (Think influencer marketing.)

Queen Beans Espresso Is Here For It

While the company may face some challenges due to its location and some negative publicity on social media, it can overcome these challenges by focusing on excellent coffee and customer service.

Along the way, they should avoid confrontational language or behavior, and focus instead on building a loyal customer base through positive experiences. With these strategies in place, the Queen Beans may just find Fort Smith to be a hive for success.

Are you concerned because you’re attracting negative feedback? Need help with a content strategy that can help you get on track? I have been a professional marketer for more than a decade and know how to help businesses manage the ebbs and flows in their online reputations. Contact me today if you need support!

[Image via Queen Beans Facebook Page, linked above]

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