In the three years since Andrew Richmond and Amin Todai opened their first Sweet Jesus ice cream shop in Toronto, perhaps the biggest complaints lodged against the shop were that it was overexposed, overrated, and—worst of all—over-Instagrammed. But that was before the ultra-conservative corners of the internet learned about its existence, and started frothing at the mouth over its expansion into the United States.
“Our name was created from the popular phrase that people use as an expression of enjoyment, surprise or disbelief,” it says on its website. “Our aim is not to offer commentary on anyone’s religion or belief systems, Our own organization is made up of amazing people that represent a wide range of cultural and religious beliefs.”
It might not be offering commentary about religion, but the ultra-religious have are serving up their own hot takes about the ice cream shop. There are no less than three online petitions, demanding that Sweet Jesus change its name, urging Christians boycott the shop (even Christians who live hundreds of miles from the closest to-go pint of Red Rapture), and flat out asking for an apology.
The petition on Change.org accuses the shop’s founders of religious discrimination for “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” An angry screed on Canadian site CitizenGo says that the “totally offensive and revolting” shop “[serves] up blasphemy.” And pro-life petition site LifePetitions repeats the call for a boycott for the “misuse” of Jesus’ name. “I will boycott your chain until you change your name and issue an apology for mocking the name of Jesus,” its petition reads.
The website Vigilant Citizen takes it a step further, suggesting that the shop tops each Commandment-defying cone with a dash of Satanism. “The chain does not only serve ice cream to its customers: The ‘experience’ also involves intense imagery and Biblical references,” the site gasps. “The symbolism is not Christian, it is satanic. Because satanic symbolism is based on the inversion and the corruption of Christian symbols and Biblical references.” The inverted crosses and the lightning bolts in its logo? Satanic. The animal masks two boys wear in a Sweet Jesus promo photo? Satanic. The entire aesthetic? MORE SATANIC THAN ANTON LAVEY SQUEEZING CHOCOLATE TRIPLE-SIXES ONTO A FROZEN GOAT SKULL.
Sweet Jesus (probably) isn’t Satan’s scoop shop, but it is provocative. “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain,” one of its promo shots says. “But god damn, that’s delicious.” Whether you think that’s hilarious or completely disrespectful depends on how you feel about Jesus in non-ice cream form, but it doesn’t seem to have mattered until the company announced its plans for further expansion into the United States. The sole US shop is currently in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (WELCOME TO BWI, HEATHENS!) but it plans to open a second location in Minnesota’s Mall of America. At the end of last year, the company reported that it may soon expand its territory to include Dubai, India, and Bangladesh—but under the name Sweet Salvation.
Putting Jesus’ name on food—other than what gets served at Communion—seems to be a quick and easy way to make pearl-clutchers go bonkers. DuClaw Brewing Company learned that lesson in 2015, when an Ohio grocery chain pulled its Sweet Baby Jesus porter from its shelves. Heinen’s, a family-owned Midwest chain, yanked the beer after receiving a number of customer complaints. “For us, the name 'Sweet Baby Jesus!' is a phrase meaning awe or astonishment," DuClaw president Dave Benfield said at the time. "It's not meant to be offensive by any means.”
For what it’s worth, Sweet Jesus isn’t taking a knee, despite the controversy. “After a lot of thought, we have decided that we will not make a change,” Andrew Richmond told the Toronto Star. “The best brands come from an honest place. Sweet Jesus is an honest reflection of our experiences and that of our customers and how they react when they try our product. In our experience, the majority of people understand that we’re not trying to make a statement about religion.”
Guess you could say amen to that.