Protesters call for boycott of Varsity Theater, Loring Pasta Bar

In light of sexual abuse allegations against owner Jason McLean, demonstrators are calling for a boycott of the two businesses .

Demonstrator Bella Looney holds a sign in alliance with sexual assault survivors in front of the Loring Pasta Bar on Fourth Street on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 in Dinkytown. The protest was to raise awareness that Jason McLean, owner of Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater, has four civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors at the Childrens Theater Company during the 70s and 80s, when he worked as an actor and teaching artist.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Demonstrator Bella Looney holds a sign in alliance with sexual assault survivors in front of the Loring Pasta Bar on Fourth Street on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 in Dinkytown. The protest was to raise awareness that Jason McLean, owner of Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater, has four civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors at the Children’s Theater Company during the ’70s and ’80s, when he worked as an actor and teaching artist.

by Jackie Renzetti and Tiffany Lukk

About 40 demonstrators lined the sidewalk between the Varsity Theater and the Loring Pasta Bar Saturday, quietly holding signs and talking with passersby.

The protest was meant to educate the campus community of sexual abuse allegations against the Dinkytown businesses’ owner, Jason McLean, said the organizer, Sarah Super.

Between December and February, four lawsuits were filed against Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater owner Jason McLean, alleging child sex abuse during the ’70s and ’80s at the Children’s Theatre Company, where he worked as an actor and teaching artist. The lawsuits were filed under the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for three years and expired in May 2016.

“[The survivors] have called for a boycott of Jason McLean’s businesses,” Super said. “People have the right to choose where they spend their money, and they also have the right to make informed decisions. I’m choosing to believe the survivors and boycott the businesses.”

Representatives from the Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theatre declined to comment.

To avoid triggering survivors of sexual abuse, protesters were asked to not chant or yell, Super said. Rather, she made over 50 signs with messages including “Three sexual abuse lawsuits should hurt your business” and “Boycott the Loring Pasta Bar, stand with survivors.”

“That doesn’t mean it will be silent, it means it will open ourselves up for conversation with people walking through Dinkytown and are curious,” Super said.

At the protest Saturday, demonstrators handed out paper slips calling for people to “stand with survivors” and to boycott the businesses.

“I was really surprised, I hadn’t heard of any of it,” said first-year University of Minnesota neuroscience student Mary Ellen Matusovic, who was walking by the protest. “I’ve gone to the restaurant and theater for multiple concerts and it kind of changes my mind on whether or not I’d go back.”

Protester Elise Armani said she wants to see the University to stop sponsoring events at the venue.

“I don’t think most people are aware of the allegations against the owner. It’s my hope that if they were aware, they’d take their business elsewhere,” said Armani, an art and gender, women and sexuality studies senior.

Some, however, say that the protest was misplaced.

“She could be organizing at a court house or somewhere that decisions will actually be made about this,” said Lily Brown — a sexual assault survivor — in an email, who posted on the protest’s Facebook event page. “The employees are the only ones being hurt.”

Super, in response, noted that the boycotting of the businesses was intended to honor the wishes of survivors.

“I have sympathy for the employees who I do believe are innocent and have not participated in any part of the sexual abuse around these victims. I have a lot of sympathy for the people who have come forward … I have no sympathy for Jason McLean,” she said.

In the wake of the lawsuits, some performers have moved their shows from the Varsity, including Warpaint, Against Me!, Baroness and The Current’s Jake Rudh.

“If they know about this and see a band they like is playing here, they can contact the band and let them know,” said demonstrator and local musician Sanjeev Mishra, who graduated from the University in 2016.

Haley Purvis, a former Loring Pasta Bar server and 2016 University graduate, said she joined the protest as soon as she learned about it. 

“The entire time I worked here, I had two tables ask me about it,” she said, adding staff had been told not to comment. “It’s like, wouldn’t you want to get the voices of the victims out rather than protect the perpetrator? So it conflicted with my morals and I quit.”

At least eight individuals filed lawsuits against the Children’s Theatre Company and some of its former employees for sexual assault of minors before the Child Victims Act expired. Former artistic director John Donahue — who was convicted in 1984, on three counts of criminal sexual conduct with minors — is named in three of the claims.

The protest lasted from 5:45 to about 7 p.m.

“[It’s been] overwhelmingly positive, lots of support,” said demonstrator Jenn Schreiter. “Lots of people walking by and saying ‘I support you.’”