Online bullies harass Austin startup; owner turns experience into fundraiser

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new startup in Austin got some unwanted attention before serving their first cup of coffee in the area.

Michelle Bell, a small business owner, recently started Coffee Theory ATX, a mom-and-pop coffee truck. She is co-owner with her husband Ryan Bell.

Michelle testing drinks at home (Coffee Theory ATX)

In a statement released last week, she described an online encounter from “bullies” in San Antonio.

“I never thought in a million years that we’d be faced with… bullies from two hours away in a city we’ve never been to, and for claims that are unwarranted and unfounded; people who are trying to strong-arm and scare us out of our dreams and our business,” Michelle said.

She claims the bullies are a group of men believed to be partners and customers of a San Antonio-based coffee truck. She said they have used fear tactics, cursed and threatened her. The harassment started the last weekend of February, she said.

“I have tried to be kind, but they have only responded with more threats and hurtful comments.”

Michelle has “zero tolerance” for bullying — something she’s experienced throughout her childhood as an Asian American immigrant from a poor family.

“The recent posts from these folks have appalled and saddened me but I’ve learned that I have a moral obligation to not give in to bullies,” she said.

Out of their coarse interaction, she and her husband decided to brew something positive.

The married couple started a fundraiser for YWCA Greater Austin inspired by Amplify Austin’s #iLiveHereiGiveHere. Michelle chose the social justice initiative because of its mission to empower women, eliminate racism, help families and strengthen communities, including provided counseling for bullying.

Coffee Theory ATX won’t name or identify the other coffee shop.

“We wish no ill-will on anyone or any small business, which is why we are not disclosing information of the other coffee shop,” the Bells said.

“We want to take the stance of cheering each other on. We are here to open a fair and honest business in Austin, support the awesome place and people that we live with,” Michelle said.

Their business plans to host donation events with several other organizations. Michelle hopes to provide support to animal shelters, orphan foundations, churches, first responders, and medical workers. A percentage of profits will go directly to the local organizations.

You can view more of their statement on their Instagram post. Direct message them or comment to learn how to give to their cause. Coffee Theory ATX aims to start selling coffee and more by early April. Check out their website to see its planned schedule.

The Bells have contacted authorities in Travis County. They forwarded messages and were given instructions on what to do next. Michelle said if the harassment continues, then certain next steps will be evaluated. If you are a victim of online bullying and have received threats, you can report them to the Austin Police Department.

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