WALKERTON (AP) — A northern Indiana pizzeria that closed after its owner said his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him to cater a gay wedding opened Thursday to a full house of friends, regulars and people wanting to show their support.
“It’s a relief to get going again and try to get back to normal,” said Kevin O’Connor, owner of Memories Pizza.
O’Connor closed the shop for eight days after comments by him and his daughter, Crystal, to a local television station supporting a new religious objections law. The law, which has since been revised, sparked a boycott of Indiana.
O’Connor said the criticism hasn’t changed his beliefs. He said gays are welcome in his restaurant in the small, one-traffic-light town of Walkerton, 20 miles southwest of South Bend, but that he would decline to cater a same-sex wedding because it would conflict with his Christian beliefs.
“I’d do the same thing again. It’s my belief. It’s our belief. It’s what we grew up on,” he said. “I’m just sorry it comes to this because neither one of us dislike any of those people. I don’t hold any grudges.”
A crowdfunding campaign started by supporters raised more than $842,000 with donations from 29,160 contributors in 48 hours. O’Connor said he hasn’t received the money yet, but said he plans to give some to charity and use some money to make improvements to the restaurant.
The 61-year-old father of eight who has owned the restaurant for nine years said he never thought about taking the money and retiring.
“I enjoy it. I don’t want to leave here,” he said. “I want this to be something that my daughter can enjoy.”
Crystal O’Connor said the amount of money was overwhelming.
“We were like, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!'” she said.
“It was really making us uncomfortable,” her father said.
The restaurant reopened about 4 p.m. Thursday. He says that within an hour, all eight tables were filled and six people were waiting for carryout orders. There were no protests as of 7 p.m.
Jeanne and Ken Gumm from outside LaPorte, about 20 miles northwest of Walkerton, said they had been waiting for the pizzeria to reopen so they could show their support.
“We couldn’t wait to get down here,” said Ken Gumm, 66, a tank truck driver. “To us this whole thing isn’t about gay marriage. It’s mostly about freedom of religion.”