Saturday, September 19th is the day that marked a shift in the Asheville community for years to come. When the story about Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens, owners of the former Waking Life Espresso in West Asheville first broke, it was met with a mix of concern, disdain, outrage, and disgust. Concerned West Asheville citizens organized an impromptu protest on the sidewalk in front of the popular coffeehouse at 4 pm. Normally open until 8 pm, co-owner Jacob closed the doors to the store at 4:10. This was the start of the avalanche that suddenly immersed Asheville in a wave of a culture that few knew about: the red pill, pick up artists, and misogyny.
Since 2013, Rutledge and Owens have been “putting the sweet D in the tender V” and building a brand known as HolisticGame, centered around the red pill culture. The red pill culture is an internet community who gathers on Reddit, immersed in their own language, politics, and belief that women are the lesser gender. In their apologies, Rutledge and Owens both admit to subscribing to this particular set of beliefs, and playing ‘the game’ with more than 50 women in town. Not only were they actively involved in the red pill culture, but both men admitted to using their place of business to further their sexual exploits.
Waking Life Espresso remained closed until October 1st, when the doors opened for a few hours for, as Rutledge and Owens put it:
…a safe & moderated space for conversation. We want to give the floor to people with feelings, opinions, and ideas around recent events. Free coffee and pastries.
During that time, dedicated protestors once again assembled outside of the coffee shop, holding signs that begged for the end of rape culture, misogyny, and Waking Life. Both Jared and Jacob refused entry to the press, and it was later revealed that a local production company, Three Flames Productions, was inside of the coffee house later that day doing recordings with a female filmmaker interested in creating a documentary. The exact intent of the filming is not clear, and we are still awaiting comment and clarification from the production company.
On September 23rd, our staff had met with two individuals who appeared on the steps of the business, having been contacted by Rutledge and informed that the business was for sale. Upon looking at the protestors gathered, and reviewing the current state of the business it was disclosed to us that Waking Life Espresso was for sale. The formerly well established coffee shop which had expanded to selling flash chilled coffee in multiple local and regional stores was only worth the value of its assets, an estimated $18,000.
Waking Life Espresso was a staple in West Asheville for 6 years, and due to the close proximity to Patton Avenue was often the first place tourists and residents stopped at. Jared Rutledge was 25 when it opened, and Jacob Owens was 21. It was only a year before the opening of the store that Rutledge lost his virginity, for which he blames on growing up in a Christian household.
I remember being in a men’s young adult service when I was 24 and the pastor asked, with heads bowed, if any man in the room hadn’t looked at porn. I peeked and realized no one had raised their hand – every man in the room had indulged at some point. Though I couldn’t grasp it at the time, I’ve since come to understand that there is no point in repressing natural human desire.
I certainly couldn’t contain my urges forever, and ended up losing my virginity later that year.
– Jared Rutledge under the name Holistic Game, as it appeared on http://www.manoblogs.com/jails-churches/
Rutledge’s family has close ties to their religious community, with both of his parents active at The Rock Church in Asheville. Interestingly, both Jared’s mother and grandmother made an appearance at Waking Life Espresso on the morning of October 1st, going inside of the shop during the community hours that Jared and Jacob had detailed, prior to the documentary crew arriving. Before their arrival, a staff member of The Rock Church showed up, indicating that he was at the coffee shop to “visit with Jared.”
Rutledge and Owens are two obviously very intelligent individuals, who at a young age were successfully able to start and run a popular local business. Waking Life Espresso had been doing so well, in fact, that the duo had planned to open up an additional location in downtown Asheville at 89 Patton Avenue. After the story broke Mountain BizWorks requested that Rutledge and Owens return a loan intended to support the startup of the second location. Rutledge and Owens also agreed to dissolve the lease agreement for the building, and plans for their second location subsequently came to a halt.
It begs the question: how do two intelligent young men stumble into a culture such as the red pill? How does a 24 year old formerly self professed Christian go from sitting in young adult services, to publicly tweeting items such as this:
While we may never know what exactly led Rutledge and Owens down this path, the Asheville community is left to deal with the aftershock of the situation. The terms red pill, pick up artist, misogyny, and rape culture have been on the lips of everyone the past two weeks, and for that we can thank Waking Life. Globally, people have been weighing in on this subject and responses have varied from:
Red Pill is not just a subforum on the internet any longer. It has slowly trickled from just words posted by anonymous users online to individuals like Rutledge and Owens, carrying out the acts associated with ‘the game.’ The end goal of this game? To manipulate as many women as possible into sleeping with them, so that they can add another notch to their bedpost and receive validation in their manliness. While this particular scenario surrounding Waking Life Espresso may appear to be an isolated incident, this is not the first time red pill has been forced into the spotlight by national media.
Elliot Rodger was responsible for the murder of 6 people in Isla Vista California last year. Elliot was a frustrated college student who was a self professed virgin, bemoaning the fact that he had never been kissed. After the shooting spree where he injured 14 people, murdered 6, and committed suicide, it came to light that Rodger was involved in the manosphere. While many red pillers online deny his involvement in the community, others have not been shy about claiming that he failed to play “the game” appropriately, and blame American woman for being whores, causing pent up sexual frustration which is then carried out in acts of violence by already unstable individuals such as Rodger.
The Waking Life scandal has been about so much more than two “alpha males” engaging in the manosphere and preying on women in the community. It has been about how Asheville as a city, and how citizens have stepped up to say no more. Our mountain town has received international attention for how we have handled this situation, with words from individuals as far away as Ireland weighing in.
I’ve been following this story from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and I just wanted to say that I’m so touched and impressed by Asheville as a community. Your collective response to this debacle has been so unique. To really see a bunch of people say: Hey, no. We don’t want this happening to people in our neighbourhood or to people anywhere. It gives me hope for the future, for generations to come. That people might step up in a spirit of respect and kindness and have the backs of the people around them, well. It’s fantastic. We really can change things. We really can choose how our community treats people.
Panels have been hosted across town, in addition to safe space circles and informational meetings. The community has rallied for support, and even out of the ashes of Waking Life’s second location, a new socially conscious business has already formed. Asheville has recognized the need for education and support and neighbors have instantly banded together, standing in solidarity telling Rutledge and Owens to please shut down and seek help and counseling.
Did Asheville seek revenge on Rutledge and Owens? Even local media was reporting on the non existent mob, imploring townsfolk to put down the imaginary pitchforks and torches and move on. What people are failing to recognize is that protesters did not shut Waking Life down. Rutledge and Owens closed the door to the coffee shop as a natural consequence of the actions they willfully carried out over the course of two years.
In their final words to the public, Rutledge and Owens released this statement on their website:
Two and a half weeks ago, blogs, podcasts, and tweets which we ignorantly assumed would be kept anonymous were linked to us. We had made an effort to stay anonymous because at times we used demeaning, harsh, and violent words that expressed hatred and fear towards women. This anonymity allowed our words to knowingly bypass the checks and balances of the community in which we live, and avoid the reactions of real people. The red pill community provided us with validation and adoration as we engaged in this regrettable behavior.In the aftermath of us being identified, as the ripples spread, we offered separate and joint apologies. We were panicked and fearful, and the apologies reflect that.
Our business was crumbling around us, with landlords, suppliers, employees, and customers distancing themselves. We felt lost, ashamed, and confused. A few key community members and friends showed up and gave us the opportunity to face the anger and pain we’d caused. To lean into it. Notably, Trey Crispen gave freely of his time and boundless energy to challenge us and illuminate the possibility of sustainable, healthy change for us and the community. As we followed this previously unseen path, we discovered a newfound awareness – we realized that our words and motives truly hurt people we cared about.
These words and thoughts also hurt us, by causing cynicism and bitterness. We realized that we’d quantified and objectified living, breathing people. People who deserved much better. We’d used cruel words to belittle them and relieve our own insecurities and fears. We’d shared private memories that should have remained secret and sweet. Our ignorance regarding what we have done is no longer present.We make ourselves available to many of the people we’ve hurt – former partners, protesters, and community members. We are open to hear their pain and anger. We have discovered that some of it wasn’t about us, but was about a society-wide problem for which we’ve become the focal point.
We are also experiencing so much grace, compassion, and forgiveness extended to us. We are taking emotions all along the spectrum seriously, and our awareness of the problem continues to grow.We’ve begun the long process towards being better men, for ourselves and for others. We both are actively involved in counseling, and continue to be open to friends and family who speak into our lives. The firsthand knowledge of the pain and destruction our words have caused has allowed us to cast aside beliefs we previously held. We have a lot of introspection yet to do, and we’re committed to doing it. We will continue to make ourselves available and support the community as we are asked. We will gladly take part in the ongoing dialogue if and when we are invited to do so. We can speak from our experience regarding the hurt we’ve caused, and more importantly, from where this hurt came.
We are currently addressing the red pill community in order to illuminate the damage this philosophy can cause.Waking Life as a coffeeshop, as our livelihood, and as a community establishment is now gone. We are deeply grieving its loss. We poured blood, sweat, and tears into the business, and we were damn good at making coffee. We truly enjoyed our daily interactions with West Asheville, and we will miss them. We are being transformed as men. However, in losing the coffeeshop, a part of us that was good, real, and true has been lost.
As we seek healing and move forward with hope, we remember the good things about our little coffee community and are grateful.
Thanks for the good times, Asheville.
Thanks for the countless cups and conversations.
Thanks for the friendships that have been tested and proven true.
Thanks for holding us accountable for our behavior.
Thanks for the grace, compassion, and forgiveness you’ve shown.
Thanks for the support over the years.
Thanks for being our employees, regulars, and suppliers.
Thanks for rerouting our lives from the way of power to the way of grace.
Thanks for the smiles and the honesty.
Thanks for being a hometown of which we can be proud.
Thanks for giving us room to grow and change.
Thanks for helping us be aware.
Thanks for inspiring us to be better people.
Thanks for dashing our cynicism and humbling us.
Thanks for your big heart and showing up.
Be well, y’all.
Instead of the apology it appears to be, some people feel that this statement reflects a carefully crafted public relations scheme, attempting to use damage control and salvage what may be left of their reputation and that of their business. Others feel as though there was very little else for them to do successfully, and suggested a “lean into it” type strategy.
Bros Pros: This is the path that interests me from a purely anthropological standpoint. We’ve seen how sex tapes can make celebrity of even the least interesting people. Can someone actually channel this new-found attention and amplify it, creating brand that sustains and even grows one’s earning capacity? Is all PR ultimately good PR? Are these guys willing to find out, take back their apologies and become the “poster-bros” for TheRedPill community? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see if it was possible? I envision a potential reality program in their future… that it sickens us is exactly why it would be successful.
This statement was offered up as a potential possibility by reddit user MrExit23. In a misguided attempt to approach the community at large, Rutledge and Owens, with the help of Trey Crispen contacted Odyssey Community School to procure a place where they could host a public meeting. Odyssey politely declined.
Waking Life Espresso officially closed their doors on Monday, October 5th. Protestors remained outside, respectfully congregating on the sidewalk while watching Rutledge and Owens load personal items from the apartment above the coffee shop into trucks and haul it away. The crowd had gathered on the rumor that there was to be a big announcement unveiled that day, declaring the fate of the coffee shop. Early Monday morning, our staff contacted Izzy’s Coffee Den, to see if the internet whisperings about the purchase of Waking Life Espresso were true. In the evening these rumors were confirmed when all local media outlets received a press release announcing the acquisition of Waking Life Espresso by Ross and Kristin Britton.
Kristin and Ross Britton, owners of Izzy’s Coffee Den on North Lexington in downtown Asheville, are pleased to announce the coming of a sister coffee shop at 976 Haywood Road in West Asheville.
The owners of Izzy’s, an Asheville coffee institution for over a decade, have been looking to expand to West Asheville.
“We’re excited to be a part of the West Asheville community,” said Kristin, “we’ve been looking for a second location for a while. We can’t wait to make new friends and offer the west side a great new place to relax and enjoy.”
As of October 5th, Izzy’s has completed the purchase of equipment and assumed the current lease at 976 Haywood, the former location of Waking Life. The sister shop expects to be closed for six to eight weeks for renovations.
“We appreciate everyone’s understanding as we work on giving the space a warmer feel. We’re going to take our time, give it a fresh coat of paint…as Kristen said, we want this to be a place where everyone feels comfortable,” Ross said.
Expect more information about Izzy’s new location later this month
Waking Life Espresso is no more, and during its tenure in Asheville, Rutledge and Owens served quality coffee alongside red pill philosophy and misogyny. It seems fitting that during the final weeks the coffee shop served as a pulpit for a larger purpose. Once stripped of its use as a platform for Rutledge and Owens to further their sexual escapades, the house-turned-coffee-shop has served as a stage for something much larger: national discussion on the all too real world of rape culture, gender inequality, and hate speech. Asheville has received international attention regarding this issue, and as a city is being scrutinized on to handle situations of this particular class and magnitude. Our citizens took something painful, and turned it into a powerful global discussion.
This is only the beginning.