The owners of a vegan mini-empire in Los Angeles are facing outrage and protests over news that they’ve been raising and slaughtering animals at their Northern California farm. Matthew and Terces Engelhart, who run the Cafe Gratitude chain, say they’ve received death threats over their private meat-eating.

Besides the Cafe Gratitude chain, the couple also runs Gracias Madre, a meatless Mexican restaurant. The deeply California controversy over their private conduct began, as Grub Street reports, when animal rights activists found a year-old blog post from the Engelharts, saying they’d begun eating meat again, and were raising and slaughtering cows:

It was a big week as we begin to make the transition into our own meat products after nearly 40 years of vegetarianism. While I would clearly say we are in transition and that transition is happening deep within our beings, we know it is a necessary and important part of our own growth as well as the sustainability of our farm. Certainly a part of us wants to either deny the inevitability of death or simply not let ourselves get present to the reality of it, for our animals as well as ourselves. But we know that while we die a little bit each day as we open our hearts further to the presence of love, and as we are the caretakers of our farm animals the responsibility for their health and well being lies with us. This is clearly a longer discussion and we invite you to one of our upcoming farm dinners over the next 9 months, where we share more about this process.

A blog called My Vegan Journal was very unhappy: “After being vegetarian for over 40 years, they’ve now decided to kill the animals on their farm, package them up, and eat their bits and pieces.”

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An internet-based shitstorm quickly gathered, with vegan racecar driver and environmentalist Leilani Munter telling the Engelharts they’d “alienated your core fanbase.”

The Engelharts tried to diffuse the controversy last week by assuring everyone that while they now eat meat, their restaurants remain vegan and that they’re not selling meat for profit:

The Engelharts told the Hollywood Reporter they’re getting both a deluge of one-star Yelp reviews and death threats, which they call part of a “mob mentality” against them. A protest is also planned for Friday night at the flagship Cafe Gratitude location:

As ethical vegans, we believe that founders of Cafe Gratitude cannot “celebrate aliveness” by raising animals for slaughter and benefitting, financially or otherwise, from dead animals and their byproducts.

The protest page also makes note of an old controversy: in 2011, Cafe Gratitude announced it would close its northern California locations due to “aggressive lawsuits,” as they put it. One suit accused the restaurants of practicing illegal tip-pooling, while the other claimed that employees were fired or punished for refusing to participate in the Landmark Forum, a personal improvement seminar that’s sometimes accused of acting like a cult. (The Engelharts met while participating in Landmark.)

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The Cafe Gratitude Yelp pages are getting so deluged, in fact, that Yelp has posted a “cleanup” notice, encouraging everyone to chill just a touch.

Matthew Engelhart also brought Jesus into it, in a release quoted by LAist:

We need cows to keep the earth alive, cows make an extreme sacrifice for humanity but that is their position in God’s plan as food for the predators. Cows maintain the grass, predators maintain the herd by culling the weak and sick. We can be part of that sacrament. Sacrifice is part of life. As in the passion of Christ, we all have to spill our blood for humanity to know the Father. The cow’s sacrifice was been ordained, ours we must choose.

There are now a lot of very outraged YouTube videos on the subject.

Matthew and Terces Engelhart. Screenshot via YouTube/Vanessa Moutinho