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Mayor Sylvester Turner grilled for promoting 'local' chain restaurant during COVID-19 campaign

Mayor Turner grilled for promoting chain restaurant during COVID-19

Sylvester Turner Chili's
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted from Chili's last weekend. @SylvesterTurner/Twitter

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has been encouraging people to patronize local restaurants when they reasonably afford to do so. Last week, Turner announced the #TakeUsToYourTable campaign, a new initiative designed to spotlight Thursdays as a day when people should order take out or delivery from their favorite local eateries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The press conference included Hugo Ortega, the James Beard Award-winning chef-owner of four local restaurants (Hugo's, Backstreet Cafe, Caracol, and Xochi), whose inspiring personal story of achieving success after immigrating to America is a modern version of a classic tale. Encouraging people to support local restaurants by featuring one of the city's most prominent chefs — that's a job well done.

Setting a good example of what constitutes a "local restaurant" proved slightly more difficult for the mayor this weekend. On Saturday, he tweeted from the Chili's at I-10 and Sawyer, praising the "local restaurant." 

 

 

Some people on social media objected. Baby back ribs and southwestern egg rolls are undeniably delicious, but Chili's is part of Brinker International, a Dallas-based, publicly-traded company that operates 1,600 restaurants in 29 countries. Typically, "local restaurants" are understood to be locally owned — not part of an international corporation. 

Local attorney and radio host Charles Adams' reaction to the mayor's tweet serves as one example of the typical tone of the few dozen replies that followed. 

 

 

Turner doesn't typically reply to people who tweet at him, but Mary Benton, the mayor's director of communications, replied to Adams from her personal account to note that corporate restaurants employ "local people who feed local families and they spend money supporting other local businesses, pay local sales taxes, and support the local economy." 

Most Texas restaurants got shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program loans that had been intended to support small businesses, which mean their primary hope for survival will likely come from consumer dollars. Perhaps the mayor's next meal from a Houston restaurant will have both local owners and local employees.