UPDATE: Since the publication of the post, all El Tiempo social media accounts have been deactivated, according to CultureMap content partner ABC13.
"People are insulting us in such a dramatic fashion, and we feel like we don't deserve it," El Tiempo Cantina owner Roland Laurenzo tells ABC13. "At least temporarily I had it taken down because I don't want to be insulted, my children to be insulted, my family to be insulted."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions' visit to Houston has put one local restaurant in the crosshairs of the national debate about how restaurants should treat members of the Trump administration.
Sessions, in town on Friday, August 10, to address a meeting of federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials about the need to crackdown on violent crime and illegal immigration, dined at an El Tiempo Cantina in the Inner Loop after his speech. In turn, the restaurant posted a photo on Facebook of Sessions standing with chef-owner Domenic Laurenzo and a caption that read as follows:
"We had the honor to server [sic] Mr. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. Thank you for allowing us to serve you."
Sessions' key role in the Trump administration's immigration policies, including increased deportation and the practice of separating parents and children who attempt to cross the border illegally, has made him a controversial figure.
People immediately called for a boycott of any restaurant that considered serving him "an honor," and the original post was quickly deleted. In its place, the restaurant posted the following statement from owner Roland Laurenzo:
El Tiempo does not in anyway support the practice of separating children from parents or any other practices of the government relative to immigration. The posting of a photograph of the Attorney General at one of our restaurants does not represent us supporting his positions. The secret service contacted us that a government official was coming to dinner at our establishment and his identity was not know until he walked through the door. The man came to dinner and he was served without us even thinking about the political situations. We were preoccupied with the secret service and catering to their wants and needs. The only thing on our minds was serving great food and giving great customer service. It was posted without review or approval by ownership and this has lead to everyone jumping to conclusions that somehow we are involved in this political matter. We don’t approve of anyone separating parents and children.
Of course, that did little to stem the criticism, except that it now included Trump administration supporters who disagreed with the restaurant's new statement and Trump administration opponents who asserted the damage had already been done. Others suggested that a restaurant should always feel honored to serve a senior government official regardless of whether the restaurant's staff agrees or disagrees with the person's policies and that El Tiempo had done nothing wrong by thanking the Attorney General for his visit.
How restaurants should treat Trump administration officials has been a hot topic since June, when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reported that she has been asked to leave The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia. Danny Meyer, the legendary New York restaurateur and founder of Shake Shack, told CBS This Morning that refusing service based on someone's beliefs constituted a slippery slope.
"The minute you see me checking people's political registration at the door, that's a bad future, I think, for our business," Meyer said.
Curiously, El Tiempo isn't the only Tex-Mex restaurant that Sessions dined at during his visit. He ate breakfast at La Mexicana, the popular Montrose Tex-Mex restaurant. Unlike El Tiempo, La Mexicana did not promote that Sessions had visited; rather, a reddit user spotted his security detail standing guard in front of the restaurant.
Zulema Gonzales, La Mexicana's general manager, confirmed the visit to the Houston Chronicle. She said that Sessions seemed unsure about what to order and settled on huevos rancheros at the suggestion of Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who also attended the breakfast.
"We treat everybody the same," Gonzales told the newspaper.