HOUSTON – People drove from as far as San Antonio to support El Tiempo Cantina on Houston’s east end after protesters vowed to “shut it down” over a picture of the executive chef with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Fewer than 20 demonstrators gathered across the street from the popular Mexican restaurant, yelling “No justice! No peace! ... No tacos for racists!” among other chants.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that we make the people that are attending this restaurant, and its managers, and its owners, uncomfortable,” protest organizer and University of Houston law student Jessica Lorena said.
“We do not accept that apology,” another protester said.
Last week, the El Tiempo Cantina posted a picture of executive chef Domenic Laurenzo posing with Sessions, along with the caption, “We had the honor to serve Mr. Jeff Sessions.”
After insults, calls for boycotts and death threats, Cantina took down the post and its owner wrote a post attempting to separate the restaurant and photo from Session’s politics.
That post was eventually taken down and all of Cantina’s social media accounts were disabled to stop the insults.
Cantina’s general manager said anonymous callers have threatened to kill Cantina workers, some of whom now rely on a security escort to and from their vehicles.
“Someone set our dumpsters on fire last night,” the general manager said. “It’s getting crazy.”
“Why can’t you take a picture with whoever you want?” loyal Cantina customer Dan Sikes asked. “I thought the people who preach tolerance would be more tolerant.”
“As Americans, we need to accept other people’s opinions,” customer Troy Fontenote said.
But agreeing to disagree is not an option in this environment, some protesters said.
“Just like the (Trump) administration has taken upon itself to make our communities uncomfortable, to oppress us, we have to do the same back,” Lorena said. “We’re going to hit 'em where it hurts most – their pockets.”
But the protest seemed to inspire more people than usual to dine at the restaurant, including some customers who drove from San Antonio to show their support.
“They heard about this on the Michael Barry show,” the general manager said. “They said, 'That’s why we’re here!'”
“The people who get hurt on this are the poor working people in the restaurant,” said Fontenote, who lives in the neighborhood.
Lorena said in addition to asking Houstonians to boycott the restaurant, protesters hoped to set up a meeting with Laurenzo and other Cantina management to "move forward together."