A Houston Mexican Restaurant Served Jeff Sessions & Called It An "Honor" — Now It's Facing Backlash
After touting the Trump administration's crackdown on immigrants during a Friday meeting with federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to eat at a Mexican restaurant in the Houston area. Now, that Mexican restaurant is facing backlash for serving Sessions after posting a photo of him at one of its locations, prompting the owner to issue a response.
The backlash against El Tiempo Cantina — a Houston-area restaurant that serves Tex-Mex, according to The Hill — was swift. Shortly after a photo of Sessions was posted to its Facebook page, the restaurant was confronted with one-star Yelp reviews and a boycott campaign. One Yelp reviewer wondered why El Tiempo Cantina would serve "people that support separating families, ripping children and babies from parents," while another accused the restaurant of preferring to "serve racists and bigots than their local communities."
In the original Facebook post, which has since been deleted, the Navigation branch of El Tiempo Cantina described it as an "honor" to serve Sessions. However, following the backlash the restaurant received, owner Roland Laurenzo responded to negative reviews by saying that the photo had been published without approval, and that restaurant staff had not been aware Sessions would be dining there.
"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," Laurenzo reportedly wrote on Facebook, per The Hill.
In his response, Laurenzo also responded to widespread criticism that El Tiempo Cantina supported the Trump administration's immigration policies.
"The posting of a photograph of the Attorney General at one of our restaurants does not represent us supporting his positions," he wrote in the now-deleted post. "El Tiempo does not in anyway support the practice of separating children from parents or any other practices of the government relative to immigration."
Laurenzo insisted that restaurant staff had been "preoccupied with the secret service and catering to their wants and needs," and that they hadn't been "thinking about the political situations" when Sessions came in to eat. Laurenzo's post, along with all Facebook pages affiliated with El Tiempo Cantina, appear to have been deleted.
But El Tiempo Cantina wasn't the only Houston-area Mexican restaurant Sessions visited on Friday. Before delivering his speech on immigration to federal prosecutors, Sessions reportedly had breakfast at La Mexicana, another Mexican eatery located less than a mile from El Tiempo Cantina. La Mexicana's general manager, Zulema Gonzales, told the Houston Chronicle that she — like Laurenzo — had not known who would be dining at her restaurant until Sessions actually arrived.
Law enforcement officials had approached her days before Sessions' speech, Gonzales said, to ask about security. Citing other high-profile visits from people like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Gonzales said La Mexicana accommodated law enforcement's security concerns without knowing the specifics.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Texas Rep. John Culberson both joined Sessions for breakfast at La Mexicana. Acevedo has previously been critical of the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration, and said that while he and Sessions had a "great discussion," he also expected the attorney general to understand that he was not interested in helping federal agents "round up day laborers or kitchen help."
The irony of Sessions eating at Mexican restaurants before and after a speech on crime and immigration was not lost on Houston residents or on Sessions' critics. Gonzales, however, told the Houston Chronicle that La Mexicana treats "everybody the same," echoing Laurenzo's statement that his staff had been focused on "great customer service."