El Tiempo Cantina Should Have Known Better With That Jeff Sessions Photo

After this weekend, some are content to never have this plate from El Tiempo again.
After this weekend, some are content to never have this plate from El Tiempo again. Photo by Troy Fields
My father instilled a very specific work ethic in me: if you have a job, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world, you get up and go to work. That’s not to say you don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the world — you’re still a part of it, after all — but just that the big, momentous things going on can’t get in the way of your personal responsibilities. And from that perspective, I don’t begrudge the workers of El Tiempo Cantina who showed up to work and served U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions; hard as it is to believe, people with bad political opinions need to eat too.

But I have no sympathy for El Tiempo’s management, who deserves almost every bit of scorn they’ve gotten — the exception being the death threats, which are never cool, y’all — for the social media post that went up celebrating his visit. Part of running a good business is knowing how to read the room, whether that room is where your customers eat or the digital realm of social media. When they willingly passed the photo to their social media manager, they were either confident that there wouldn’t be a backlash to it or they just didn’t care that there would be. You’ll notice in the linked story that Laurenzo's Restaurants president Roland Laurenzo says that the post was only a mistake because it made people angry.

Now, maybe it really was an honor to serve Jeff Sessions; I’m not sure how, mind you, since it feels a lot of the time that the only reason people in the Trump administration eat Mexican food is because it’s a pretty good troll, but I’m not a chef so maybe you just take what you can get sometimes. But much like Kanye West learned recently, no matter how cool or nice someone is, when you praise those would rip families apart, people are going to call you on it. Run that risk if you’d like, but don’t ask the rest of us to feel bad for you when the internet comes after you.

Scanning Twitter, I’ve seen a few people question why the photo and caption were such a big deal. It’s just food and just a photo, right? I envy those people, whose lives are so privileged that they don’t have to worry about immigration issues and so joyless that they don’t know the value of having a favorite restaurant. Even if you ignore the wars that have been fought over food resources, food is still very political. Can you imagine how boring it must be eating in Houston, in 2018, if you’re a white nationalist? We’re home to one of the most interesting and popular food scenes in the nation because of our diversity, not in spite of it. I’m a firm believer that racists shouldn’t get to eat tacos. On the other hand, Sessions seems like the sort of petty dude that would definitely suggest ICE look into any restaurant that wouldn’t serve him, so I get why places that might find him repugnant might still go through with it.

The thing about this El Tiempo thing is that it’s all going to blow over before too long. These things tend to. Yelp is already cleaning up their profiles, and with their social media pages down it’s going to be hard for people to yell at them. The rage will smolder for a bit, and while I’m certain there are people who will never visit them again, in time this will be one of those things most people forget unless it pops up in a Google search.

I was going to end this by discussing how in 2018 the idea of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” was folly, and how with screenshots and Google stories rarely go away (unless you’re willing to pay, of course). But as I was doing some Twitter research for this story, I started to see them: the #MAGA posts suggesting that El Tiempo is actually a really great place to eat. And so maybe that’s why they weren’t scared to promote the photo in the first place; sure, they’d lose some customers, but it is a sign to Trump supporters they’re a safe space. In the all or nothing culture wars of today, there really is no losing, no matter who it’s an honor to serve.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia