Updated 11:22 a.m. May 7, 2016: Torchy's Tacos responds, see **below.
Sometimes, foreign objects end up in restaurant food. It’s not all that uncommon, but can be a liability issue. Generally, when diners discover inedible things in their food, restaurant managers are profusely apologetic and try to make amends. It is rare that the object is as serious as a sharp metal blade. It's even more unusual for the complaining diner to be hung up on and have her sanity questioned.
That's what Alexa Keel says happened during her complaints to various Torchy's Tacos managers when she claimed she had found a metal object in a taco her brother picked up as part of a to-go order. In photos provided to the Houston Press (see below), the object looks like a small metal blade.
She said that when she called the Torchy’s Tacos location at 350 West 19th in The Heights to report what she’d found, the manager on duty, "Heather," didn’t seem particularly concerned.
“From the start of our conversation, she did not want to be on the call,” Keel said. “She immediately told me [the foreign object was from] the machine they use to cut up their mangos with razor blades. She pretty much acted like it was a common occurrence. She told me she would refund my money for that one taco, and I said, ‘I don’t need you to refund my money. What else can we do about this?’ She said, ‘Nothing,' and when I started talking again, she hung up on me.”
The Houston Press called Torchy’s Tacos' marketing director and the senior director of operations, but was unable to reach either one. If we get a call back or an official statement, we’ll update this article.
**Update: Torchy's sent us this statement:
We have sincerely addressed the situation with the customer and, out of an abundance of caution, we have removed the equipment from all operations company- wide. We have addressed things internally, including customer service, and recognize this an opportunity to further develop our teams. As a company, Torchy’s will continue to support efforts and organizations within the community, including MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
Success Foods Management Group, LLC DBA Torchy's Tacos operates the fast-casual restaurant chain, and Keel says she spoke with a man named “Brian” who is senior director of operations there. (An online search indicates his last name is McCarthy.) Keel says Brian offered to refund all three tacos in the order. “That’s what, nine or ten bucks? I told him there was no need,” said Keel. “I didn’t need them to give me anything for free.”
Keel says he also asked her if she needed to go to the doctor. When she said she did not (which makes sense since she did not actually swallow the blade), his next statement seemed rather inappropriate. “He told me he wanted to talk to me in a couple of weeks, when I was ‘mentally okay.’” said Keel. “Like, [indicating] I was so…traumatized that I wasn’t speaking correctly. I think I’ve handled myself pretty well through this whole situation. I did not appreciate that comment one bit.”
That diner isn't the only one who is not appreciating the attitudes at Torchy's Tacos. The incident has prompted dozens of complaints about food, service, attitude and wait times from members of neighborhood site The Heights Life, as shown below. (Side note: The screenshots are by The Heights Life group administrator, who was in the U.K. at the time these were taken.)
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Keel also claims a discrepancy between what Torchy’s Tacos management told her happened to the mango cutting machine and what they told KHOU Channel 11. Keel says they told her they had “fixed” the machine, but company representatives told Channel 11 Torchy's has “removed the piece of broken equipment and has retrained its staff accordingly.”
What, exactly, does a "mango cutting machine" look like, anyway? A Google image search returns a wide range of possible devices, but we don't yet have any information from Torchy's on which kind added a blade to Keel's food.
Keel says each conversation has centered on giving her a refund for the nominal cost of tacos and not losing her business. She doesn’t feel that is enough, and told KHOU Channel 11 she wants Torchy’s Tacos to do some good in the world instead and make a $5,000 donation to the Houston Food Bank.
Keel says if the company doesn’t make a donation, she does intend to file a lawsuit, which sounds like a bit of Robin Hood-esque extortion. Keel, though, thinks it is an opportunity for Torchy’s to turn something negative into something positive. “This is such a negative situation. In the world we live in today, people need some positivity. Why not turn this negative story into something positive that could help so many people in the greater Houston area?”