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Taco Haven under fire after manager welcomes NDO opponents
QSanAntonio, November 10, 2013

The owners of Taco Haven in Southtown have come under fire after a review by a diner on Yelp.com described how the manager told the diner that he had permitted opponents of the city's nondiscrimination ordinance to set up table in front the restaurant. The protestors were seeking to collect signatures for the recall of Mayor Julian Castro and Councilman Diego Bernal.

On the afternoon of Friday, November 8, Michael Cepek and his girlfriend went to the Taco Haven location on South Presa for a late lunch. In statements posted on Yelp and Facebook, Cepek says that protestors with signs that read "Recall Diego M. Bernal and Mayor Castro" had set up a table near the restaurant's entrance.

"I talked to the manager, who said that he didn't want men dressed as women in girls' bathrooms," Cepek wrote. "I told him that my girlfriend interpreted his chalkboard advertising deals on 'STRAIGHT' (underlined) shots as support for the homophobes. He shrugged his shoulders and said the people could hand out their pamphlets next to his front door if they want to."

Cepek, who has a gay brother, says, "I told him (the manager) how people were interpreting the chalkboard, given the pamphleteers, and he said he wouldn't change it. Then, I said I'd tell everyone I know not to frequent a place that is actively trying to make life in San Antonio harder for gay and lesbian residents and visitors. He shrugged his shoulders."

In a conversation with the protestors, Cepek says he was told that the mayor and city council were trying to disguise their true intent -- "allowing straight men to prey on straight girls in girls' bathrooms" -- under the guise of fighting prejudice against LGBT people.

An NDO protestor across the street fromTaco Haven on Friday, November 8. (Photo by Adrian Todd/Facebook)

In his post on Yelp, Cepek wrote, "I want to write a review that pertains directly to my 'consumer experience' at Taco Haven. It's one thing for a business owner to keep their political opinions to themselves--it's another thing to shove them in the face of all the business's customers."

Cepek's posts on Yelp and Facebook went viral almost immediately. QSanAntonio shared the link to the Yelp review on it's Facebook page and within two hours it had received over 1600 hits and was shared by 17 Facebook users from all over San Antonio.

Comment threads began to appear on the Taco Haven Southtown Facebook page within minutes of the original posts with activists from the LGBT community calling for a boycott of the establishment. Many called for a public statement from Taco Haven asking for a clarification of their position.

Many others, following Cepek's lead, began posting their own "reviews" on Yelp denouncing Taco Haven for allowing the NDO protestors.

By the next morning, GetEqual had planned a protest dubbed, "Tell Taco Haven Support Truth, Not Transphobic Lies," for 10 a.m. Sunday morning in front of the restaurant.

On Saturday morning, Councilman Bernal posted on his Facebook page, that he had spoken with the Torres family and that they had been misled by the NDO opponents and that it had been the decision soley of the manager on duty.

Saturday afternoon, GetEqual member Erin Sue Jennings posted on Facebook that she had spoken to Reggie Torres of Taco Haven who told her, "He doesn't support the recall of Diego personally, but he won't get in the way of the recall people because as a Catholic and a Christian, his God will take care of it."

Jennings goes on to write, "He's very upset that people have been complaining all day about the people in front of his restaurant, and he's very annoyed that 'the homosexuals' are making so much trouble for him."

One Facebook user, Cherise Alle, posted "I am a neighbor (of Taco Haven) and had shared my friend Mike's post, I went in person to meet with Reggie yesterday. He was extremely apologetic, accepted responsibility for his employee's actions, apologized for them, and said he would welcome your group today with kindness. At no time did he mention his religious beliefs or opinions. On a personal level, he was somewhat concerned that his many LGBT customers and friends would be uncomfortable and mistake his ignorant employee's comments as reflective of his own and wondered how he could reassure them."

Late on Saturday evening, Jerry Torres, Jr., one of the family members who owns the restaurant posted on the Facebook page of community activist and blogger Randy Bear, "No Mr. Bernal or no one else has sat with us to correct this situation everything has been blown out of proportion for there own benefit with lies and gossip. My family been in business for 45 years in serving the community without prejudice much less hate. We have respect for the people of San Antonio especially for our customers. T.y. sir for your truthful response God Bless Jerry Torres Jr."

The San Antonio Family Association, one of the groups who opposes the NDO, jumped into the fray when they wrote on their Facebook page, "Go get tacos from Taco Haven this morning . . . The 'LGBTq' and 'GetEqual TX' people who now have special rights in SA refuse to respect a business owners right to free speech, refuse service to anyone and protect females in their restaurant bathrooms."

In a post on Saturday evening Bear wrote, "The problem is no one from that community has actually sat down with the owners to discuss the issue. CM Bernal and straight allies HAVE talked to the Torres' and have found there to be no support for the anti-NDO effort. The incident was a hasty action by a manager, without the knowing approval of the Torres'."

On Sunday morning, Bear posted, "I sat down this morning with the Torres' and had a great conversation. A lot of people need to breath a little before protesting or doing anything. . . The bottom line is this is being overblown by people on both sides trying to score political points and the Torres family is being caught in the middle. It could have been handled better but that's water under the bridge, at this point . . . If you plan to protest, please reconsider."

Torres family issues statement
San Antonio Express-News, November 15, 2013

The Torres family issued the following statement:

“Throughout our history, we have openly welcomed people of all religious beliefs, political backgrounds and sexual orientations. If you have eaten here, you know this to be true!
“Recently, an employee expressed personal comments that do not reflect our views as a family and as the owners of a business. That employee has been reprimanded.

“We try to stay out of politics, but when friends have asked us to place their campaign posters up or to allow them to sign petitions, we have sometimes accommodated those personal requests, as well as requests by a wide variety of organizations to sell items on our property for fundraising purposes for educational and community causes.

“Now, because of our open attitude to community requests, we find ourselves caught in the middle of a volatile political debate going on here in San Antonio.

“We stand by our 45 year history of equal service to all! We, the Torres family, want to make clear that we have never denied service to anyone! Our business is open to all people, and we both welcome and embrace the diverse people who walk through our doors.”

What did Taco Haven really say?
By Randy Bear, Concerned Citizens, November 15, 2013
Reading the statement, it’s really hard to determine if the Torres family really moved from the position I realized earlier this week. Yes, I know they have no problem accepting the dollars of LGBT patrons. They’ve done it for years. After all, they’re located in Southtown. But they tried to mask the fact they also support groups opposed to the LGBT community, including on their business property.

Attorney for Taco Haven affiliated with anti-NDO groups
QSanAntonio, November 11, 2013
QSanAntonio has confirmed that the attorney for Taco Haven is affiliated with the Justice Foundation, one of the groups that opposed the passage of the city's nondiscrimination ordinance. Read more.

Commentary: You can’t take our money and then fight us with it
By Randy Bear, Concerned Citizens, November 13, 2013
Just like the recall folks who have been twisting the language of the NDO to coerce people to gather signatures, the Torres family have leveraged the desire for tolerance by a community to mask their intolerance of that same community.

The destruction of the traditional family
By Sonja Harris, Texas GOP Vote, November 13, 2013
San Antonio passed the non discrimination ordinance on September 5 making San Antonio businesses vulnerable to ‘Freedom of Religion’ and ‘Freedom of Expression’ attacks. On Sunday, November 10, I spoke to the Torres brothers, Reggie and Jerry of Taco Haven.