A Mexican restaurant in Houston has received numerous threats, including warnings that immigration officials will be called to detain their workers, because its owners have maintained a mask requirement for guests, the Washington Post reports.
“It was just horrific,” Picos Restaurant co-owner Monica Richards said. “People don’t understand unless you’re in our business what it felt like, how hard it was to go through everything we went through during covid. For people to be negative toward us for trying to remain safe, so that this doesn’t continue to happen, just makes zero sense to us.”
Richards’ restaurant maintained its mask requirements, which were rescinded by beleaguered Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who is facing a reckoning after the failure of the power grid that lead to millions losing electricity and hundreds of thousands still under “boil water” warnings.
It’s not just Picos Restaurant facing such xenophobic backlash. Another Houston-area Mexican restaurant, Cantina Barba, has gotten similar phone calls, owner Steven O’Sullivan said. At Cantina Barba, staff have been bombarded with threats and abuse when telling guests to put masks on, even when it was a state mandate.
“This has been ongoing through COVID,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve had threats of calling ICE. I had one guy just stand there and berate one of my bartenders and tell her ‘you’re an absolute idiot, you don’t know what you’re doing. If you think these masks are going to save your life, you’re stupid’ blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to deal with that stuff.”
Houston police said that in December, a patron at a third bar threw a glass at a bartender when the bartender asked a customer to put on a mask. The bartender was hit in the head by the glass and required stitches.
Abbott’s abandoned leadership on coronavirus abatement meant that individual business owners, like Richards and her husband and co-owner, had to make the decision to keep their staff safe. Many restaurants have stated that staff members will continue to wear masks, but they’re split on the requirement for customers.
“This is a decision business owners are making, and it’s right for them,” Texas Restaurant Association spokesperson Anna Tauzin said. “For a group that touts personal responsibility is something key to good stewardship of your business, it seems strange that they might criticize or throw insults at people who are trying to do just that. It’s alarming.”