You may have heard the news about a small-town Texas diner changing its name to Trump Cafe. And you may have certain ideas about the provenance of the name: that it was done on a whim, as a think-fast publicity stunt, or perhaps that the owners of the newly rechristened cafe are anti-immigrant activists drawn to presidential candidate Donald Trump's particular brand of rhetoric. You may have even thought it was all one big joke. You would be wrong.
Israeli-born Eddie Hawa, 46, and his wife Sue Hawa, 28, are both immigrants from Jerusalem and practicing Muslims. Ten months ago, they purchased the establishment previously known as the Bellville Cafe in downtown Bellville, a little over an hour northwest of Houston. It sits on the postcard-ready Bellville town square, cattycorner from the imposing Austin County Courthouse. As of last week, after six months of planning and preparation, the restaurant rebranded itself as the Trump Cafe, ditching the previous menu of casual French fare in favor of an all-American lineup featuring burgers, chicken fried steaks and fried Oreos.
"We're trying to get more 'country' into the menu," said head chef Bonnie Padgett, 45. "He’s Americanized everything to where it’s what you would eat at home, we want you to be able to come in and relax like that," Padget said of Eddie Hawa, who also serves as the executive chef at the family restaurant when he's not busy handling the newly-arrived stock of Trump Cafe merchandise.
"I decided to do American food only because I want everything to be American in this place, even the T-shirts,” explained Eddie yesterday afternoon as he sorted, folded and organized the various Trump Cafe T-shirts currently taking up most of the counter space at the restaurant. Most of the tees are free to take for military veterans, Eddie said. And on Election Day itself, November 8, meals will also be on the house for veterans all day long—though not, interestingly, on actual Veterans' Day, November 11.
In addition to the the Hawas themselves, Trump Cafe’s largely African-American staff count many Republicans and proud Trump supporters among their ranks, though Eddie says shared political beliefs are not a requirement of working at the cafe.
When asked about his own beliefs, Eddie is succinct: "Mr. Trump wants to bring businesses here and bring money into the country not take it away to other countries. We need someone who's thinking about America first."
As people who fall into both categories, the Hawas both feel Donald Trump has no problem with Muslims or minorities; rather, they say, he’s been misrepresented on these issues. And although both are immigrants themselves, Eddie strongly supports Trump’s promise to build a border wall. "When Mr. Trump talks about borders he’s talking about protecting this country," said Eddie. "We have a border in my country—a big wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Everyone just wants to protect their country."
While some outside of Bellville have reacted negatively to the restaurant's rebranding—the cafe has received threatening calls and hundreds of negative Facebook comments denigrating the owners as racists—the town itself has been supportive of the change. Some in the community have even brought the Hawas decorations that underscore their cafe's new identity, including Trump-Pence 2016 campaign signs, stickers branded with Trump supporters' catchphrase “I am a deplorable,” and even a charcoal drawing of Trump, which currently resides in a case at the front counter.
Since the name change, Eddie says, customers have visited from as far away as Oklahoma, Nevada and Colorado. Regardless of the election results, he hopes the restaurant will help contribute to Bellville's tourism economy.
But while the Hawas have the support of their own local government and community, one person hasn't fully signed off on the cafe yet: Donald Trump himself, who has a history of being excessively protective of his name and copyright. Even if the notoriously litigious Trump decided to sue them, however, the Hawas say the name isn’t changing.
"I’m not changing the name back," said Sue Hawa. "We’re keeping it whether he likes it or not. If he wants to to go to a lawyer and sue us that’s fine because we're not going anywhere." And although she may be from Israel originally, there's a distinctly Texan tone as she finishes: "It’s my property and I can do what I want with it. I’m not doing anything bad with his name; I’m supporting him because we need a president like him."
Politics aside, what matters at any restaurant is the food. Here, the signature Trump Burger was designed by Padgett and her sous-chef Dejean Carter, and begins with a fresh brioche bun topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings, house-made barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, pickles and a beef patty sourced from the Bellville meat market down the road. The burger, Padgett says, is "everything that represents America."