UPDATE: As of Saturday afternoon, the Facebook pages for all of El Tiempo Cantina's locations are unavailable.
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS VISITED HOUSTON ON FRIDAY, and pushed his agenda of enforcing laws to combat illegal immigration. He connected violent crime to illegal immigrants, made steadfast his call for banning sanctuary cities, and denounced critics of ICE.
Much of the attention paid to Sessions’s visit, however, focused on where he ate on Friday. For breakfast, the attorney general was seen dining at La Mexicana, the popular Tex-Mex restaurant in Montrose. For dinner, he ate at El Tiempo Cantina on Navigation.
A Reddit user spotted Sessions’s motorcade outside La Mexicana, which led to this Chronicle report confirming that the attorney general had breakfast there. Huevos rancheros, apparently. To many, it was a curious move to bookend a speech about illegal immigration, with special focus on the Texas-Mexico border, with meals at two Tex-Mex establishments.
La Mexicana general manager Zulema Gonzales told the Chronicle she was approached by law enforcement days earlier but didn’t know who was coming. She also told the paper that she would not have refused Sessions service had she known.
“We treat everybody the same,” Gonzales said.
El Tiempo addressed Sessions’s visit in a different way, by publishing on Facebook a photo of the attorney general and El Tiempo chef-owner Domenic Laurenzo. The post read:
“We had the honor to serve Mr. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. Thank you for allowing us to serve you. #jeffsessions #eltiempocantina #unitedstates #usa #attorneygeneral #houston.”
The post didn’t go over well with some Houstonians, attracting a firestorm of criticism before being deleted.
Almost immediately after that, Roland Laurenzo, owner of El Tiempo and Domenic’s father, wrote a Facebook post denouncing the practice of family separation “or any other practices of the government relative to immigration.” Laurenzo then said that like La Mex, the restaurant didn’t know who was dining there until Sessions walked through the door.
He added that the post was published “without review or approval by ownership and this has led to everyone jumping to conclusions that somehow we are involved in this political matter.”
Respondents to Roland Laurenzo’s message called the initial post “a poor choice,” “very disappointing,” and “a slap in the face” to the restaurant’s workers. Others showed support for the restaurant, saying El Tiempo rose “above the childish mindset of ‘You can’t eat here’,” that “no apologies are needed,” and that “politics should never play a part in discriminating against people who believe differently than you.”
This response comes in the wake of a rash of instances in which Trump administration officials have either been confronted or have been denied service at restaurants across the country.
A fair amount of the posters said they weren't bothered by Sessions eating at El Tiempo, but by the Facebook post. In the future, when a similar issue arises, the restaurant may do well to follow La Mexicana's example. After all, nobody is talking about Zulema Gonzales today.