An Italian restaurant in New Mexico has come under fire for a punny billboard playing off the Black Lives Matter slogan amid nationwide outcry over the recent fatal shootings of black men by police officers.
Paisano’s in Albuquerque posted “Black Olives Matter, Try Our Tapenade” on a marquee last week advertising one of its specials and reportedly posted a picture of the sign on social media.
“We put up what we thought was a cute play on words, which we do commonly here at the restaurant,” Rick Camuglia, the owner, told NBC affiliate KOB. “We were trying to promote our pan-seared Ahi tuna with a black olive tapenade relish. And so we put ‘black olives matter, try our tapenade.'”
People on the restaurant’s Facebook page called it “offensive,” “tacky and hideous” and “in very bad taste.”
The restaurant has since taken down the sign and removed the photo of it from social media. Some Facebook users claim their comments have been taken down, too.
“What is happening in America saddens so many, even all the way in the southern hemisphere,” one wrote. “I love a good joke, but there are things that you just don’t joke about.”
Another added: “As a woman of color I find your posting offensive and in very bad taste. You simply wish to rub salt in an ugly festering wound which evil minded people refuse to allow to heal. The civilized world No longer has any tolerance for your hateful public display of what passes to you as humor. Young men and women are dying have a shred of humanity.”
No one at the restaurant could be reached for comment Tuesday, but Camuglia, the owner, told CBS affiliate KRQE that he never expected such a firestorm.
“We didn’t think anybody would be offended by that,” he said. “It was not our intent to offend anybody.”
Many on social media, however, defended the owner’s advertisement.
“It’s ok to have a sense of humour,” one wrote. “As a chef I understand that you weren’t trying to be offense. In our industry humour is the only thing that takes the stress away from our job. It’s unfortunate the only people who work in the trade will understand.”
Paisano’s Italian Restaurant opened in the early 1970s, serving only pizza and Italian sandwiches before it grew into a full-service establishment, according to its website.
The restaurant crew said Friday in a statement:
“Since Wednesday, July 13th, we have been inundated with positive, supportive phone calls from the community as well as overwhelmed with business, not only from our ‘regulars’, but from so many new customers who came from Albuquerque, surrounding cities, and even neighboring States simply to support us.
“A heartfelt “Thank You” to you from our Crew, some of whom were moved to tears because of your kind words and outpouring of support.
“Many nowadays would contend that society has changed for the worse, but our experience this week has proven the opposite. We have encountered so many quality people of character; salt of the earth and the bedrock of America. Awesome.
“Many have shown a unique way to show solidarity. I can’t count the number of customer’s orders who’ve included adding Black Olives to every dish ordered. Pizzas, Sandwiches and pasta dishes with ‘double Black Olives Please!’ all day long. So much that we almost ran out and ordered more.
“We have served Albuquerque for over 40 years and look forward to the next 40.”
The nation has been reeling from two fatal police shootings – first of Alton Sterling, who was killed by a white police officer in Baton Rouge, and then of Philando Castile, who was killed in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Black Lives Matter protesters have organized demonstrations in numerous cities, including one in Dallas in which a lone gunman opened fire, killing five police officers and injuring others.
On Sunday, a gunman in Baton Rouge fatally shot three law enforcement officers and wounded three others.
Harold Bailey, president of the NAACP chapter in Albuquerque, told KRQE that the sign was “in bad taste” given the state of the country.
“Hopefully, the owners at Paisano’s will be a bit more sensitive in the future,” Bailey said in a statement to KRQE. “Unjustified killing of innocent Black men is nothing to joke about. Whether it was intentional or not, it sent the wrong message to many.
“I’m sure they would feel the same way if someone had an offensive marketing idea that placed Hispanics, Italians or any other ethnic group in a controversial concept.”
Still, the owner said he has no regrets.
“I think it shows an interesting state of affairs of where our country is that people, first of all, can be offended by a statement about a vegetable,” Camuglia told KOB. “Black olives matter, and it does matter in our tapenade.”