If you’ve never been to Albuquerque, N.M., it’s unlikely that you would have heard of Paisano’s Italian restaurant before late July. That’s when the eatery — which is allegedly a poor substitute for The Olive Garden, according to reviews penned earlier this year — made national headlines by putting the phrase “Black Olives Matter” on its sign (to dramatic reactions from both sides of the political aisle). But instead of making an attempt to bow out of the spotlight of bad publicity, the restaurant’s owner, Rick Camuglia, decided that if he was going to be featured on the news, he was going all in. So he doubled down with tees and hats, which he says are all in good humor and not meant to provoke any feelings except the unyielding desire to come inside and eat as much of his new tuna and olive entree (that combination definitely needs some marketing because it sounds atrocious) as they can.
Of course, his decision hasn’t been taken lightly and Camuglia told his local FOX affiliate that while he’s received a great deal of support for his joke — which inspired the need for souvenirs — he’s also had to deal with phone calls and Facebook messages from people who believe his playful ribbing of a movement fighting for police accountability is somehow racist. In fact, people are so fired up that #BlackOlivesMatter is trending on Twitter today, with detractors denouncing the slogan for its mocking of a very real issue and its supporters pointing out that we all need to swallow a chill pill and take this hilarious joke (and marketing stunt) in the spirit it was meant. (Although what that spirit is is unclear. Camuglia claims to not want to incite racial tension, but there’s no chance he didn’t know exactly what he was doing.)
While some users called out Camuglia’s joke as being in poor taste, others illustrated why belittling the protest of systemic racism is, to say the least, distasteful. Because, you know, even though the Holocaust has been over since 1945, it’s probably still not a good idea to write jokes about it in order to sell food. And that’s especially true for a civil rights movement that is happening today.
Others, of course, were less concerned about the joke, pointing out that it was funny and claiming that T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan did nothing to minimize or demean the movement.
Despite the advice to “get over it,” both critics and supporters are continuing to fight over whether the business’ joke is something that should get them in trouble. The restaurant’s Yelp review page has been flooded with both negative and incredibly positive reviews by people who have clearly never eaten there and Paisano’s Facebook page is overflowing with comments. And Camuglia isn’t backing down. Spurred by the news that Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show has been canceled, the restaurant put a new message on its sign:
Good thing racism’s been solved, right?
According to Camuglia, business has never been better. “People have filled the restaurant and told us to leave up the sign,” Camuglia told reporters. “That’s great, you know, because a lot of people make a living off working for this restaurant.”