A Condado Tacos in Columbus, Ohio, came under scrutiny on Monday after social media posts alleged that the chain’s suburban Polaris location had filled a large food order for Ohio Highway Patrol officers in the midst of national protests highlighting police brutality. On Monday, at least four employees were allegedly fired by a district manager for refusing to fill the order and choosing to walkout during a shift.
Condado Tacos is an Ohio-based Mexican restaurant chain with nearly 20 locations across the Rust Belt. Eater reached out to employees at other locations who were in direct contact with Condado Polaris workers and one worker who was involved in the the walkout. All agreed that the culture at their individual restaurants was supportive of actions being taken by demonstrators, with one employee stating that managers had offered time-off to protest and committed to bail employees out of jail if they were arrested. However, the incident has left many employees and customers uncomfortable with upper management.
Representatives for Condado Tacos confirmed to Eater that a walkout did take place at the Polaris branch but dispute the claim that anyone was fired. Multiple posts emerged on Facebook and Twitter on Monday with different accounts of what took place at the Polaris store. One widely shared screenshot description alleges that employees were fired for refusing to fill 250 “Bud Boxes” being “donated” to the CPD (Columbus Police Department) by a “regional manager.” It calls for a boycott of the chain.
A separate tweet from a person claiming to be an employee, @gsheamercer, went viral on Monday evening receiving more than 10,000 retweets and 61,000 likes. In the tweet, @gsheamercer writes, “today on my day off my job forced us to do a massive catering order for the columbus police department. the staff walked out and was fired. when i go in tm, myself and other are gonna demand an apology and if we don’t get it we also will walk out.” Eater attempted to reach @gsheamercer and has not received a response and no follow up tweets have updated followers on the situation at the Polaris location.
today on my day off my job forced us to do a massive catering order for the columbus police department. the staff walked out and was fired. when i go in tm, myself and other are gonna demand an apology and if we don’t get it we also will walk out.— black lives matter. (@gsheamercer) June 1, 2020
One individual, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their job, initially told Eater in text messages that a newer manager at the location made the decision to accept an order from law enforcement, but was adamant that it was an isolated incident that other employees weren’t experiencing across the company. The source said that at their location, Condado management has largely been supportive of staff who wanted to participate in the recent demonstrations against police brutality in black communities, and had even offered bail and mental health resources.
The source later clarified the situation. “Nobody was fired and [they] had the option not to do the order,” the source stated. “Some people decided to walk out because [Condado] accepted the order,” they added.
Reached by Eater, representatives for Condado Tacos said that management was aware of the situation at the Polaris location on Monday:
Condado’s Polaris location in Columbus, Ohio, received a catering order on Monday night that was placed and paid for by the Ohio Highway Patrol. No employees were fired last night. A few employees working did express they were uncomfortable with fulfilling the order and after a discussion with their regional manager about their concerns, were given the option to not work on the order. The employees who expressed their concerns chose to not complete their shift last night however, their jobs remain intact at Condado if they choose to return.
But on Tuesday, at least one employee, who claimed to be involved in the walkout, disputed these accounts. Jake Widdowson tells Eater they were employed with Condado for a year, beginning in May 2019, working both as a line cook and as a server. Since Ohio began reopening, Widdowson recently returned to work in the kitchen.
On Monday, Widdowson says they arrived for their shift at 2 p.m. to find that the restaurant had received an unusually large last-minute order for 500 tacos, and were informed by management that it was for law enforcement. “Immediately, I just didn’t feel comfortable making that order,” Widdowson says. “I’ve been joining in the protests the last couple of days and seeing the extreme brutality on protesters and making that food was not something I felt comfortable with doing.” Other store staff and management also expressed discomfort with making the order and management agreed that people who didn’t feel comfortable could leave and that they could count on still having their jobs. However, at the point, a district manager on site that day got involved. “He said, ‘Tell anyone who’s refusing to work, they’re fired.’”
Widdowson says he and his colleagues accepted that they were fired and hugged and said their goodbyes to fellow employees. As they left, Widdowson says that the district manager “chased us down and basically made it clear that we’re not being fired: If we’re choosing to leave, you’re quitting.”
“All of our other restaurant management were not on the same page with [the district manager],” Widdowson says. “So it was really a district decision [and] a corporate decision to fire us, I feel.” Widdowson says he had tried to find a solution they could feel comfortable with such as donating equal amounts of food to protesters. “I didn’t feel it was right to profit off of the police during this time.”
Widdowson provided screenshots of internal corporate communications with employees posted to Condado’s scheduling system. The extended message to employees reiterates Condado’s position that workers were not fired and states the goal is to “clear up a few misconceptions regarding events that occurred earlier today at our Polaris location.” One line reads: “We want our employees to be heard but we will not discriminate against anyone. We are here to serve and that means our teams cannot pick and choose who they will serve.” Widdowson is expecting a call from the company’s CEO later on Tuesday.
The social media posts on Facebook and Twitter have sparked online backlash against the Polaris location and other Condado Tacos sites. On Tuesday afternoon, recent Facebook posts advertising margaritas were met with a deluge of comments demanding the company hire back “vulnerable staff” and calling for boycotts of the restaurant for supporting police. The company has not directly addressed the issue on social media, though it has shared the above statement in responses to critical comments on its Facebook account. Facebook pages for other locations in the Columbus area have also received an onslaught of critical comments. One star Google reviews and Yelp reviews are piling up on the Condado Tacos-Polaris’s pages.
Staff members at Condado in Clintonville now appear to be organizing their own demonstrations.
The owners of our company have been extremely tone-deaf with the situation and have sent out multiple PR crisis emails. So my entire staff got together and we sent them this. The company is Condado Tacos. The change starts with us and we'll be damned if we stay silent. pic.twitter.com/8f5OwiuPax— sammie (@someaireeuh) June 2, 2020
“I believe that in this time, silence is violence and companies need to be taking stances,” Widdowson says. “I’m not sure they support their community as much as they claim to.” They add, “I will only come back if there’s an apology made and actual retributions to right the wrongs.”
Widdowson says the company claims to have donated to a charity following the incident but didn’t disclose how much was donated or how frequently and that they had never heard of the charity in question. “I don’t really know if they do realize that they made a mistake and are actively trying to resolve that in positive ways for the community, but that could just as easily be done trying to cover up a PR moment.”
The situation is taking place as cities across the country are seeing daily demonstrations and conflicts with police sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. On Monday, a bystander and barbecue restaurant owner David McAtee was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, when members of the National Guard and police descended on a crowd gathered in a parking lot after the city’s designated curfew.
“Black lives matter and I think we need to keep saying that and saying that, and white silence is violence,” Widdowson says. “Condado is a Mexican food company owned entirely by white people who claimed to be supportive of their community, but they take money from police and aren’t willing to give that back to protestors who need actual support right now.”