As Texans look ahead to the mask mandate ending and businesses reopening fully on Wednesday, one Houston restaurant is dealing with hateful comments because it said it will require customers to keep wearing masks.
A co-owner of Arnaldo Richards’ Picos Restaurant told CNN that while the majority of customers have been supportive, a couple of social media posts have been “hurtful” to him and his family.
One of the posts on social media, which was provided to CNN and has since been deleted, had a person threatening to call immigration to check on the green cards of restaurant staffers. Another post simply said, “Y’all deserve ICE,” referring to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“This gentleman just said that I should not be going against the governor of Texas and we should respect his mandate on lifting the ban. If not, he could send immigration to come and check our green cards,” Arnaldo Richards said Monday. “And I thought that was highly racist. I thought it was inappropriate. And had it not been a Mexican restaurant, he might not have said anything or referred to checking our green cards.”
A green card is a type of visa that signifies someone is a legal permanent resident of the US. Richards immigrated to the United States from Mexico and became a naturalized citizen in the ’80s – all of his children were born in the US, he said.
His restaurant celebrated its 37th anniversary Monday, and he said all he’s trying to do is protect his family, workers and any customers who come to the restaurant.
Richards said he agrees with Gov. Greg Abbott on how he’s reopened the economy to help businesses get back to work. The governor lifted the mask mandate and said businesses of any type are allowed to open 100% beginning Wednesday. Abbott said vaccines and therapeutic drugs make the reopening possible. He said safe practices are necessary and “each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others.”
“As a business, we have the choice of enforcing the use of the mask,” Richards said. “So my choice for my restaurant and for my personnel, and personally for me and my family, is for wearing the mask.”
Richards pointed out that it takes only 20 to 25 seconds to walk from the door to a table with a mask on before removing it at your table. He said the majority of his customers wear a mask, no questions asked.
“People can be courteous to other people and just wear it because some people are very adamant,” he said. “I would say 99% of my clientele is adamant about using the mask.”
Regarding the threats to call them, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not comment on whether it received reports about the restaurant.
“Any attempt to misuse federal law enforcement to target an individual or business in retaliation for their COVID-19 safety protocols is not only irresponsible, but a gross abuse of taxpayer funding,” ICE officials said in a statement to CNN.
Texas restaurants are encouraged to make their guidelines clear so a customer knows what to expect, Emily Williams Knight, president and CEO for the Texas Restaurant Association, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
“When you go into that restaurant right now, especially for these employees, you need to follow the guidelines they’ve published. It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.
When asked about the incident at Picos in Houston, Knight said the incident was “extraordinarily unfortunate.” She lauded customers on social media for supporting the restaurant and its decision.
“It’s just unimaginable that you would target a restaurant for trying to keep their employees safe,” Knight said. “It’s just the day we live in right? This mask debate has become highly political and that’s why we’re really pushing restaurants to post these guidelines outside so at least guests know where you stand.”
The association surveyed its members and 700 restaurants responded that they wanted to keep employees in masks, especially until they’re vaccinated, Knight said.
Those businesses in Houston that will require customers to keep wearing masks have gotten some support from police Chief Art Acevedo.
“Just remember that if you remain in the business after being asked to leave, you are subject to arrest for criminal trespass,” Acevedo said in a video tweet last week. “We here at the Houston Police Department want to tell you that we’re not interested in coming out to arrest people, so please make good choices, let’s have some common decency.”
On Wednesday, Richards said he is going to set up a chair in front of his restaurant to prevent anyone not wearing a mask from entering. He said he also worries about people trying to berate his staff because of the mask policy.
“It’s very simple,” Richards said. “You can go anywhere else you want. If you find a restaurant that will accept you without a mask, I would like to know.”