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Should I Give Up my Favorite Mexican Restaurant?

Timothy Kincaid

November 10th, 2008

I just received a very distressing email. It started:

I wanted to share with you that the owner of El Coyote, Marjorie, donated $100 to the Yes on 8 campaign…

El Coyote Café is a Los Angeles landmark. Over 75 years old, and still family owned, it is perhaps best known as the site of Sharon Tate’s last meal.

Locals know it as a favorite of many of who just want a meal and a drink, and don’t want to pay much to get it. A taco and enchilada with rice and beans is $9.50; pair that up with a margarita and you’re out the door for less than twenty bucks.

El Coyote is also delightfully tacky with a vast collection of “art”, the kind that includes paintings with windows that light up and frames made of shells. The waitresses wear huge Spanish dresses with lots of frills and most have been there for decades. It’s loud, it’s high in fat content and calories, it’s unsophisticated, and it’s always always busy.

But what makes El Coyote a delight is that its one of those places that are loved by straights and gays alike. On any given night, a quarter to a third of all patrons are gay and the rest are singles out together, birthday parties, families with kids, or old married couples.

A search of the website via the LA Times shows that Marjorie Chrisoffersen did contribute $100 to the Yes on 8 Campaign. And Marjorie is the daughter of Grace Salisbury, the owner.

But what do I do with this information? I’ve been a faithful patron for many years, sometimes as frequently as weekly. So it is for me a particularly distressing dilemma.

Do I boycott the establishment? If so, for how long and to what effect? What would alleviate my concern, what can I demand? Is it enough that Marjorie (who runs the place with her husband) gave though Grace did not? Is $100 enough for me to view the establishment at “anti-gay” when I know full well that several of the staff are gay and that the environment is always welcoming? What would I say if Marjie came by with her water pitcher asking how everything was?

I think this is but an example of the sort of conflict that we are going to each have to resolve as we find that friends, family, and service providers that we had thought of as supportive actually do not believe that we are entitled to equality under the law.

Comments

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AJD
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

I don’t think your arteries would be complaining if you did…

Richard W. Fitch
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

My guess would be that Marjie is a good RC and was pressured by her priest and/or parish to contribute because she is a “wealthy” business owner. Does that compare to the funding provided by a certain “hospitality” business owner? Or to the money extracted by the LDS? You have to make your own decision. But if the atmosphere at El Coyote is consistently and genuinely friendly, I would write this off as the blackmail effort of someone who cannot tolerate people with other convictions. Right or wrong Prop 8 has had its day ( and may soon die the death of the decision from May). The task is not to alienate every donor to “Yes on 8″; rather to determine their reasoning and attempt to help them make a better choice in the sequel.

Stefano A
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

I can only decide for myself, but it wouldn’t be the dollar amount that was relevant to me, it would the implication that the monetary donation also translated it a “yes” vote.

That would be enough for me, since Marjorie runs the place, to find another eating establishment. Having lived in California for 20 years, there is no shortage of alternative eateries.

If I were a gay employee working for Marjorie, you can be assued I’d also be looking for a new job.

AJD
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Even if she was pressured by a priest to donate, it was ultimately her call. It doesn’t matter that it’s consistently friendly — that doesn’t make what the owner did right.

I would be looking for another restaurant right now.

Rob Lll
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Wow, this is really a dilemma for you?

For me, it’s a no-brainer — El Coyote will be losing a patron for the foreseeable future. Screw these people. I don’t really care about the dollar amount given. As they say, it’s the thought that counts. I’ll be phoning them shortly, letting them know I no longer plan to go there and exactly why, and will spread the word to everyone I know.

And yes, the atmosphere is fun, but face it — the most generous thing you can say about the food is that it’s mediocre. If you want good Mexican cuisine, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other places to go in southern California. And no shortage of gay-friendly and/or owned restaurants, especially in Weho and Silverlake.

Anyhow, thanks for the heads-up.

Emily K
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

It’s a no-brainer for me as well. Boycott. But not only that, let the gay patrons know what happened, and above all else, contact the owner and tell her your feelings. Let her know that you see the gay patrons of her restaurant enjoying it and that her actions harmed them. Tell her all of these things, straight from your heart to hers. If she is really a decent person, (not to mention a good businesswoman,) she will stop contributing to causes that harm her clientele.

Ray
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Absolute no-brainer. Turn your back and walk away and tell *everyone* you know including, and especially, the restaurant and don’t forget to say, “Public Apology is Acceptable – But nothing else is.”

Joe
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Ditto what Emily K said.

Patrick
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

You can always start discussions on the subject every time you go in to the restaurant. Ask them how they would feel if people voted that Hispanics could no longer marry. I asked a Roman Catholic over the weekend how she would feel if people voted that she could no longer be married to her husband and she was left speechless. The point was driven home.

CB James
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

This is a question we’ll all have to ask ourselves very soon. My answer is that I do not want any of my money used to take away my own rights.

You gave your money to the restaurant, the restaurant gave it to Yes on 8. Granted it was not very much money. But if the Yes on 8 people came to your door asking for money, would have given them a dime?

The last time you bought a taco at that restaurant, you did.

BTW, thanks for keeping this site up and running. It’s on my regular must read list.

David
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

No question – no more El Coyote.

There’s a local event to benefit a non-profit that I planned on attending; turns out, the host donated $100 to Yes on 8, so I cancelled my reservation. I’ll donate directly to the non-profit instead.

Voting for 8 was a hate crime, donating to the campaign was conspiring to commit hate crimes.

Spindonna W.
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

I’m not usually one to call for (or join) boycotts — but I’m thinking this is a pretty easy call. I agree the dollar amount is not important — the implied “yes” vote is.

It’s not like we can’t find crappy Mexican food and watery margaritas at any number of places all over town.

Why give money to people who are just going to turn around and give it to *other* people working to take away your rights? (And, in this case, successfully!) Can’t avoid every single closeted Christian out there but we *can* avoid patronizing those we know for a fact don’t like our kind. Just our money.

Tavdy
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

I’m another saying boycott the place. They’ve betrayed loyal customers – they certainly don’t deserve to keep your loyalty.

werdna
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

I’m with Mr. Fitch. I don’t think boycotting right off the bat is the way to go. First off, El Coyote didn’t contribute money, the manager did. The fact that it’s a family owned business makes it a little more complicated, but are we going to boycott every business with a manager, owner or employee who contributed to the campaign?

Rather than just abandoning the place, I’d be bold and talk to Marjorie about it. If you’re a regular customer and you have any kind of relationship–even just a friendly “I recognize you” kind of thing–it’s going to be far more productive to engage her. Explain how you feel and listen to what, if anything, she has to say.

Based on that, make a decision. If the outcome of that interaction makes you feel like you can’t continue to patronize the business then don’t and let her know why. You can use this platform (BTB) to let other people know what happened and where things stand, but give her a chance to understand where you’re coming from and to explain her perspective. Give her a chance to learn rather than just fostering hostility.

There’s a place for anger, criticism, and boycotts, but the goal in this fight is also to gain understanding and respect for our perspective. Our neighbors and local businesses are more susceptible to change than large institutions (like the LDS church) and a clear and heartfelt word from a familiar face can go a long way to changing people’s hearts and minds.

Trevor
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Boycott obviously. Actually you should start a picket line and drive all her customers away until she’s bankrupt. Its hardball season folks. You don’t need to have mixed feelings about it. The restaraunt spat in your face. They deserve to be run under.

Louie
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Yes, boycott El Coyote and get a group together to picket the place one weekend day per week for 1 month. Make sure you do it on the same weekend day and at the same time.

Preferably during the dinner or lunch rush hour.

Keep the protest signs civil and to the point. “El Coyote = Yes on Prop. 8!” etc.

AJD
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

You refer to the owner as though you know her fairly well, which I presume to be the case.

An alternative to not eating there is to maybe sit down and talk to her about what she did and maybe see if you can persuade her.

Elaygee
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Tell the owner why you can no longer eat there nor will your friends. Let her know there was a consequence to her actions. She helped take civil rights away from many people.

Stefano A
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Werdna:

If Marjorie has several gay employes, 1/3 of her customers are regularly gay or lesbian, although it’s a huge presumption, I think it’s safe to assume she’s already heard how important this would be for her gay employees and her customers and yet she still donated money with the implication that she also most likely voted yes. If she didn’t have the courage to go against RC requests for donation what makes you think she’d have had the courage to buck that guilt trip in the voting booth?

If this weren’t not a family run business where she was only one of several managers and “higher ups” then I’d say, yeah try to talk to her some more. But in this case, I’d walk.

Stefano A
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Oops.

Sorry for the double negative.

If this were not a family run…

rob Eric
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

ABSOLUTELY! I have been a long time patron of El Coyote and knowing the amount of gay clientele, let alone staff, I find it almost as disgusting as the food. The hilarity of the fact that she donated $100 is that my bills for my table on Thursday night are usually four times that amount. She lost one hell of a good patron by using such incredibly poor judgement.

Stefano A
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

You know, it’s not like this was suddenly sprung on her or that gays and lesbians hadn’t already been getting married and granted the right for the last six months and wouldn’t be explicitly aware that she was actively advocating a civil right be taken away.

Stefano A
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Need to correct something:

I took Fitch’s reference to Roman Catholicism and bought into a stereotype automatically assuming Roman Catholicism is her faith. For all I know she could be an evangelical. I know plenty of South and Central Americans who are evangelical. Evangelical Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in South America.

Stefano A
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

But whatever her faith, that’s rather beside the point unless one thinks civil government should become a theocracy with rights determined by religious belief and civil rights should be voted on by doing away with the whole, you know, democratic concept of majorities not being able to tyrranize a minority.

John
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Tim,

If you were black, and the owner supported a racist cause, what would you do?

If you were Jewish, and the owner supported an anti-semetic cause, what would you do?

As a non-Jew, and a non-black, if the owner supported an anti-semetic or racist cause, what would you do?

Sometimes even we gay folks put less importance on discrimination directed toward us than we would tolerate directed towards other groups. We also seem to bend over backwards to provide excuses and explanations for blatantly homophobic actions. I wonder why we do that, and why we create these weird dillemas for ourselves.

Pender
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

You boycott it, obviously. I don’t see how this is a hard decision. If you were black, would you really keep going to a restaurant that gave $100 to a serious political effort to reinstate part of Jim Crow? No, you wouldn’t.

All the talk about how great this place is totally misses the point. Boycotts aren’t very meaningful if you only boycott places that you didn’t really like anyway.

Don’t make excuses, for the restaurant or for yourself. Its co-owner was a supporter of a successful effort to strip you, me, and millions of others of our fundamental human rights less than one week ago today, and you, a movement leader for gay rights, are already wavering because the place is cute? Kind of a chilling thought.

Christopher™
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

El Coyote has some of the worst Mexican food I’ve ever had. The last time I was there, my quesadilla had enough salt in it to cure a ham. And it’s always a really bad sign for a Mexican restaurant if the salsa isn’t any good.

It must be the margaritas, I swear. I can’t see any other reason to go there.

Now, I know that Casita del Campo in Silverlake is very gay-friendly… and their food is actually good!

Easy decision, I say.

Zeke
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

John makes some very good points.

Jason D
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

I’ve been faced with a similar issue. Reunited via facebook with a friend from High School, only to discover that she is anti gay marriage.
We got into it over some articles and other things. She wanted to just be friends, attempted to reassure me that we could be friends and not see eye-to-eye.
So I asked her to answer questions. I asked her to put herself in those gay people’s shoes. I said how would she explain to her children that other people had voted to unmarry her and her husband? I asked why can’t she be married and I be married and we be equal?

Her response? That I was not letting her have her beliefs! That I was trying to prove her wrong! That I wasn’t respecting her by asking these questions. She refused to answer them.

And I told that said all I needed to know about her, that she doesn’t care what her beliefs put in motion do to other people. That my civil rights don’t take anything from her.

There’s more details in my most recent blog.

It is hard to say goodbye to people we thought were our friends.

It’s so frustrating. They’re asking us to respect actions that are unfriendly and disrespectful to us.
To accept not only their disagreement, but accept them taking these rights away.
What kind of friend works to hurt you and expects respect and understanding in return?

paul J stein
November 10th, 2008 | LINK

Easy answer, assemble a large group of pro-marriage (hetero/homosexual) gay and straight persons. Ask to see Marj. Ask her to defend her position, give reasons against equal marriage rights. If she refuses to engage in the discussion, WALK OUT. A few instances of complete tables heading for the door will drive the point home. She can have an opinion, we all have that right. We also have the right to hear why we are suffering discrimination.

anon
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

This is not a dilemma. El Coyote’s food is terrible. If you like greasy, American-style Mexican food, go with El Cholo. Their warm ketchup-based salsa is especially wretched. The fact that an owner is anti-gay just gives you yet another reason to find a new favorite Mexican restaurant, which won’t be hard in L.A.

dairyqueen
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

What more important to you? A Burrito or your equal rights?

Gay Married Canuck
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

I would just ask her to her face if she truly thought that her employees and gay patrons did not deserve the same rights as straight people. And what did she think would truly happen if marriage was legal. With the current divorce rate, polygamy and adultery in North America is marriage truly a sacred union? Can’t say I see it that way when it isn’t a viable option for everyone.

Snappyback
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

Even beyond yourself, why would you subsidize someone who viciously attacks your readers and thousands of other peaceful people? Boycott, and tell them why.

David
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

Should I give up my favite Mex restaurant? Yup, discrination has spoken. Time to speak back with that new software program, Dollars Speaks Volumes.

Marix on Flores/Santa Monica is a great mexican replacement restaurant in Weho.

Margarita cheers!

tom
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

for me environment and friendliness are a fraud if you do not support the rights of your patrons, or at least refrain from denying them. you cannot take with one hand and give with the other. it’s two faced. it’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve heard from “christians” — “i love gay people but don’t think they deserve the right to marry.” then, they don’t deserve our dollars. of course she’s sorry — she’s realizing that she’s dumped on a large portion of her clientele. it’s like hiring an illegal immigrant to clean your house cuz it’s cheap and then supporting legislation against that immigrant. it’s hypocritical. just because they employ gays and smile at us while we’re spending our money there doesn’t mean they support us. i’ll be boycotting for now.

Louie
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

So, make sure you post some pictures of the protesters standing in front of El Coyote.

I want to see some really creative signs, people!

Ephilei
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

Much more effective than boycotting would talking to them. Ask for the manager and tell him how conflicted you’re feeling and leave without buying anything. Go ahead and make small talk to the service staff about it too. When it comes to small business, people are more powerful than dollars.

Timothy Kincaid
November 11th, 2008 | LINK

This thread is closed. Let’s pick up the conversation on the Update Commentary.

Si Se Puede: If the anti-Prop 8 movement … [Proposition 8] | the daily john
November 12th, 2008 | LINK

[…] establishment they can direct their ire towards: the Beverly Blvd. mainstay El Coyote. After word circulated that Marjorie Chrisoffersen, the restaurant’s family manager, had donated to the “Yes […]