Taco Food Truck Drives into a Political Storm

Buffalo’s Lloyd Taco Trucks Apologizes for Apologizing after Serving Employees at an ICE Detention Center           

11/1/19 – – Pete Cimino and Chris Dorsaneo founded Lloyd Taco Trucks in Buffalo, New York, back in the summer of 2010. They started with one food truck, two employees and a dream. Today, their business employs 130 people and serves healthy tacos out of four trucks and two restaurants. But over the last week, their dream has been looking more like a nightmare.

The company’s troubles began on October 24 after one of its trucks made a routine lunch stop in front of the Buffalo Federal Detention Center, a facility in Batavia operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When criticism and shame exploded on social media (“how dare you serve tacos to Trump’s storm troopers”), Cimino and Dorsaneo quickly issued an unconditional apology, explaining that bringing their truck to the facility was a “lapse in judgment.”

Unfortunately, Lloyd’s effort to put out an online grease fire fueled a reputational conflagration.

Outrage over the apology (characterized as “pathetic pandering”) was hotter than a jalapeno. Food truck appointments began to be cancelled. ICE Field Office Director Thomas Feeley issued a statement on behalf of the “men and women who work at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center . . . officers, administrative staff, doctors, nurses, judges, attorneys, maintenance staff . . . doing our jobs enforcing the laws passed by Congress . . . just like we have for many Presidents.” Feeley made it clear that, “We will not apologize for doings this, not even to a food truck that now chooses to discriminate against us.”

I’m sure this thriving small business didn’t know what hit them. But by appearing to take sides on the emotional issue of immigration enforcement, they wondered into the minefield of politics — a very dangerous place for businesses of any size to be. As I emphasize in The Crisis Preparedness Quotient — Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm, the American public is about equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Beliefs are passionate on both ends of the political spectrum, and there is little tolerance for opposing views. Taking a political stand automatically alienates and often infuriates half the population, and, if you market a consumer product, probably half your customers.

Faced with the blowback from its initial apology, Lloyd Tacos held a press conference Monday at one of its restaurants and apologized for its apology, explaining, “We make tacos, not war.” Cimino made a plea for understanding and forgiveness:

“Our statement was hasty, and we reacted too quickly to criticism we received. We serve all communities, we go to all neighborhoods, we are not political. Why would we be? How can any business choose sides in our politically divided country and ever hope to succeed?”

Having now pissed off both sides, Lloyd was inundated on its Facebook page with thousands of posts, “ninety percent of which were mad at us from both sides of the political spectrum.”

It is worth your time to watch the Lloyd press conference, linked at the bottom of this post. The company is still not out of the woods, but Cimino does a very good job, given the circumstances, of pulling his company away from the minefield. See what you think. And if you are ever pushed by a colleague or public relations counselor to take a political stand on behalf of your company, remember this thought expressed by Cimino: “Honestly, we were not prepared for the anger directed at us, it was surprising and demoralizing.”

You can do a lot of good things for employees, customers, communities and the world without being political. In the hyper-partisan environment we’re living in, “we make tacos, not war,” is a pretty good mission statement.  


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