Today, in promotional merch gone horribly wrong: An Italian restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., Paisano’s, is feeling the heat for selling T-shirts and baseball hats that read “Black Olives Matter.” The phrase was first used on the eatery’s signage last month (“Black Olives Matter, Try Our Tapenade”), which was intended to promote a new dish, and despite backlash, Paisano’s owner Rick Camuglia refused to apologize for the sign.
“We had no intent to hurt anybody’s feelings; it wasn’t a political or racial statement, purely a culinary statement, literally, about the quality of the black olives we use,” Camuglia said.
“All we were trying to do was sell 30 pieces of tuna served with black olive tapenade,” Camuglia told Refinery29 of how the controversial phrase, a tasteless riff on Black Lives Matter, came about.
Paisano’s started selling items imprinted with the phrase after getting calls from “all around the country and the world” about the signage, per Camuglia. (Some of the callers have been inquiring about buying olive tapenade and sauce, but he’s stuck to wearable merch because “shipping food can be problematic.”) He said he’s received overwhelmingly positive feedback (10 positive calls for every negative call) from “people saying they support us.”
The restaurant’s Facebook page tells a slightly different story, with comments like, “This is disgusting, I’m boycotting your spot and telling all my friends and family,” and “Isn’t it great you can wear your bigotry on your shirt?!” Others made it clear that the shirts are a dealbreaker in terms of patronage: “Won’t be eating at Paisano’s again. Way to double down on your stupidity. Bye!” wrote another Facebook commenter. Scarily enough, there are, indeed, a number of positive comments supporting Camuglia’s business (and his decision to sell the offensive shirts).
“[Some people think] that it’s just a business man who’s taken advantage of some discord…many people are very much against playing or punning on that term, because people’s lives are at stake,” Finnie Coleman, a professor at the University of New Mexico, told local ABC affiliate KOAT.
The eatery has no plans of ceasing sales of the contentious tees or hats, according to Camuglia.