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5 restaurant stories you likely missed, but shouldn’t have

Photograph courtesy of Jevholution, YouTube.com

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The restaurant industry can sound a collective “Whew!” after several potential disasters actually unfolded in a favorable way in recent days. Like the discovery that a huge poster hanging inside a McDonald’s had been posted on the sly by customers intending to make a political statement—two months earlier. The culprits were hailed as heroes after they ’fessed up.

Or the closing of an era in restaurant thievery, with the Willie Sutton of dining and dashing finally being nabbed as he tried to slip out of a restaurant one more time without paying.

If only all the head-turning moments had ended that well. There was also the painful lesson in how hard-knuckled unions can be when they get a foothold, or the meat of the controversy over what restaurants can call meat.

Read on for the good, the bad and the ugly.

1. Renegade McDonald’s art

Two 20-something customers of the McDonald’s in Pearland, Texas, were big fans of the food. It was the artwork on the walls that troubled them.  None of the visual cues beamed a welcome to people who looked like them. Both Jevh Maravilla, 21, and Christian Toledo, 25, are the children of Filipino immigrants. Why weren’t they and other Asians included in the rainbow of customers shown in McDonald’s marketing materials and artwork?

The pair decided to do something about it. For a month, they worked on a huge wall placard that depicted Maravilla and Toledo chatting with McDonald’s specialties in hand. Maravilla reportedly found an old McDonald’s crew uniform in a thrift store, and, working with two accomplices, the pair focused on getting their poster into the store and on the wall, in a preselected blank spot.

The poster seemed to fit so well that no one noticed it for 51 days. Finally, Maravilla went public Monday via social media, recounting his tale to a considerably warm reception. The McDonald’s promised to keep the artwork posted, saying it supported the celebration of diversity, and the corporate home office also expressed its support.

2. Dine and dash no more

For two years, restaurants in the Los Angeles area would find themselves in a sticky situation: A couple would dine with them, liberally ordering expensive items like steak, shrimp and good wines. Then the man in the pair would excuse himself to make a phone call. And he wouldn’t return. The woman, a different one each time, would explain that this was her first date with the fella, whom she’d met on a dating site. Did she really have to pay for the whole thing?

Authorities say the reign of Paul Gonzales, 45, came to an end last week when he was nabbed after a detective recognized him—inside a restaurant. The Dine-and-Dash Dater, as he’d been nicknamed by the police, was charged with extortion and grand theft, with the legal documents specifying that Gonzales got away with $950 in unpaid tabs. Eight women were cited among his victims.

3. The meat of the meat controversy

In a sign of the times, Missouri has become the first state to prohibit restaurateurs and other marketers from using the term “meat” for anything that doesn’t come from an animal carcass. The law, passed in May at the behest of cattle ranchers and meat processors, is intended to prohibit sellers of meat-like analog products from equating their wares to the actual thing. Lawmakers say the new legal definition is necessary to allay consumers’ confusion about which foods come from plants and which originate from animals.

Enforcement began last week.

4. Burgerville’s battle over buttons

The Burgerville regional quick-service chain is once again waist-deep in controversy over labor matters, this time because of a policy that forbids employees from wearing buttons promoting political causes.

The flair wear in question were buttons declaring Immigration and Customs Enforcement should be abolished, and that no immigrant is in the country illegally. Others bore the message “Black Lives Matter.”

Customers complained about the buttons, prompting management to issue an employee directive saying the slogans were too controversial and hence would be banned, according to local media reports. When 10 employees refused to take off the pins, saying Burgerville was being racist, they were sent home, forcing their store to close its drive-thru, according to local media reports.

A day later, the employees were reinstated and paid for the hours they missed. But employees, who hope to unionize the chain after winning union representation at two stores, say that’s not enough. They want an apology.

“While Burgerville had a long-standing verbal policy prohibiting the wearing of personal buttons, we did not have a written policy about this,” the company said in a statement issued to Restaurant Business. “The company is adopting one that represents our long-standing commitment to creating a universally welcoming and inclusive environment for our customers and employees alike. We are instituting an updated uniform policy, and buttons and other messaging – both political and personal – will not be allowed.” That clarified policy is set to take effect Sept. 13.

“Burgerville’s new policy is, simply put, white supremacist,” declares the Facebook page for Burgerville Workers Union, the International Workers of the World local that was formed to forge a new work contract with Burgerville’s management.

Burgerville’s spokesman was not available for comment.

The chain is believed to be the first quick-service operation in the country to have a federally recognized union representing a portion of its workforce.

5. A Trump-Nathan’s connection

Rumblings about a boycott of the Nathan’s hot dog chain were sounded on the internet last month after the operation’s executive chairman, real estate mogul Howard Lorber, held a fundraiser at his country house in Southampton, N.Y., for Donald Trump. News reports about the big-ticket event apparently were the first word for many Nathan’s fans that the head director of their beloved brand is regarded by Trump as one of his best friends.

Lorber’s day job is CEO of Vector Group, whose extensive holdings include the Douglas Elliman real estate firm.

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