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When I stopped by Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe last week for lunch, the restaurant was empty.
When I returned this past Monday, it was jammed. The Colorado Forward Obama campaign RV was just pulling away — with a lot of Rosa Linda's to-go food and Governor John Hickenlooper inside the vehicle. Romney campaigners have eaten at Rosa Linda's several times over the last few days, too.
This unanticipated boom in business couldn't happen to a nicer family.
Even if it almost killed them. Literally, if you believe some of the death threats that the Aguirres, the owners of Rosa Linda's, have been getting since the story first broke — on westword.com — that the family had refused to become a Romney campaign stop. Some callers told them to go back to Mexico. Other cranks accused them of making up their Romney account as a stunt, or at least spilling it to Westword to get some press (still others charged the Romney camp with leaking the story). But while the Aguirres have ink, as well as green chile, in their veins, the smartest, most media-savvy marketing person in the world could not have come up with a gimmick like this.
On October 2, at the same time I was eating in the almost empty Rosa Linda's, Mitt Romney was gearing up for the next night's presidential debate at the University of Denver — fortifying himself with a burrito, extra guac, at the Chipotle in Stapleton, while cameras clicked away. Like Rosa Linda's, Chipotle is a homegrown concept — but over the past two decades, founder Steve Ells has grown Chipotle from one outlet near DU to a worldwide empire with more than 1,300 restaurants. Rosa Linda's has never grown outside of northwest Denver. It's never left its original space in a part of town that was far from desirable when Virgil and Rosa Linda Aguirre opened the restaurant back in 1985, even if it was just labeled one of the country's "hippest hipster neighborhoods" by Forbes.
But Denver has been enough for this family. It's their community.
You can see why Rosa Linda's would be such a great backdrop for a campaign stop — whether or not Romney was along for the ride. Virgil and Rosa Linda are both converts to Mormonism; four of their five kids are practicing Mormons. The youngest grandchild is often in the restaurant — perfect for a politician who wants to kiss a baby. (Hickenlooper did on Monday, when he dropped in for grub on a voter-registration drive.) And in an election where the Latino vote could be crucial, unlike Chipotle, Rosa Linda's is actually a Mexican Mexican restaurant. So it wasn't surprising that a Romney supporter would approach Rosa Linda's about getting involved, maybe as a campaign stop.
The surprise was that the family declined. Although they certainly could have used the (positive) publicity and are active in local causes and campaigns, they didn't want to become a photo op in a national race. "A presidential campaign divides a nation," says oldest son Oscar Aguirre, who posted an item on Facebook back in August reporting the request — and the family's response.
We included that Rosa Linda's item in one of our posts reporting on Romney's stop at Chipotle.
Linking the two led to rumors that Rosa Linda's had refused service to Romney last week. The prank calls started coming in, then the demands for a boycott, then the death threats. The night of the debate, Oscar sent his parents home and stayed alone in the restaurant, a friendly cop car parked nearby. And he posted another message: "I (Oscar) would like to apologize to EVERY ONE WE MAY HAVE offended concerning Governor Mitt Romney, and the article in westword. We did not refuse him service yesterday — THAT IS FALSE! As stated in the article, when we were contacted by the campaign of candidate Romney on August 6, by a former Mormon missionary that he would like to bring the candidate here...it was presented to us that he wanted to do a political stump here....We did say NO because we are not Republicans, nor are we Democrats. We will welcome any sitting President of the United States, but we did not want to be a campaign stopping place...."
Twenty-four hours later, though, if Romney or any other politician had stopped in to eat, they wouldn't have been able to get a seat. The place was packed, with a line out the door. It was packed full of TV cameras, full of people who'd heard about the controversy, full of people who wanted to show they supported the family — or at least opposed the hate that was spilling over. A few regulars and other volunteers were helping clear plates. The family members who run the restaurant were giddy, but exhausted.
On Friday, they all sat down together. "Let's work as a family like we are now," Oscar remembers his father saying. "If they see us serving as a family, we'll make our community stronger."
For the Aguirres, it's always about the community.
In many ways, they are the community.
So now people issuing death threats to a family because of supposed political leanings deserve respect?
I think this story is ridiculous. To add to more division and not show respect for both sides is childish.
Bravo Irony. Oscar wanted his 15 mins of fame and he got it. Once the hype slows the restaurant will go back to the dismal numbers of patrons it had prior to his slap in the face of the republican party.
p.s. One visit was enough for me to know I could get a better burrito at taco bell.
If this story is anti-anyone, it is anti-knee-jerk-reaction-hateful-republican-voter. The story here isn't about Romney, it's about the shit storm of putrid hate that the family faced, and the reasonable members of our community that came to their defense.
Why, WHY Is Westword continuing to cover this? If you knew Oscar or even glanced over his fb page BEFORE the media firestorm, you would see that this was, indeed an Anti-Republican move and one that they are capitalizing on every day. Lets try some fair, balanced and certainly; unbiased journalism and let Rosa Linda's go back to business without the mainstream "media" attempting to rebuild a poorly thought out media stunt in the first place.
@devra2000 , To the contrary ! It was Mr. Romney who wanted his 15 minutes of fame. This is not a slap in the face to the Republican party (though if anyone ever needed one, it's the hypocritical GOP).
Romney wanted to ride on the backs of honest citizens, to try an give the impression he "cares" about them. It was a proposal for a contrived photo op. Mr. Romney tried to USE the Aguirre's. When he was rightfully rebuffed, the Ditto-heads came out of the woodwork with their trademark hate, intimiddation, and death threats. BRAVO! to the Aguirre Family in standing up for honesty and community involvement.
I, among many, will make it a point to drive across town to eat the excellent food and appreciate the attentive and socially conscious work that's done at this fine restaurant.