Texas Restaurant Association faces backlash over keynote speaker Governor Greg Abbott

Victoria Elizondo, owner of Cochinita in Houston, had planned to feed 450 people at the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) Lone Star Bash in Dallas on July 10. But when she learned that Texas Governor Greg Abbott was the keynote speaker at the TRA restaurant. Show this weekend, she canceled her participation in the event.

Her Mexican restaurant, which is inside Kickin’ Kombucha in the East End, and its line of goods keep her very busy, she says, so she didn’t know how much the TRA was giving to Republicans in Texas until now. According to Transparency USA, TRA’s Political Action Committee donated $52,500 to Governor Abbott, $25,000 to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, $10,000 to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and $17,500 to the President of the Texas Dade Phelan House during the 2018, 2020 and 2022 election cycles.

“The Texas Restaurant Association is a nonpartisan organization that works with elected officials from all political parties to strengthen the food and beverage industry in Texas,” said TRA CEO and President Emily Williams Knight, Ed. D .in a statement. “As in previous years, we invited a diverse group of these elected officials – Republicans and Democrats – to the Texas Restaurant Show to discuss the initiatives we have championed together to help save restaurants over the past two and a half years from COVID – 19 pandemic and what may lie ahead for our economy.”

This would have been the first TRA event that Elizondo has cooked for, but she says that as a woman, an immigrant, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and someone who supports the right to abortion, she decided she couldn’t participate.

“Republicans just don’t support immigrants and dreamers,” she said, upset that the TRA was aligning itself with Abbott. “It’s a huge slap in the face for us because the restaurant industry is run by us,” she said.


Andrea Arana, the owner of the soon-to-open Las Perras cafe, was not surprised to learn that the Governor is one of the keynote speakers at TRA’s Restaurant Show this weekend. “I’ve lived in Texas and worked in the hospitality industry for the past 10 years and I’ve never really seen them do anything that actually helps the average employee,” Arana said, adding that the group helps rather restaurateurs to continue to operate and profit. of their employees.

As a restaurant manager in Texas, Arana watched owners discriminate against undocumented, black, and LGBTQ employees. “[The TRA is] actively giving money to politicians who would vote to see these groups erased from the face of the earth,” she said.

Elizondo and Arana learned about the Restaurant Show lineup and TRA political donations through social media posts by Alex Negranza, a restaurant and bar veteran who is now president of the new Gay & Lesbian Alliance. for Spirited Sipping (GLASS ). He had been following the TRA since the start of the pandemic, when it was one of the leading groups helping Texas’ restaurant industry survive through relief funds and other initiatives. This week he was surprised to see an announcement on TRA’s Instagram about Governor Abbott as the Restaurant Show’s keynote speaker.

Negranza commented on the post, but he says it was deleted by TRA’s account and all comments were later disabled on Instagram. The Twitter ad is configured to only allow accounts mentioned by the TRA to respond. Minutes after his first comment, Negranza says the TRA Instagram account blocked him. He thought it was weird and dove deeper into the association’s political donations, posting screenshots to his Instagram Stories.

“I called Greg Abbott an asshole and a bigot,” Negranza recalled of the now-deleted Instagram comment. “And I said their keynote speaker doesn’t represent restaurant values, he’s anti-immigration, anti-reproductive rights, his platform is anti-LGBT. Everything Abbott stands for is so against beauty and the culture that restaurants are.”

Negranza also notes the significant number of people in Houston’s restaurant community organizing fundraisers and other initiatives after the repeal of Roe v. Wade, whom the Governor celebrated. While he thinks some of the TRA’s legislative achievements have been positive in terms of the economic impact on restaurants, he is upset that they are “turning a blind eye” to other issues that affect him and his peers.

“Our speakers, including Governor Abbott, were instrumental in passing the TRA priority bills that allowed restaurants to sell alcohol to go, saving millions of dollars in taxes, deductible and unemployment insurance and to achieve ground-breaking transparency protections in the third-party delivery marketplace,” said Williams Knight, CEO of TRA.

Elizondo says she was raised never to mix business and politics, but the current political climate has prompted her to use her business as a platform to make a difference. The TRA was going to give Elizondo a $400 stipend after the event, but that wouldn’t have covered everything. “I was still taking money and time out of my own pocket,” she said. She had already bought all the ingredients for the crab salad tostadas – they will now be a special on the Cochinita menu this weekend.

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