Last Friday, February 17, employees of Hibachi Queens Food Truck in Long Beach experienced what they describe as an aggressive encounter with a man who is associated withThe Auld Dubliner, an Irish pub whose owners claim was "built in Ireland and then shipped to Long Beach" before opening on Pine Street in 2004.
The incident occurred around 1 P.M., a few hours after the food truck was parked in front of the pub. A video captured by Hibachi Queens’ surveillance camera shows the man passing by the food truck and moving their A-frame style menu sign to the side. Soon after, the chef of the truck is seen trying to wave the man down to ask why he moved the menu. The man then returns and kicks the menu down, resulting in the menu breaking. The video has no audio.
Lupe Godinez, the owner of Hibachi Queens Food Truck, who was not present during the altercation, tells L.A. TACO that they are no strangers to these types of encounters from brick-and-mortar businesses. Still, she was confused by the man’s anger toward them.
She considered it possibly due to the man seeing her business as competition since it was parked in front of The Dubliner. However, her food truck does not sell beer like the pub. The food they offer is Japanese American-style grilled meats with steamed rice and vegetables, compared to Dubliner's menu consisting of traditional pub fare such as fried potatoes, burgers, and shepherd's pie.
“We’ve never parked here before," Godinez said over the phone the next day. "There was a festival this weekend being held at our original parking location on Shoreline Drive, in front of The Pike. We were told by the event coordinators to find different parking for the weekend because [the] area where we park would be blocked. This was just going to be for the weekend.”
On Friday, Godinez said she received a call from one of her chefs, who let her know that they had an altercation with a man.
“My chef Jose was very fired up because he said the guy was very rude, and I told him that if the guy came back to give him my number so I could talk to him,” Godinez continues, as she prepared for Saturday’s work day. “And he did. The guy called me, and as soon as I answered, he started hollering down my neck.”
The man on the phone identified himself as the owner of the pub. He immediately proceeded to tell Godinez that her truck had to move from where they were parked and asked her to show proof that the food truck had all of its permits.
“I told him, 'If you think we’re in violation of something, call the cops, or call the health department, but do not go and insult my employees,'” Godinez recounts, saying back. Shortly after that, the man hung up.
Godinez ended up calling back the man, who appears to be Irish co-owner David Copley. She reminded him that, despite his feelings, he was not allowed to touch their property.
To make matters worse, Godinez says that Jose, the Hibachi Queens chef who was the primary employee interacting with the Auld Dubliner's owner, reported to her that the man had also called him a racial slur ("wet back") as he was leaving.
“The biggest issue that we had with him from the start was that he didn’t try to have a civilized conversation with us," Godinez says, still frustrated. "I told him we’re business owners, too. These assumptions are that we don’t have permits. That type of behavior is rooted in racism. You only treat people like that when you think they have no one that will speak up for them.”
Like many food truck owners in Long Beach, Godinez has invested over $200,000 in her truck, not counting her weekly expenses and the cost of obtaining every permit needed to operate legally.
“I think there's a misconception when it comes to food trucks," she added. "People think we’re not a legitimate business, and that's so wrong. I have a payroll. I pay taxes. We’re legit. I don’t think people understand that we’re a business. We are literally a mobile restaurant and nothing less.”
This is not the first time that food trucks in Long Beach have dealt with problems like this. Nor for Godinez.
Last September, she, along with several other food truck owners who line Shoreline Drive, protested the “no parking signs” that had seemingly gone up from one day to the next. Public City Works turned out to be responsible for putting up the signs. No reasons were given to the food truck owners as to why they went up in the first place.
The food truck owners' protests were successful in bringing the no-parking signs down. Since then, they claim to have been more united than ever. They worked together to speak at city council meetings and sat down with council member Mary Zendejas of District 1 to discuss how brick-and-mortar restaurants can co-exist with mobile businesses.
“We understand the cost of a business," Godinez says. "If Long Beach wants us to pay a fee, none of us are opposed to it. We are aware of the laws and policies and what it takes to run a food truck. We just want to be respected and to be taken seriously.”
The encounter between Godinez, her staff, and the pub's owner left her feeling like the situation was taking a step backward. Attempting to mediate the situation with The Auld Dubliner's owner, Godinez told the man that she was willing to forget what happened if he apologized to her employees and reimbursed her for the broken menu. But the owner declined. In Los Angeles, a similar confrontation occurred when Danny Rodriguez, the owner of Pablito's World, confronted the staff of a food truck that also offered tacos that parked in front of his Chinatown restaurant last year.
L.A. TACO reached out to the pub the same day of the altercation. Co-owner David Copley responded this morning, admitted to feeling frustrated with food trucks setting up in front of his business, and admitted to kicking the menu down. "We are not allowed to do that, so why should they? At this point, he started yelling obscenity (sic) at me in Spanish. Perhaps he thought I would not understand. Fortunately, I’m married to a Latina and spend enough time with her extended family to understand the language well."
He stated that he wishes he didn't let his frustrations take the best of him and has since denied any claims of calling the chef of the food truck a "wetback." He admitted to saying no after being asked to apologize to the food truck employees because he felt that they owed him an apology for calling him "puto." "As he continued to yell 'Puto' at me, I admit I got headed (sic)." I again asked him to move the sign which he had now replaced in the middle of the sidewalk. I got a further barrage of “Puto.” To my chagrin, I at that time walked out and kicked sign out of way."
And although he initially told the owner he would not pay for the broken sign. He stated in a phone interview with L.A. TACO that he would reimburse them for the broken menu.
"I, too, am an immigrant and would never berate anyone for pursuing their dreams. I’m embarrassed that I allowed my anger to boil to the point I kicked the sign," he continued. "The confrontation stemmed from the truck setting up shop directly in front of our restaurant in a parking meter spot. I also did ask for their permits and asked if they were following Long Beach laws when it came down to what restroom they were using and the permits they had or didn't have, and the next day our landlord did block off the area so that we would not have any further issues which I don't think we will."
The next day, when Hibachi Queens drove back, hoping to find the same parking, she noticed barricades placed on the street blocking them, and anyone else, from being able to park there.
“What's astonishing is how, as a business owner, regardless of your race, [you're] going to act like that," Godinez continues. "How are you not concerned about your reputation or your business? You have a business that depends on your image and how you treat others. That is not the way to act.”
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