Lloyd Taco has apologized for apologizing.
The Buffalo-based operator of a food truck empire and two brick-and-mortar restaurants has found itself caught in the middle of a political firestorm since serving lunch to employees of the federal detention center in Batavia last Wednesday.
The company held a news conference Monday morning at its Hertel Avenue headquarters to try to address both critics of the original decision to serve the lunch and critics of Lloyd Taco's decision to apologize in the face of that criticism.
“Chris and I want to fully and sincerely apologize for our past statement after our truck’s visit to the federal detention facility in Batavia last week. Our statement was hastily made, and we reacted too quickly to criticism we received for that visit,” co-founder Pete Cimino said in a statement he read at Monday's news conference.
Lloyd said in the statement that it received about 4,000 critical comments on social media after users of Twitter and Facebook saw Lloyd had sent a food truck to the Batavia center, which holds undocumented immigrants pending hearings on the cases and possible deportation.
Lloyd apologized late Thursday morning, calling the decision to send the truck to "a lapse in judgment" and stressing its close ties to the immigrant community here.
This inspired a backlash from many, including Republican office-holders, who felt the Lloyd apology was a slap against police and law enforcement. In fact, Cimino said Monday, the company has had customers cancel three truck visits in the five "exceptionally challenging" days since the controversy flared up.
However, Cimino did say he expects those businesses to return as Lloyd customers in the near future.
In all, the company has received about 5,000 comments since Wednesday, on both sides of the divide, and more than 90% were critical.
Lloyd executives said Monday they were too quick to issue the initial apology and they shouldn't have taken sides in a fraught political landscape. Cimino said at the news conference that the food truck was parked outside the detention center and served meals to anyone in the area, not just to Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees.
“We make tacos, not war,” Cimino said. “We serve all communities. We go to all neighborhoods. We are not political. Why would we be? How can any business choose sides in our politically divided country and ever succeed?”
Asked if the company would return to the detention center in the future, Cimino demurred. "I don't want to answer hypotheticals," he said.
He did say he had not personally reviewed the request from the center for a food truck stop, because other Lloyd employees are assigned that responsibility, and he can't go back in time and say how he would have handled this request.
Cimino and co-founder Chris Dorsaneo stressed the company's community service, saying it has donated time, food and money to nonprofit organizations across the area. The company since its founding also has discounted its food 50% to all uniformed first responders and military personnel, it said. "We're big fans of the police – we've always been," Cimino said Monday.
A competitor, Deep South Taco, jumped in with a statement of support for law enforcement, first responders and correction officers after the Lloyd apology.
"That's white noise," Cimino said when asked about Deep South. "We've been doing that forever."
The company said it understands that immigration policy is a hot-button issue and that social media only magnifies those divisions. But it emphasized it wasn't trying to take sides in the conflict, neither by serving lunch to ICE employees nor by apologizing to those offended by the lunch service.
"We make lunch and dinner, not policy. We support all our communities," Cimino said.
Lloyd's statement on Thursday said it would donate the money it made from Wednesday's lunch at the facility to Justice for Migrant Families WNY. The organization had issued a statement criticizing Lloyd for sending a food truck to the facility, saying the center holds about 700 people on civil immigration violations who often report receiving "insufficient food portions."
Asked whether that was still the company's plan, Cimino said he had reached out to someone from Justice for Migrant Families but had not yet heard back.
Our response to detention food trucks: Feed Immigrant Justice Not Immigrant Detention pic.twitter.com/AS3FUQBYVb
— Justice for Migrant Families WNY (@JFMFofWNY) October 24, 2019
The organization's executive director, Jennifer Connor, said the group stands by its original statement.
“Our position has not changed. We are here to prioritize the needs of immigrant families in our community and in detention," Connor said in a statement. "Though the events of the past week have drawn fire from all sides, we stand by the fact that the state of immigrant detention itself is an outrage."
Lloyd Taco launched Buffalo’s first food truck in July 2010, and the company now has 135 employees working on four trucks, in two restaurants on Hertel and in Amherst and a catering division. The company disclosed Monday that it plans to open at third restaurant somewhere in the Elmwood Village but did not offer details.
One reporter asked the Lloyd co-founders if this brouhaha was a learning experience for them.
"I would say that's putting it lightly, for sure," Cimino said.