A Meal at (and Support for) Rosa Linda’s

Family-owned Rosa Linda’s subjected to threats & hate messages. Guests rally to support restaurant

An ugly incident of bias against the long-time owners of a Highland restaurant turned into a beautiful show of local support. Rosa Linda’s Mexican Cafe, a long-running restaurant in the Highland neighborhood, epitomizes the ethic of a small, family-owned business that attracts a loyal clientele. Before the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Westword, Denver’s alternative weekly, published a blog post headlined “Mitt Romney stopped at Chipotle this morning but is not invited to Rosa Linda’s.”

Rosa Linda’s is owned by the Aguirre family, US citizens who originally came from Mexico and happen to be Mormons. The headline stated and the post itself implied that Romney was not welcome. It turned to be a twist of what Oscar Aguirre had told Romney’s handlers last August, which was simply that the family said they would welcome the candidate but did not want to be a  campaign stop. Nevertheless, the reaction from who-knows-who was swift and ugly. Westword’s Cafe Society post unleashed a torrent of actions based on ignorance, hate and bias ranging from name-calling to death threats. “Denver restaurant receives death threats after passing on Romney campaign stop,” Channel 9 reported.

When I read this, I said to my husband, “We have to go to Rosa Linda’s this weekend.” And we did today. So had Patricia Calhoun, Westword‘s long-time editor, who quickly wrote:

“I stopped by Rosa Linda’s Mexican Cafe last night, and the place was packed. Packed full of TV cameras, full of people who’d heard about the controversy that erupted after Cafe Society first reported that the family that owns the restaurant had declined to let Romney supporters use their place as a campaign stop, with a few regulars stuffed into the corners.

“It was quite the contrast to the scene night before, when Oscar Aguirre, the eldest son of the family that owns the restaurant who’d fielded the initial Romney campaign request, had the place largely to himself, fielding angry phone calls while a friendly cop car stood outside.

“It’s no surprise that the Romney campaign would have liked to link up with Rosa Linda’s — this is a Mexican restaurant, after all, and Rosa Linda and Virgil Aguirre, who opened their spot almost thirty years ago, are both Mormon. But they had their reasons for turning down the request, which Oscar first explained in a Facebook post a month ago, and has explained again and again over the past few days.”

When we walked into Rosa Linda’s a little after 11 a.m. this morning, the place was half-empty– much to our surprise. I commented to Oscar Aguirre that “we expected to find a line out the door.” He replied that there had been earlier in the morning, and by the time we finished eating, every table was occupied and the line stretched through the bar and entryway to the front door. Oscar made a little speech to thank the eating and waiting crowd for the support, noting that Rosa Linda’s was so busy last night that they actually ran out of food. Also, one customer pitched in to help the overwhelmed staff and started clearing tables. He came back to help today. Kind of restored my faith in humankind, Denver-style.

Oscar Aguirre, Virgil and Rosa Linda’s oldest son, thanking the full mid-day house for their support in the wake of threats from local bigots.

I had been saddened and ashamed by the display of hate, but elated by the community’s support. In truth, I don’t believe that Rosa Linda’s serves the best Mexican food in Denver, but it is good enough — and the Aguirres’ hard work, strong family ties, small business success and generosity to the community (e.g., feeding some 3,000 Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinners to those in need) are qualities that the Republican Party espouses. Some of Romney’s overzealous supporters were too busy being hateful to notice.

And now, since this a food blog into which politics very rarely intrudes, here’s what we ate:

Basket of crisp tortilla chips and thin tomatillo salsa.

Huevos con nopalitos, an authentic Mexican dish comprising scrambled eggs with strips of cactus, onions and tomatoes, and served with rice, refried beans and soft flour tortillas..

At the end of the day, a family-owned neighorhood business is about more than the food. It is about the close family that operates it and the extended family of loyal customers — and those now welcomed into the family that unexpectedly has just faced a situation that could have become a crisis. Viva, Rosa Linda’s!

Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon

3 thoughts on “A Meal at (and Support for) Rosa Linda’s”

  1. Claire I was riveted by this article. I had not heard about this happening and admittedly have ducked to avoid the onslaught of political everything right now, resenting all the phone calls during the dinner hour from rep’s inviting me to join their candidate in changing the future of the free world. What a disturbing and tragic tale and one truly demonstrating the wildfire affect of ill informed by rampant media. I love your Reuters ‘we have to go there NOW’ approach too! Fantastic.

    1. Toni – We were not the only ones to visit Rosa Linda’s that first weekend. Both regulars and people responding to the hateful and bigoted messages by who-knows? have been filling the place. I returned for lunch with a friend on Tuesday, and business was brisk and smiles abounded. All’s well that ends well, and I hope the culprints do turn their ugliness on anyone else.

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