The sign advocated equality and social justice, but some found it too politically correct and wrote letters to the owner, Alfonso Medina. Instead of taking it off, Medina placed a much larger one with just four words and accidentally started a movement about love, tacos, and politics.
“I just wanted to respond in a good mood,” said Medina, owner of La Carreta Mexican Grill.
La Carreta has served Mexican food in Marshalltown, a small community about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, for 20 years. Medina took over the family restaurant a few years ago. His parents emigrated from Mexico more than three decades ago, and he was born in Iowa.
“Made in Mexico, shipped in the US,” he said.
The restaurant was open during the pandemic and its staff stayed on duty as Iowa is one of the few states that businesses never close completely.
“We have been fortunate to have great support from the community,” said Medina.
Take a “brave” political stance
But things got interesting in August when Medina put a small black sign with rainbow letters at the entrance to the parking lot that said, “We believe black lives matter, nobody is illegal, science is real, women’s rights are human rights.” and a few other things.
“I didn’t think there was anything bad,” he said, admitting that his wife called him “brave” for placing the sign in front of the store.
Not long after that, criticism of the sign flicked his social media feed, and he even received a few letters. But such a letter caught his attention. It was entered without a return address or signature.
It was clear to Medina that the letter was from a customer. They addressed him by name and accused him of indulging in political correctness, but they also called him “a leftist Marxist”.
Whoever wrote the letter said they didn’t see the sign until after leaving the restaurant, spending more than $ 100 and leaving a “generous tip”.
The letter also has a handwritten part that expresses disappointment. La Carreta decided to show a sign “that offends and disregards Christianity and America”.
That was when Medina, who says he is willing to accept things, published them on social media.
He wrote on Facebook that he was not upset or scared. He said he was standing by his shield and the letters only encourage him to keep going. “Si ladran es porque vamos avanzando”, he wrote, and said: “If they bark, it means that we are moving forward.”On Instagram, he wrote, “We’re sorry your burrito had to get political, but it was the only way you’d listen.”
But it was the four words at the end of both posts that went viral: “No love, no tacos.”
And the phrase took off and became the restaurant’s new slogan.
“I’m someone who takes something negative and tries to make it ten times more positive,” he said. “If you don’t want us, you should balance your ideals and comments with the food you eat.”
Turn a sign into a movement
It didn’t take long for people to respond and even request t-shirts with the slogan on them.
Maria Gonzalez, who calls herself La Carretta’s biggest fan, applauds the restaurateur.
“We live in a country where we should be united and think of our neighbors,” she said.
Medina did what any savvy businessman would do: he copyrighted it and began selling T-shirts and other branded goods to help fund a scholarship to the local community college.
And he paid for a large billboard that reads “No Love, No Tacos” near his restaurant, which dwarfs the mark that originally caused the controversy.
Medina didn’t stop there and decided to use the slogan to encourage people to vote in the upcoming elections.
He is no stranger to politics. In the last peak season, some Democratic hopefuls made an election campaign freeze in La Carreta, including Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro and Tom Steyer.
He says he would welcome any Republican candidate whose values match his own.
La Carreta is a busy place, the two chefs in the kitchen work in a small space with acrobatics and carefully bring their loyal customers with tacos, nachos, enchiladas and other Mexican specialties.
On a final Sunday in early October, the tables were full as part of the social distancing restrictions. The customers were almost all white. According to the Census Bureau, 30% of the city’s 26,666 residents are of Hispanic descent.
La Carreta even gained national attention last year when The Food Network named its California Burrito one of the best in the United States. “It’s nothing really complicated,” said Medina of its basic ingredients like rice, beans, and avocado, plus a choice of beef, chicken, or pork. Of course, you can also make it vegetarian.
Medina has picked up on the slogan’s popularity and created a new website dedicated to making Election Day a national holiday. He practices what he preaches.
“My goal is to make the elections as easy as possible,” says Medina. “I will close on election day and not only pay my employees, but also participate in the elections voluntarily.”