BORDENTOWN CITY – A couple who left an anti-immigrant note at a New Jersey cafe Thursday night paid cash, so the staff doesn’t know their names.
But even if Under the Moon Cafe owner Santiago Orosco did learn who reportedly wrote “Don’t Tip Immigrants!!!” on the back of their check, he said he wouldn’t out them publicly.
“I would have tried to reach them to say, ‘You need to apologize to my server. And don’t come here.'”
Orosco, who’s owned the Farnsworth Avenue restaurant for 13 years, learned about the incident on Friday morning, after he saw his employee’s Facebook post with a photo of the receipt.
“I was furious. Why would anybody act like that?” Orosco said while sitting at the back booth of his rustic restaurant as the aroma of garlic bread greeted a modest Monday lunch crowd. “If someone would have come and said, ‘I don’t respect immigrants,’ I wouldn’t have agreed with them, but at least we could have a conversation.
“Don’t be a coward. If you are going to be a bigot, be proud of it.”
After asking his server for her permission, Orosco posted the customers’ check on the restaurant’s Facebook page.That post went viral, and has been shared and commented on hundreds of times.
The restaurant received a lot of support, including a visit from freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, Orosco said.
More: Duke professor sparks online outrage after telling Chinese students to only speak English
More: My immigrant-owned small business would hire Americans. Trump’s proposal would keep it closed.
But there’s also been more negativity. On Monday, Orosco said he was shaken by “hate calls,” including one from a person who said, “tell your boss that all immigrants are squatters and that homosexuality is a mental disease.”
In his Facebook post, Orosco had shared that he is both an immigrant — his family emigrated from Argentina in 1991 — and gay, as he shared a message of tolerance.
“At Under the Moon we accept all people but not ignorance and discrimination,” he wrote in the post.
Orosco said the couple who dined at the restaurant on Thursday had been friendly to his server during the night, but believes they turned after they heard her speak Spanish to a fellow employee who helped her out.
As it turned out, the couple directed their ire at a server who isn’t even an immigrant.
“Her family is from Uruguay, but she is from here,” Orosco said. “They just heard her speaking Spanish. That’s the kind of ignorance and intellect you’re dealing with.”
The patrons, as their message suggested, left no tip.
“It’s not about the money,” Orosco said.
Nor is it about the publicity, he added, as some social-media commenters accused the restaurant staff of making up the story.
“It’s not a hoax,” he said. “Either you believe me or not.
“I think what we’re doing is saying that racism and discrimination is out there. Someone has to stand up to it.”
Unusual lunch rush
Geri Cipullo of Hamilton was meeting a friend from Shamong on Monday, so she suggested they get together at Under the Moon.
“I told my friend it was a nice place for ladies to meet for lunch,” Cipullo said. “I thought it would be a nice quiet lunch.”
By Monday morning, she saw reports about the discriminatory receipt note, but stuck with the lunch plan.
“When I pulled up, I saw the news vans. I thought, ‘This isn’t going to be good.'”
Indeed, reporters’ visits were so steady by lunchtime that a friend helping Orosco with hostess duties asked people coming through the door, “Are you here from the media or are you here for lunch?”
A number of patrons said they had not even heard about the anti-immigrant message and the viral Facebook post it sparked.
Ron Strykowsky of Mount Laurel, who was meeting friends at Under the Moon, said he learned about the incident when his wife checked Facebook in the morning.
“I was taken aback. People who do this job are doing it to make ends meet. I don’t care who it is … I thought it was rude and distasteful.”
Strykowsky said he had already planned to have lunch at Under the Moon before hearing the story, but now, he said, “I might leave a bigger tip.”
More: Oklahoma sorority sister booted after posting blackface video
More: Students appear to perform Nazi salute in ‘sickening’ photo, superintendent says
An immigrant’s story
Orosco said when his family came to this country 28 years ago, discrimination wasn’t an issue but “the hardships that immigrants go through that no one talks about” were.
“We never went without, but we never had a lot either. It brought my family closer together.”
He started in the restaurant business as a dishwasher and said he worked extremely hard, in part, “because I had to break with the stereotype that people have about Spanish people.”
Orosco became choked up when speaking about his path to success — and the events of the last few days.
“I wouldn’t have anything if not for this country,” he said. “When you see stuff like this, it really affects you.”
But he said he and other successful immigrants like himself have reason to hold their heads high.
“I came here with nothing. Now I am employing people here.”
More: ‘Blatant racism’: Ky. high school apologizes following backlash after video shows students surrounding indigenous marchers
More: Student who vandalized roommate’s property with racist slur also slowly poisoned him, prosecutors say
More: Students formed a human swastika on junior high campus, officials say
Follow Sheri Berkery on Twitter: @SheriBerkery