Restaurant chain closes locations after employees refuse to fill orders for police officers

"While no one was fired last night and if they want it, everyone’s job remains intact, we understand emotions are high."

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
SUBSCRIBE
/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

An Ohio-based restaurant chain's decision to close several locations after a small group of employees refused to fulfill an order for law enforcement officials has been met with both praise and criticism from customers.

On Monday, the Polaris location of a Condado Tacos in Columbus received a large catering order from the Ohio State Highway Patrol department. Amid national demonstrations protesting police brutality, three employees told management that they felt "uncomfortable" filling the order. According to a representative from the taco chain, the employees got into a "heated discussion with management" and, after given the choice not to complete the order, walked out of the restaurant.

Though some employees later claimed they had been fired by the chain, Condado Tacos disputed that claim and took to social media Tuesday to announce it would temporarily be closing several Columbus locations to address the issue.

In a statement posted to Instagram Tuesday, the taco chain (which operates almost 20 locations), addressed the evolving situation.

"Management communicated that any team members who were uncomfortable did not have to work on the order," the chain said. "A few team members chose not to complete their work shifts."

The chain explained that the officers did eventually receive their order and also pledged that it would be making "donations and other efforts that we are making to support movements and efforts to achieve racial equality."

On Monday night, Jake Widdowson, who claimed to be a former Condado Tacos employee, took to Twitter to share that they had been fired following the incident.

"today me and my AKM were fired from Condado by the district manager for refusing to make 500 tacos for the highway patrol. I regret nothing," Widdowson posted.

When reached by TODAY, a representative from Condado Tacos denied Widdowson's claims (and reiterated that no employee had been fired this week), but did expand on the situation.

"Because we understand that emotions and tensions are raw right now, we offered those employees the option to sit out making that order, without repercussion, while other team members handled it. Because of their principles and feelings, they chose not to complete their work shifts and left the restaurant. We respect their feelings, and their right to remove themselves from the situation," the emailed statement read.

The representative continued: "We did not fire these team members. We want to make it clear that they are welcome to return to work, if that is their choice, but they must understand that Condado Tacos is an inclusive business and that we will continue to serve everyone, including law enforcement."

People on social media have expressed mixed reactions to the chain's handling of the incident, as well as the restaurant's public support for Black Lives Matter.

"I don’t view the refusal to serve cops any differently than I would refusal to serve a certain ethnicity or certain sexual preference. It’s flat out wrong. All is discrimination, it can’t go one way without it going the other," one person commented on Instagram.

"i used to love you guys but you really missed the mark on this. I’m super disappointed," said another.

Others said they felt the chain was doing the right thing under the circumstances.

"Another reason why we LOVE your business so much," said one commenter.

In addition to addressing the incident on Instagram, Condado Tacos reiterated its commitment to providing a safe environment for employees and customers of all backgrounds.

"Condado was built as a place for everyone, without judgment or fear. A place where originality and being unique are embraced. We are also a family that cares for and about each other," the post began. "From the first day we opened our doors, we have included all people as employees and as guests in the Condado world. We want to be clear that we stand against racism — always have and always will."

A reopening date for the shuttered restaurants has not yet been disclosed, but the company said it hopes the temporary closures "allow room for conversation between our team."

EDITOR'S NOTE: (June 4, 2020, 10:20 a.m. EST): This story has been updated with additional information and a statement from Condado Tacos.