Casey Patten, co-founder of Taylor Gourmet, says he used his time with President Trump to talk about small business and the diverse workers who keep it humming. (Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency)

When Casey Patten received an invitation last week to attend a White House ceremony on Monday on small business, the co-founder of Taylor Gourmet spent the weekend working on his talking points to President Trump. Patten wanted to pitch an idea to increase the employment of workers ages 16 to 24. He wanted to cut down the red tape at the Small Business Administration.

And he wanted to talk about his “family.”

By “family,” Patten meant the 300-plus employees who work at the growing number of Taylor Gourmet locations around the D.C. area. More than half of those workers are immigrants or the American-born children of immigrants, Patten says. The co-founder of the sandwich chain told Trump that many of those immigrant employees are “nervous about the potential regulations coming down the road.”

When it comes to business, Patten says, he’s apolitical. Taylor Gourmet even has posted a billboard in Chinatown that states: Less Politics, More Hoagies. Patten says he didn’t vote in the last presidential election and didn’t even know if he was registered to vote. (Nexis records indicate that he registered as a Republican in the District of Columbia in 2002.)

“My political views don’t lean to one side or another,” he says.

But once Popville.com posted a short item on the photo-op from Monday’s ceremony, the Internet predictably cranked into hyperdrive, under the assumption that Patten and Taylor Gourmet had sold out to a president who has taken a hard line on immigrants and refugees.

The sandwich chain’s social media networks were bombarded with criticism, like this comment left on its Facebook page:

The Twitter hordes were equally merciless, despite the pleadings of celebrity chef José Andrés.

The waves of negativity almost crushed Patten’s spirit. He says he has cried many tears of happiness, but few in sadness. This morning was one of the latter. Patten was making the rounds, from one Taylor Gourmet store to another, to talk to employees and calm their fears over his White House appearance. At one point, he says he just started crying in the car. That’s when he decided to pick up the phone and call a reporter to explain his side of things — and why he decided to take up Trump’s invitation.


President Obama and his Small Business Administration chief Karen Mill, bottom left, meet with Taylor Gourmet owners David Mazza and Casey Patten, left, and other small business owners at the restaurant in 2012. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Patten says he didn’t want to use pointed language, but he wanted to make a point about the diversity of the restaurant industry, which employs about 1.8 million foreign-born workers, or 7.1 percent of the foreign-born American workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Patten wanted to politely tell  Trump that many of his employees are nervous about the future of America, and their place in it.

The hoagie man didn’t specifically mention the president’s recent orders stepping up enforcement of immigration laws and temporarily banning certain foreign nationals and refugees from entering the country, even though both have generated plenty of fear and protest around the world.

Patten compares his White House appearance on Monday to his participation in a roundtable discussion with President Barack Obama in May 2012. In both instances, Patten was asked to offer his views on small business. Aside from the content of the meetings, the main difference was that the Trump discussion occurred in the White House, while the roundtable took place at the Taylor Gourmet location on 14th Street NW.

Patten was also invited to a ceremony in early 2014 when Obama nominated a new chief for the Small Business Administration; during the ceremony, Obama singled out the success story of Taylor Gourmet.

How did Trump respond to Patten’s seven-minute speech?

Patten says Trump asked whether technology was taking jobs away from workers in the restaurant industry. Patten had a quick response: that the restaurant industry is the people.

“What is a restaurant company that strips all the amazing diverse people in it?” Patten says he told Trump.

The president, Patten says, moved on to the next person without comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the 1.8 million foreign-born workers represent 7.1 percent of the American workforce. They represent 7.1 percent of the foreign-born American workforce. The story has been updated.