With about 80,000 people converging in Dallas for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, one local restaurant decided to send a message to the flood of visitors.
“Thanks for visiting Ellen’s!” the downtown restaurant printed on the bottom of its receipts Friday morning. “A portion of this week’s proceeds will be donated to organizations dedicated to implementing reasonable and effective gun regulations. Welcome to Dallas!”
Joe Groves, the owner of Ellen’s, which serves Southern comfort food and all-day brunch, posted a photo of the receipt on Facebook on Friday, the Dallas Observer reported. He told the Dallas Morning News and Eater that he decided to add the message after convention attendees had insulted some of his employees with racially charged comments, which Groves called “demoralizing.”
“I’m making a list of the vile, racist, moronic conversations overheard from NRA attendees eating at the restaurant,” he reportedly wrote on Facebook. “They don’t even speak softly.” Customers allegedly asked Hispanic servers, “Do you keep your illegals in the back?” Groves told the Dallas Morning News, and said to black employees, “You don’t sound black. Where are you from, India?”
It was a subtle but daring move in a gun-friendly city packed with even more gun enthusiasts than usual. And it didn’t take long for the NRA to notice.
In a message to its more than 666,000 Twitter followers Friday night, the NRA wrote: “Steer clear of Ellen’s in downtown Dallas! Why go there when there are so many other great choices.”
The tweet, which had been shared nearly 6,000 times by early Monday morning, prompted a barrage of comments on Twitter and Yelp from NRA supporters calling for a boycott of the restaurant.
“Boycott Ellen’s!” one comment on Yelp read. “Don’t try to force legislation that is complete disregard for my right while selling greasy food or soft drinks that you make profit off of. … Put them out of business.”
Another person wrote: “Decent food, but I don’t need the people who fry my eggs deciding my right to bear arms. This is Texas, not California. Good luck with that!”
Groves told BuzzFeed News the restaurant also received phone calls from people saying that “they’re going to shoot the place up.”
Only about an hour after the NRA posted its tweet, Ellen’s appeared to change its message.
“What a day this has been!” Ellen’s posted on Facebook. “We want to give some clarification to an issue that has caused quite a bit of confusion and anxiety.”
The restaurant wrote that it had not expected the two words “reasonable and effective” to be interpreted as support for gun control measures.
“The mistake was an honest one. The opposite is true. We support the Constitution, including the 2nd Amendment, 100%. And like the NRA, we also support finding solutions to the senseless killings that happen much too frequently. We believe those two things are completely compatible.”
Ellen’s wrote that after a “courteous and informative conversation with a customer, we realized how our message could be misconstrued and we moved quickly to clarify. By then, the situation had become viral.”
The restaurant posted a photo of a new variation of the message on its receipts. It changed the wording to say it would be donating to organizations “dedicated to implementing reasonable and effective gun regulations that protect citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights and also help reduce needless gun violence.”
Groves told Eater the restaurant staff has been “affected by this cause” since July 2016, when five police officers were killed in a shooting in Dallas. “Those guys were friends of ours, came into the restaurant, we knew them personally,” Groves said.
Ellen’s hosted a roundtable discussion about the shooting with members of the Dallas Police Department. On Friday, the restaurant reposted a link to a video of the conversation, saying it was an “appropriate time” to share it again.
“I’m far from extreme, and I’m pro-Second Amendment and pro gun rights,” Groves told Eater, adding that he wants “people to be able to live long lives, in school especially … this is not that controversial.”
The NRA continued to lash out at Ellen’s, and at news reports about the restaurant, throughout the weekend.
The restaurant’s receipt message was not the only protest aligned with the NRA convention. The words “NRA enables domestic terrorists” were projected onto the convention center ahead of the annual meeting. #NoRA, a coalition backed by celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Amy Schumer, hosted a rally protesting the NRA near the convention. Among those gathered at the protest were the parents of some of the students killed in February in Parkland, Fla.
Despite the call for a boycott of Ellen’s, the restaurant’s message appeared to give it a publicity boost among critics of the NRA. It drew support on social media from leaders of the March for Our Lives movement, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, and from celebrities such as actress Debra Messing.
It also drew a slew of positive reviews on Yelp, with some saying they specifically visited the restaurant because of the publicity surrounding its message to the NRA.
“In town visiting fam before cheer finals next week and Ellen’s was all over my twitter feed,” one reviewer wrote. “Had some time free so we checked it out. … There was a bit of a wait (I think the viral thing boosted business. plus Sunday) but so worth it. We’ll definitely be back!”
Another wrote: “I’ve had pleasure of brunch, lunch & dinner at Ellen’s since moving to Dallas last summer. Each experience was so nice! Now that I know Ellen’s supports educating Americans about safe gum use and reducing gun violence, I will be back every chance I get. Thank you, Ellen’s, for sharing Southern hospitality and class in all the right ways!”
On Sunday night, Ellen’s posted another message on Facebook, wishing the NRA convention attendees “safe and easy travels” home from Dallas.
“We look forward to continuing the conversation about how to make the country we all love the best it can possibly be,” the restaurant wrote. “With that in mind, here is the message we placed on our receipts today.”
“Love one another,” the message on the receipt read. “Protect the vulnerable. Find common ground. Say ‘yes’ to peace.”
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