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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Idiocy in action

Allison V. Smith for The New York Times
Teresa Hernandez taking an order on Friday
at a Pizza Patrón in Dallas.

Pizza Chain Takes Pesos, and Complaints
Published: January 15, 2007

DALLAS, Jan. 14 — Jose Ramirez and two friends stopped by a Pizza Patrón here after work on Thursday for a carry-out dinner. Mr. Ramirez, his jeans dusted with white chalk from the construction site, ordered a Hawaiian and La Patrona — a large with the works.

The chain, which has 59 stores in five states, is trying to attract Latinos by using Spanish.

The chain is accepting pesos in a promotion.

The pies cost him almost 220 big ones. Pesos, that is.

Mr. Ramirez, 20, received his change in American coins and said he liked the chain’s new “Pizza por Pesos” promotion. He had been in the United States for 15 days — his home is in Guanajuato, Mexico — and he wanted to spend the last of his Mexican currency.

“I just arrived,” he said in Spanish, smiling nervously. “It’s my first time here.”

The employees at this Pizza Patrón in East Dallas, one of 59 in five Southwestern and Western states, were still puzzling over the conversion rates almost a week after the chain started accepting peso bills on Jan. 8.

But the promotion has already hit a nerve in the nationwide immigration debate. The company’s Dallas headquarters received about 1,000 e-mail messages on Thursday alone. Some were supportive, but many called the idea unpatriotic, with messages like, “If you want to accept the peso, go to Mexico!” There were even a few death threats.

Antonio Swad, president and founder of Pizza Patrón, said he was surprised by the outcry.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting ‘pizza for pesos’ to become a touchstone for the immigration issue,” Mr. Swad said. It was nothing more than an effort to “reinforce our brand promise to be the premier Latino pizza chain,” he said. “We’re businessmen.”

“The Latino population is significant and it’s important,” Mr. Swad continued. “It’s here to stay. The United States is not going to be like it used to be; it’s going to be different, and it has an opportunity to be better.”

Mr. Swad, who is Italian-Lebanese and was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, did not speak Spanish when he opened his first take-out pizzeria in Dallas in 1986. But he saw a business opportunity in the growing Latino minority in his neighborhood, and the way his customers struggled to order in English.

A year later he changed the name from Pizza Pizza to Pizza Patrón, hired bilingual staff members and added items like La Mexicana, a pizza that includes spicy chorizo sausage and jalapeños.

Pizza Patrón became a franchise in 2003, and same-store sales were up more than 34 percent in the most recent quarter compared with last year, Mr. Swad said.

From 10 to 15 percent of business at his five Dallas pizzerias has been in pesos, he said. Despite the criticism, he said he would continue the promotion until the end of February as planned.

Many Canadian businesses take US dollars for payment. So what is the big deal?

posted by Steve @ 12:07:00 AM

12:07:00 AM

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