Italian restaurant cooks up controversy with ‘Black Olives Matter’ merchandise

Paisano’s Italian restaurant in Albuquerque is selling T-shirts and hats with the slogan “Black Olives Matter.”
Paisano’s Italian restaurant in Albuquerque is selling T-shirts and hats with the slogan “Black Olives Matter.” Facebook

What presumably started last month as a tongue-in-cheek promotional campaign for an Italian restaurant in New Mexico has erupted into a full-blown, foot-in-mouth controversy.

The owner of Paisano’s in Albuquerque added the phrase “Black Olives Matter” — a spin on Black Lives Matter — to a sign at the restaurant to sell a new tuna dish with black olive tapenade.

Paisano’s owner Rick Camuglia was excited when the dish sold well, and people started adding black olives to every dish they ordered, according to CNN.

Not everyone thought the word play was funny or clever, though.

The local chapter of the NAACP, Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore and scores of people online slammed Camuglia for trivializing a movement that sprang to life in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Camuglia brushed it all aside.

“I think if that offends some people, a statement about black olives, that somebody needs to reevaluate their politically correct meter,” Camuglia told KRQE in Albuquerque in July.

According to The Daily Beast, Camuglia agreed to remove the phrase from his marquee. But he’s doubled down now, selling T-shirts with the slogan for $20, and baseball caps for $25.

“The Slogan that started it all!” says the advertising. “Be a part of it instead of a bystander.”

And, the restaurant’s Facebook page mocks Wilmore with this: “Larry Wilmore's ‘Nightly Show’ on Comedy Central, the show that parodied us with Black Olives Matter, was canceled.”

News of the new merchandise line has folks fired up again.

“Many people are very much against any kind of usage of that term or playing on that term or punning that term because people's lives are at stake,” Finnie Coleman, an English professor at the University of New Mexico who's teaching a course on the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, told CNN.

Some people think the anger is much ado about nothing.

Camuglia told KOAT in Albuquerque that he’s just trying to get people’s attention and sell food, not stir up racial tensions.

“It’s gone so viral. We've gotten calls from Australia, Spain, France, you name it,” he told the TV station. “It's just something to do that's kind of fun. It's a little bit different than selling pasta.”