Local restaurant family getting death threats after flap over 'Romney visit'

Customers outraged by hate calls show up in force

DENVER - After getting death threats and countless hate calls on Thursday, the owners of Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe were swamped Friday with customers who came from across Colorado to show their support.

The line of customers extended out onto the sidewalk.

"We live way out east by the airport," said Natalie Jones. "But we drove all the way over to have some lunch and show our support."

Jones was among hundreds of customers outraged by reports of the death threats.

The hate calls and emails came from people who were under the impression that the Aguirre family refused to serve Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Oscar Aguirre told 7NEWS that they never refused to serve him.  He said two former missionaries dropped by the restaurant in August and asked if the family would be willing to host a campaign event for Romney.

The Aguirres said Romney could eat there, but they didn't want the restaurant used for a campaign stop.

Earlier this week, Romney stopped to eat at a Chipotle restaurant.  The following day there was a story in Westword that said Romney stopped at Chipotle... but is not invited to Rosa Linda's.

The hate calls started pouring in. Many of them from out of state.

One came in the middle of Aguirre's on camera interview with 7NEWS. He put the call on his speaker phone.

The angry caller said, "Take you and all your B******s back to Mexico you (expletive) piece of crapola."

In addition to death threats, Aguirre said the family-run restaurant has had to deal with canceled orders and reservations.

"Two people ordered $150 worth of food for lunch to be picked up (Wednesday). They called later and said, 'Oh, you're the one who doesn't want Romney in your business' and they canceled their orders, even though the food had been prepared," he told 7NEWS.

Aguirre said he also has had numerous reservations made through Open Table, an online reservation service.

"We have to pay Open Table for every reservation made and must hold those tables," Aguirre said. "None of them showed up."

When 7NEWS visited the restaurant just before noon Thursday, there were only a handful of customers inside.

Aguirre wrote on the restaurant's Facebook page that "people are calling us telling us we are racist -- that they hope we go out of business."

The Romney Campaign responded later that day.

"The Romney Campaign condemns this type of behavior in any situation. It's unfortunate that incorrect information being circulated has led these community leaders to receive these threats," said Chris Walker, a Romney Campaign spokesman.

Walker also reiterated that the Romney campaign did not contact Rosa Linda's about a Romney stop there.

The Aguirres said it was some people from their church, who support Romney, who made the request.

Among the customers eating at the restaurant on Friday were a group of Romney campaign staffers.

One of them, Ellie Wallace, told 7NEWS "We hate that it's happened and we wanted to come out for lunch today and show our support."

Wallace said that had it not been for Westward linking Romney's Chipotle appearance to the Aguirre's August decision to not host a campaign event, "None of this would have happened."

Patty Calhoun, the editor of Westword told 7NEWS, "It sounds like the Romney campaign is blaming the messenger."  She called it "a bunch of malarkey" and wrote a column about the controversy, saying some readers misunderstood the Westword story.

Oscar Aguirre told 7NEWS that he wanted to issue a public apology to Mitt Romney.

"Mr. Romney had nothing to do with this," Aguirre said. "He's a nice man."

When asked about the tenor of phone calls and emails on Friday, Aguirre said, "When someone from Ireland calls me and says they heard what's going on, it shows that people care."

Aguirre then put his hands to his face.

It was clear that the positive phone calls and customer turnout Friday had as much, if not more, of an emotional impact than the negativity the family faced Thursday.

Initially the family was worried that the negativity would impact their ability to feed people this Thanksgiving

"Last year, we fed 5,500 free meals (video below). This year, we may serve above 6,000 free meals. Please let the American public know that we are not racist or bigots. We are just a working family wanting to help our community and our country by serving those in need," he said, adding, "Please stop the hate."

The Denver restaurant has been in business for 27 years and is located at  2005 W. 33rd Ave.

Watch a video of Thanksgiving at Rosa Linda's from The Denver Post: