Pizza por pesos

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jan 15 14:30:03 UTC 2007

>>From the NYTimes,  January 15, 2007

Pizza Chain Takes Pesos, and Complaints

DALLAS, Jan. 14 Jose Ramirez and two friends stopped by a Pizza Patron
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 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. Its my first time here.

The employees at this Pizza Patron 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 companys 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 Patron, 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.  Were

The Latino population is significant and its important, Mr. Swad
continued. Its here to stay. The United States is not going to be like it
used to be; its 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 Patron, hired bilingual staff members and added items like
La Mexicana, a pizza that includes spicy chorizo sausage and jalapenos.
Pizza Patron 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. Mark Krikorian, executive
director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, a group that
seeks to limit immigration, said he was concerned that Hispanics could
create a parallel mainstream in the United States. Its a trivial example,
but Hispanics now have their own pizza chain, Mr.  Krikorian said. Its a
consequence of having too many people arrive from a single foreign
culture, and may well reflect a kind of cultural secession. John
Echeveste, a co-founder of the Hispanic Public Relations Association, said
he did not see the peso drive as a major business trend, but he did
consider it a symbolic acknowledgment of the importance of the large and
growing Hispanic market.

Mexicans are spending U.S. dollars on their side of the border and vice
versa, Mr. Echeveste said. It works both ways. From a marketing
perspective you don't really look at whether those people are illegal or
not, you look at whether they have money. Brent A. Wilkes, national
executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, an
advocacy group, said the reaction of the e-mailers to the pizza promotion
disturbed him. No one is trying to dis the U.S. dollar or offend U.S.
citizens, Mr.  Wilkes said. Its time that the vast majority of Americans
stand up and say, This is hate speech; it should not be tolerated.

The Pizza Patron on Ross Avenue in East Dallas is a few doors down from
Casa Latina Cassettes and CDs and a Fiesta supermarket. Accordion music
from the Mexicana satellite radio station blares from tinny speakers above
the door. They've been bringing in the old, old, old kinds of pesos, said
Jose Palacios, 31, the stores general manager. Those out-of-circulation
bills are not accepted, and banks offer a slightly better rate than the
chains set price of 12 pesos to the dollar. Its for convenience, Mr.
Palacios said. Most of Mexicos people, they go in December to Mexico to
celebrate and be with family. They come back and say, Oh, I've got 200
pesos; what do I do with it?

Just before 8 p.m., the phone rang with another boycott announcement. Next
thing you know, were going to be raising Mexicos flag, the caller
complained. Jorge Delgado and Derek Byerly, surgical support technicians
dressed in hospital scrubs, stopped by on their dinner break. I'm going to
buy it with pesos, joked Mr. Delgado, 20, as he opened the door. He and
Mr. Byerly, 27, who is black, like to tease each other about racial
stereotypes, he said. But like almost all Pizza Patron customers, Mr.
Delgado paid with dollars. The next day, Juan Rodriguez, a maintenance
worker, picked up a pepperoni and mushroom pizza for lunch.

I can pay with pesos? he asked in Spanish. Mr. Rodriguez, 43, had been to
Mexico two weeks ago. I'm going to Mexico a lot of times; its better for
me, he said of the peso promotion, switching to English. He said he did
not understand the controversy: I don't know what is the problem.


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