Julian Castro, Others React to Houston Restaurant Receiving Threats Over Mask Requirement

Political figures and community members responded to those responsible for threatening messages that a Texas food service establishment received after announcing its plans to continue enforcing COVID-19 mitigation protocols, despite the governor's plans to rescind statewide regulations.

Monica Richards, a co-owner at popular Houston Mexican restaurant Picos, told The Washington Post that people sent "horrific" messages to the establishment through social media and over the phone, some of which threatened to report staff members to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"People don't understand unless you're in our business what it felt like, how hard it was to go through everything we went though during COVID. For people to be negative toward us for trying to remain safe, so that this doesn't continue to happen, just makes zero sense to us," said Richards, one of Picos founders Arnaldo and Janice Richards' daughters, in comments to the Post.

The newspaper's report, published Saturday evening, elicited an immediate response from Texans, including Democrat Julian Castro, who served as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 until 2017, under former president Barack Obama's administration. He campaigned for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination during the most recent election season.

"Well @JoaquinCastrotx, it seems our state keeps making the news these days for all the wrong reasons," Castro wrote on Twitter, retweeting the Post's article about hateful reactions to Picos ongoing COVID-19 orders and tagging his twin brother, Texas Representative Joaquin Castro, in the social media post.

Well @JoaquinCastrotx, it seems our state keeps making the news these days for all the wrong reasons. https://t.co/mfh1IKCgOy

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) March 7, 2021

Joaquin Castro represents his state's 20th district in the U.S. House, encompassing San Antonio. The Democratic congressman urged local employers to continue permitting employees to wear face coverings in workplaces at their discretion last week, after Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate.

The governor's directive, which initially went into effect as Texas' COVID-19 cases surged over the summer, will formally end on March 10, when businesses are also permitted to resume operations at 100 percent of their respective capacities. Joaquin Castro joined numerous voices who criticized Abbott's decision to rescind mitigation protocols against public health officials' advice, calling the move "reckless and dangerous" and suggesting it was motivated by political goals instead of community welfare.

Governor Abbott’s failure to listen to science and medical advice will cost Texans their lives.

This decision is reckless and dangerous—and a desperate distraction from the Governor’s dereliction of duty during the power outages.

He’s putting politics above the people of Texas. pic.twitter.com/dMQI2c0e9K

— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) March 2, 2021

Picos confirmed its intentions to maintain previously instated public health orders, meant to reduce risks of COVID-19 transmission, in a Facebook post shared one day after Abbott announced the statewide mask mandate repeal. As Abbott's recent executive order states, businesses can continue to enforce mask requirements, as well as any other regulatory measures, as they see fit moving forward.

Julian Castro, Democrat, Texas
Julian Castro, a former Democratic presidential nominee who served as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during Barack Obama's administration, denounced the hateful community response to a Texas restaurant's decision to continue requiring face masks inside its establishment over the weekend. In the photograph above, Castro speaks at a campaign event with then-Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock on December 8, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

"With all of our hard work and combined community efforts we will continue to maintain table distancing and proper social distancing at Pico's," the restaurant announced on Wednesday. "We will require masks on every staff member and any customer walking into or around our establishment while not seated. We feel this decision is best to protect our employees, and guests alike and we kindly ask for your support in following these guidelines while visiting with us."

The Houston restaurant saw a wave of supportive sentiments surface on social media following the Post report's Saturday publication, with people praising the establishment itself, advocating for continued face mask protocols, and decrying the individuals who attempted to terrorize staff with immigration threats.

Before there’s any chance to make this country great, we have to start with being good. Let’s start with the baby steps of being better than we currently are. https://t.co/ykgFtRX80a

— Melvin E. Edwards (@edwards21228) March 6, 2021

Owner of @picosrestaurant says they've gotten some unpleasant messages from people after they said they would continue to follow the @CDCgov guidelines. Fortunately they've also gotten overwhelming support. Story on @KHOU pic.twitter.com/ZnwT0NY3TX

— Anayeli Ruiz (@AnayeliNews) March 6, 2021

Anyone who would want to sic ICE on Pico’s (or any other of H-Town’s stellar restaurants) doesn’t deserve to eat that killer cochinita pibil, sip on those smooth margs, or ever again taste that one-of-kind salsa verde. https://t.co/yGyT1r9es4

— Josh Schaffer (@JoshSchafferLaw) March 6, 2021

"Absolutely on board with Masks in restaurants!!!" one person tweeted, adding that Picos "rules."

Another called threats to the establishment "crazy" and noted that Picos "is a damn fine restaurant and they can do whatever they want."

Picos co-owner and lead chef Arnaldo Richards, acknowledged the outpouring of support given to his restaurant in comments to Newsweek on Sunday.

"While we did receive some disappointing reactions, the support from the community has been overwhelming," he said. "We appreciate Governor Abbott's position and will continue to keep measures in place for the safety of our guests and staff."