Denver eatery draws anger over not hosting Romney campaign

Oscar Aguirra, whose family owns Rosa Linda’s on the west side of Denver, said after saying no to a campaign visit from presidential candidate Mitt Romney, they’ve been the target of a massive hate campaign, which is something foreign for the family that gives away thousands of meals during the holidays and is filled with community-minded people. Enlarge photo

HYOUNG CHANG/The Denver Post

Oscar Aguirra, whose family owns Rosa Linda’s on the west side of Denver, said after saying no to a campaign visit from presidential candidate Mitt Romney, they’ve been the target of a massive hate campaign, which is something foreign for the family that gives away thousands of meals during the holidays and is filled with community-minded people.

DENVER – The owners of a Denver restaurant have received death threats and angry phone calls and emails after they say they turned down a campaign visit by Mitt Romney.

Oscar Aguirre, who owns Rosa Linda’s Mexican Cafe with his parents, said the angry messages started within minutes of Westword, a Denver alternative weekly newspaper, posting a story about their decision Tuesday, the same day that the Republican presidential candidate stopped by a Chipotle Mexican Grill for lunch. Aguirre said some callers mistakenly thought they had refused to serve Romney.

He said Romney, and anyone else, is welcome to dine at the restaurant, a landmark in the now-trendy Highlands neighborhood known for its free Thanksgiving dinner for the needy, but he didn’t want it used as a campaign stop.

“We didn’t want to be in this controversy. Mitt Romney can come in tomorrow and have lunch with us,” he said Friday, noting that Romney staff members have eaten there several times.

The restaurant also got attention for turning down a visit from George Bush when he was running for the presidency in 1999. Aguirre said he was a registered Republican then. He’s since switched to a Democrat but said he doesn’t always vote with the party and wore a purple shirt for the debate.

A Romney campaign spokesman told The Denver Post it only asked the restaurant to join the campaign and host occasional events and regrets the anger being directed at the owners.

Aguirre first announced his decision in August on Facebook, saying that Romney supporters asked them to host a campaign stop partly because the restaurant owner’s parents are Mormon, as is the candidate. He did wade into politics, noting that his mother thought they were better off under Bill Clinton, but thanked the Romney campaign for thinking of them.

Aguirre posted an apology and explanation on Facebook this week and, since then, he said calls of support have been outpacing the angry ones. He said customers he hasn’t seen in years have returned, and a woman from Ireland offered to donate $25 to the Thanksgiving dinner.