Pizza parlor offers free pies to Spanish-speaking customers

6:22 AM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
The Pizza Place in Rocklin
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Ordering a pizza in Spanish has suddenly become a cultural hot button.

Pizza Patrón, a 104-unit, carry-out pizza chain headquartered in Dallas, is raising eyebrows both inside and outside the Latino community with a planned promotion to give away thousands of large pepperoni pizzas on the evening of June 5 to folks who order in Spanish.

It can be broken Spanish. It can be first-time Spanish. But it has to be Spanish.

The move comes at a time immigration and immigration reform remain simmering election-year issues. One in every six people in the U.S. is Latino, says the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2000 to 2010, the U.S. Hispanic population expanded from 35.3 million to 50.5 million.

Critics of the free pizza promo are lashing out - including some in the Latino community.

"Maybe they thought it was a cute thing to do, but I think it's discrimination," says Marcela Gomez, president of Hispanic Marketing Group, a Latino marketing firm in Nashville. "As an advertising agency, I would never recommend this to my client."

One conservative group doesn't like it, either. "It seems to punish people who can't speak Spanish, and I resent that," says Peter Thomas, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, which advocates English as the nation's spoken language. "In public areas, people should be speaking English, and that includes pizza parlors."

But Andrew Gamm, brand director at Pizza Patrón, says it's all about creating a buzz within the brand's target market: Hispanics. He says 70% of its customer base is Spanish-speaking. "It makes perfect sense for us," Gamm says. "We're trying to make our bond with the Hispanic community stronger."

But Pizza Patrón is no stranger to controversial promos. In 2007, it promoted that fact it would start accepting (and still does) Mexican pesos. That drew international attention, Gamm says, "and our executives received some death threats."

Gamm says the new promotion, which will last from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., is a product-sampling effort. "Because we sell a $4.99 large pizza, many people presume it's not good. So, sampling is one of the most successful mechanisms we have to build our customer base." Gamm says he expects to give away 80,000 pizzas.

Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for the advocacy group National Council of La Raza, says, "For people to get offended or upset at this seems a little bit silly. It doesn't preclude anybody. Anyone can say, 'por favor.' "

By Bruce Horovitz

USA Today

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