Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Sad Postscript - The El Coyote Boycott

According to several management-level sources at El Coyote, Marjorie Christofferson has submitted her resignation, both as a member of the restaurant's corporate board and as an employee. "Margie submitted her resignation today," manager Billy Schoeppner told me last Thursday. "I just got off the phone with her. She was crying."

This is the emotional result of the boycott of El Coyote launched by elements of the local gay community in response to Margie's personal, $100 donation to the "Yes on Proposition 8" campaign. So, the question is, does this mean the boycott's over?

During the largest protest against the restaurant, I asked many of the 200 protesters picketing enthusiastically on the sidewalk during prime business hours what they were after: what were their "demands" were before they would return to El Coyote? "Margie needs to resign," was the unanimous answer. So now she has. But various posts on other boards about the issue have expressed the opinion that "as long as ANY of the money I spend at El Coyote goes to the Mormon church, I won't spend my money there." It has been asserted on some other boards that: Margie is secretly the owner, because she's listed as the corporate contact with the state of California; that her family is Mormon, and because it's a family business, that means 10% of any money spent there is tithed to the church. I did some deeper digging, interviewing members of the staff, family, and longtime friends. Here's the real scoop.

"El Coyote is not Mormon. Margie's family isn't Mormon. They're all drinkers, except Margie!" Billy repeated to me over three days, over and over again. I thought this curious; Mormonism tends to run in the family. How did she end up the only one? Billy asked another manager, Larry; Larry asked Margie's husband Chris. Word came back. There were three Salisbury siblings: Blanche and the twin brothers George and Jim. Blanche and her husband founded El Coyote; George founded El Cholo. Jim married Margie's mother, Grace, and when her sister Blanche passed away, ownership of the restaurant passed to Grace. One of Margie's older cousins attended Brigham Young University in Utah, where he converted to Mormonism. Margie, at her cousin's recommendation, also went to BYU -- where she also converted. Jim (a life-long drinker and smoker) converted to Mormonism just before he died. Margie's cousin later left the church, leaving Margie (aside from, possibly, her two daughters) as the only practicing Mormon in the family.

As far as Margie's recent corporate involvement, El Coyote is run by a small, family-held corporation. Grace is its president and CEO. Margie has functioned as its Secretary. That's why she was the listed contact with the State of California. When she gave her notice as an employee, she also submitted her resignation from the board to Grace.

So there it is. Margie's out the door. I wonder who will be coming back in? The only possible rationale for continuing to boycott the restaurant (aside from not liking the food -- de gustibus non disputandem est, is I'll say about that) is that she might inherit a portion of it someday. True, she's the current owner's daughter. She also has siblings, so (and I am not, nor do I want to be, privy to anyone's will over this) maybe she'll get a piece of it someday. Is that justification for a boycott? Should your livelihood be imperiled for something one of your nieces, or nephews, or children did, or might do in the future? That seems absurd to me.

El Coyote has given thousands of dollars over the last few weeks to GLBT causes and charities. The restaurant is now -- believe it or not -- being boycotted by various right-wing groups for doing so. Mormon wards as far away as San Diego have sent groups to the restaurant in support of the restaurant's supposedly "anti-gay" policies. But of course, those Mormon's ain't drinking margaritas. Business is off dramatically, even considering the current economy. Waiters and waitresses -- many of them gay -- are having their shifts cut back.

The gay community has made an important, and nation-wide, point about civil rights, separation of church and state, and the power of the gay pocketbook. El Coyote has done everything it can -- and Margie has given up her lifelong job -- to make amends.

So could someone please declare victory achieved, and the boycott over? My local diner's in trouble.

Have a Bibimbap-y Christmas - La Korea @ Farmer's Market

Los Angeles Farmers Market
6333 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA

Stall # 510
(323) 936-3930

If you're like me, and you live in Hollywood, you're going to be spending a little more time at The Grove than you'd like. Schlepping from the Apple Store to Crate and Barrel, bags and shopping list akimbo. That case you got for a stocking stuffer just won't fit your mate's old iPod, you're considering a new iPod (your household's third) Your blood sugar is dropping, blood pressure rising. You look around for Grove food: all too sit-down-y. You go to the historic Farmer's Market, but you're not sure what to grab, quickly, that won't knock you on your shopping ass for the crucial next two hours.

I recommend La Korea, at the northeastern end of the market, near the Gumbo Pot and Dupar's. If you know me you know I loves the Korean food, and while this is several miles from the wonders of Koreatown, it totally satisfies the lunch jones in a way that few other cuisines can. Its menu is reassuringly small; not too many stress-inducing choices to make (which is my main complaint with Loteria... I never seem to quite get what I expected, and other people's plates look so much better), and all in the $6-8 range. The La Korea menu features grilled meat, either chicken, pork, or beef, served with steamed rice and choice of two side dishes. The side dishes are right there, so you can just point. Or, perhaps you're new to Korean food? If so, I recommend the bibimbap. Don't be scared by all those b's, it's pronounced exactly the way its spelled.

Bibimbap is literally "stirred meal" in Korean. It's a bowl of steamed rice with an array of ingredients on top; think of a fresh-Mex style "burrito bowl" but with Korean meats and veggies, instead of rice, beans, lettuce and guacamole. In a Korean home, the rice would likely be topped whatever is leftover from last night's meal. In restaurants, it's often a selection of the Korean banchan, or side dishes, and that's the case here: cucumber salad, julienned carrots, bean sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce. It really should have a fried egg atop it all... ask, and I'm sure you shall receive. I forgot to ask, and my photo model arrived egless.

While you're waiting for your meal, it's only few steps over the EB Wine Bar, where they are always cheerfully pouring some microbrew draft beers and well-chosen wines by the glass, for 5 or 6 bucks. I suggest you treat yourself to one, you've earned it and it'll go really well with your lunch. That's a Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir...

Your bibimbap bowl is served with the veggies and meats arranged like pie slices atop the rice, along with your choice of tender, thin, freshly grilled beef (the ubiquitous, soy and sesame seed-seasoned beef bulgogi that is to Korea what carne asada is to Mexico) or chicken. They'll give ya pork if you wish (as pictured below), or, rumor has it, grill up anything you bring them from Marconda's the famous butchers next door. I'm totally doing that next time I visit!

Of course an all-veggie, or veggie and tofu, version is available, too. Be sure to take a small tub of the chili paste-sauce from the counter. At your table, drizzle sauce on your bowl (don't worry, it's quite mild) and stir it all up. You've just created a light but filling dish, fulfilled your vegetable-servings requirement for the day, and added some delicious grilled protein to boot. And you've now partaken of one of the staple dishes of Korean cuisine.

My only gripe is that the chili paste is not nearly hot enough for my taste. I get around this by borrowing from the extensive selection of bottled heat at the end of the Gumbo Pot counter. True, La Korea is not quite up to what you'll find in Koreatown, but it beats the hell out of Cheesecake Factory. And if you eat here enough, you might save enough money left over for that third iPod.