- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2015

MILLIKEN, Colo. — The only thing Steve Adams knew about the Rubbin Buttz BBQ is that its Hispanic owners were hosting “White Appreciation Day” on Thursday, but that was enough to persuade him to make the hourlong drive for lunch.

“It’s nice to know someone else doesn’t think that we’re the enemy,” said Mr. Adams, who lives about 50 miles away in Aurora, as he and his friend Art Babic waited for a table in the packed restaurant.

“We’re all the same,” he said. “It’s only in more recent years that we’ve got everybody separated. So if this is bringing everybody together, it’s a good thing.”

Not everyone has been as positive about White Appreciation Day, judging from the social media outcry, but Edgar Antillon, who bought the eatery in January with Miguel Jiminez, said the response has been overwhelmingly positive despite the online carping.

“What I’ve learned is that a lot more people understand what we’re trying to do,” Mr. Antillon said. “There’s still a lot racial tension, but people understand that we’re all Americans, we all need to live together and just work together as Americans, and love and respect each other.”

The barbecue joint drew a busy lunch business Thursday as customers and media crowded the 12-table restaurant in Milliken, a quaint town of 6,800 about 40 miles north of Denver and another 7 miles from Interstate 25.

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Mr. Antillon acknowledged that attracting customers to his out-of-the-way eatery was part of the equation but added, “I didn’t think it was going to be this huge.”

The mood at the restaurant was upbeat — Mr. Antillon promised a 10 percent discount to all customers in celebration of White Appreciation Day — but there was also tension, given that the owners had received anonymous bomb and death threats leading up to the event.

A police bomb-sniffing dog swept the area and the restaurant before it opened, and Milliken police officers, augmented by several from the Colorado Mounted Rangers, patrolled the area on foot.

“We’re just trying to keep the flow of traffic going out there,” Milliken Police Chief Benito Garcia said. “We’re taking [precautions] because of the bomb threats. We do take that seriously.”

There were rumors that protesters might turn up and block the restaurant’s entrance on Broad Street, the town’s main drag, but none had turned up as of midday, the chief said.

Mr. Antillon and his eight-member crew scrambled to fill orders during the lunch rush at the casual, seat-yourself restaurant decorated with flags and Second Amendment messages, but he took a break to receive a framed portrait of a military color guard from Steve Walls of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Mr. Antillon has been accused mainly on social media of being racist, but he said the idea behind White Appreciation Day was to create an event for whites similar to Black Appreciation Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.

He said the idea started as a joke. He and Mr. Jiminez were sitting at the restaurant talking about how there’s no White History Month, and decided to do something about it.

“I’m not part of a Hispanics-only club, I’m not part of a Latinos-only club, I’m part of an American club, and that’s what we’re part of — the United States of America,” Mr. Antillon said.

Those who predicted that the event would morph into a white supremacist confab were proved wrong: The clientele was a mix of white and Hispanic customers, all of whom received 10 percent off their tabs.

One man in the takeout line wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag and the words “Support Your Local Kracker.”

“I’m glad somebody finally did it,” he said of White Appreciation Day.

Susannah Williams of Milliken said she made a point of patronizing the restaurant Thursday because she was upset by the virulent criticism of the event on social media.

“Our town is a really nice place, and I think we should stand up for our town,” Ms. Williams said as she wiped away a tear.

Several customers complimented the owners for their clever marketing scheme, which drew national media attention after they posted a sign announcing the event last month on the restaurant’s front window.

“I thought it was a cute gimmick,” Mr. Babic said.

Jarron Cito, a regular customer, called it “pretty cool.”

Lunch patrons defended Mr. Antillon and Mr. Jiminez against accusations of racism, pointing out that both are of Mexican descent.

“I don’t think it’s racist at all. The owner’s not white,” said Ryan Flynn of Johnstown. “He’s just trying to make it equal for everyone.”

After lunch, he and his friend Zach Courrejou took photos of each other beside the sign announcing White Appreciation Day.

“I thought it was a good idea to get business booming,” said Mr. Courrejou of Johnstown. “It was really popping in there.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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