Popular New Orleans coffee shop chain PJ’s Coffee says it has “removed” a local franchisee who sent a derogatory message in response to NBA star Lebron James’s social media post calling for the protection of young Black women and men. James has long used his voice and platform to advocate for social change and justice, spotlight the Black Lives Matter movement, and speak out on behalf of victims of police brutality.
Franchisee Stephen Bruno Jr. replied on Tuesday, May 4, to James’s post — which simply read “Protect our young Black women and men” — with “Eat a [eggplant emoji],” a thin veil for its apparent degrading and diminishing meaning. Bruno’s reply was called out on Twitter Tuesday night by user Kenn Barnes, who identified Bruno as a PJ’s franchisee, in a post that eventually racked up more than 600 retweets. PJ’s responded Wednesday, May 5, in its own tweets, saying that the “words used by Stephen Bruno Jr. were inappropriate and uncalled for” and that Bruno “has been removed as a franchisee from the locally-owned and operated franchise location.”
New Orleans’ PJ Coffee Franchisee, Stephen Bruno, says to “Eat a [d*ck]” in response to “Protect our Young Black Women & Men!” from @KingJames. pic.twitter.com/IKblP083Ph— Kenn Barnes, ESQ. (@kennbarnes) May 3, 2021
removed as a franchisee from the locally owned and operated franchise location, to read more about how PJ’s Coffee is standing together, please visit our website at https://t.co/j0QBzDNYmE.— PJ's Coffee (@pjscoffee) May 5, 2021
Bruno and his brother Roy Bruno own and operate a PJ’s at 630 Chartres Street in the French Quarter. As pointed out by commenters responding to PJ’s tweets, it’s unclear what “removed” means in this case — it could mean fired or temporarily removed from the position, or that he will simply no longer serve as a “face” of the shop but remain a silent partner. Eater has reached out to PJ’s and its public relations representative for further clarification regarding the removal and will update this post if we hear back.
PJ’s recently embarked on a massive expansion in the Southern U.S., aiming to open 28 shops in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the next three years. Most recently, the company opened two locations in Dallas, Texas.