Robert Portogallo owns Portogallo Peppers N’at and yesterday, posted on Facebook a photo of Nazis with Wolf and Levine’s faces superimposed. Portogallo wrote on the post, “Thursday’s lunch special is the Gestapo Combo,” in reference to the name of Nazi Germany’s secret police. Portogallo’s post continued saying, “The Levinie Wienie and Wolfe Waffle Fries for $5.99. Political opinions are free.”
The post has since been deleted, but it racked up more than dozens of comments, shares and engagements before being deleted.
Braddock Mayor Chardaé Jones condemned Portogallo's public post. She called it offensive and said that “Braddock is better than this.” On Facebook, she wrote that she has tried on several occasions to hold a community forum with Portogallo, but he has just directed her to speak to his lawyer.
After City Paper published this story, Portogallo called CP to talk about the post.
He said the post was supposed to be humorous, but admits it was in poor taste. He says the post was taken down after being up for about 16 hours and that the restaurant never went through with the advertised special.
“Some people got offended, so I took it down,” says Portogallo. “It wasn’t meant to be offensive. It was just frustration I had being in the restaurant and bar industry. Frustration, I guess, I channeled in the wrong way.”
Portogallo said that it has been hard to find people to come to work because of unemployment benefits. For the beginning of the pandemic, unemployment benefits were $600 a week more than some restaurant workers might make, but those benefits expired three weeks ago.
Portogallo also said the reason he didn’t take down the post right away on Thursday was because the restaurant was very busy. When asked if he would be open to a federal bailout to help him and the local restaurant industry, he said, “I don’t want any handouts, but I do think it is something that is needed.”
He said that he was not aware that Levine was Jewish when he made his post photoshopping her face onto a uniformed Nazi. “I didn’t mean it in an anti-Semitic way,” says Portogallo. “Looking at it now, I can see how people took it that way.”
This isn't the first time that Portogallo has made hateful and offensive comments. In April, Portogallo posted a photo of himself dressed in a wig, glasses, and pearls in an attempt to mock Levine, who is transgender. Prominent members of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community condemned Portogallo in April. Portogallo claimed he was unaware Levine is transgender, despite the bevy of stories about Levine being the first openly trans state cabinet member in history.
He attempted to apologize saying to WPXI, “If my humor was in poor taste I apologize because they’re offended by it.” He went on to say, “That’s just not me. I’m never going to degrade or insult someone on Facebook or embarrass them.”
Portogallo's post comparing Wolf and Levine to Nazis was put up less than four months after he was criticized for his transphobic post.
Pennsylvania Second Lady and Braddock resident Gisele Fetterman was also dismayed to see Portogallo make hateful posts.
“When Peppers opened in Braddock, they were received by the community with excited, open arms,” says Fetterman. “The amplifying of hurtful and hateful views has made residents feel that it is not a place for them.”