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Economy & Business

Leon's Custard Sees Steady Line After Discrimination Allegations

LaToya Dennis
Line during lunch hour at Leon's Frozen Custard

News broke this week that the employees at Leon's Frozen Custard were only allowed to speak English to customers, even if they could be best helped in Spanish. Since then, the owner of the iconic custard stand on Milwaukee's south side has reversed his English only policy. 

While a few groups were calling for a federal investigation into labor law violations, not everyone was swayed by allegations of discrimination.

The line at Leon’s on Thursday during lunch was steady. As people waited to place their order, many spoke amongst themselves about the brewing controversy. While most didn’t want to be interviewed, West Allis resident Louise Bozek said she heard what was going on and came here to support the owner.

“It’s about time somebody takes a stand against the promotion of speaking only Spanish everywhere. Eventually, they’re going to change this as a national language, there had been talk in past years,” Bozek said.

Now to be clear, the U.S. does not have an official national language. Bozek went on to say…

“There’s no reason on earth why people cannot learn basic simple English. They want to live here, they ought to speak the language. I’m really tired of looking at cereal boxes and pancake mixes and trying to share that space with Hispanic language. I have to use a magnifying glass to read my English portion, that shouldn’t be."

While Bozek had the strongest opinions, a few others in line agreed that people should be allowed to run their businesses in the way they see fit.

“I speak fluent German, but when I go out to an establishment, I speak English," Mike C. said. He wouldn’t give his full last name, but he says he’s from Racine. “I might not agree with the policy at Leon’s but I understand as an owner he can set the policy and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” he said.

Keith B. of Milwaukee said the owner can do as he pleases. “It’s their business and they set the rules so that’s…besides, you should speak America, you’re in America,” Keith said.

But not everyone agreed that the policy should remain in place.

“I think that’s discrimination," EladioMelendez said. Melendez is Puerto Rican and says he and his family come to Leon’s every Saturday. “I think everybody should be treated equally. How (are) you gonna make business like that if you only want to sell to just English speaking people? That’s not fair, something should be done about that,” he said.

Melendez said about a year ago, he had an experience much like the one that brought this story to light. He’s bilingual and said he was trying to place an order in Spanish.

“The girl knew Spanish, she was speaking Spanish, and she did say that she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish but I didn’t believe it. You know, I didn’t believe it,” he said.

As for whether the controversy is enough to cause Melendez to find another custard shop, he said no. “That’s not gonna stop me from coming. You know what I’m saying? I’ve got to show him that he’s not going to scare me away from where I’ve been coming for 28 years already," Melendez said.

State Representative Josh Zepnick stopped by Leon’s on Thursday hoping to speak to the owner, but he was not around.

Zepnick said  he would like to see something positive come from this. “I think there’s a way that we could figure this out that could be a win, win situation if everybody were willing to just sort of turn the volume down, turn the heat down a little bit and sit down and talk,” Zepnick said.

Zepnick said he understands the need for businesses to be efficient but telling employees not to speak Spanish is not the way to do it.

One local business hoping to win a few new customers on Thursday offered up a free scoop of ice cream to anyone who asked for it in any language.