The PJ’s Coffee chain has removed a franchisee who responded in a vulgar manner to a social media post by NBA star LeBron James that said “Protect our young Black women and men.”
A company spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that Stephen Bruno Jr., who owned and operated the location at 630 Chartres Street with his father, Stephen P. Bruno, and his brother, Roy Bruno, has been removed from that position.
Underneath the post, which James tweeted on May 3, Bruno replied, “Eat a” followed by an eggplant emoji, which is generally accepted in internet slang as a substitute for a penis. Another local Twitter user called attention to the post, prompting the statement on Twitter the next day by Mandeville-based Ballard Brands, which owns PJ’s.
“PJ’s Coffee does not tolerate hatred or disrespect of any kind. The words used by Stephen Bruno Jr. were inappropriate and uncalled for. Our PJ’s Coffee brand and our locations take pride in supporting the diverse communities in which we serve. Stephen Bruno Jr. has been removed as a franchisee from the locally owned and operated franchise location.”
The tweet by LeBron James, who has been a vocal proponent of social justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement, came two minutes after he tweeted a story by Vox about Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old Black girl shot by police during a fight with another girl in Columbus, Ohio. James noted that the news story had showed him that he had more to learn about the incident.
“I fueled the wrong conversation about Ma’Khia Bryant and I owe it to her and this movement to change it. Thank you @fabiolacineas for educating us about Ma’Khia and her story and why this needs to be about her,” James wrote.
The incident is another chapter in the ongoing debate over “cancel culture,” or calls for boycotts and the removal from social media platforms of those who make comments considered beyond the pale. It’s also part of a trend of businesses being thrust into the fray on cultural and social justice issues when employees or those associated with their brands make public comments that produce a backlash.
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Bruno’s father, attorney Stephen P. Bruno, said his son sold his share of the Chartres Street location to his brother Roy in August. Therefore, he said, the controversy unfairly maligns PJ’s and the franchise Roy worked to build.
He said the only reason there is an association with the business is because Stephen Bruno Jr. didn’t remove the mention of the chain from his Twitter profile.
He also asserted that the issue was unworthy of news coverage before abruptly ending a phone interview Wednesday.
The spokesperson for Ballard Brands could not be subsequently reached to clarify the issue, but the company told WDSU-TV earlier that Stephen Bruno Jr. was listed as a franchisee for the Chartres location as of Tuesday, the day before Ballard removed him.
In an earlier statement to the media, PJ’s reiterated its disappointment at Stephen Bruno Jr.’s comment, noting “the existing franchisees of that location are well-respected within our community and have proven to be collaborative franchise partners for many years.”
In addition to the Chartres street location, Roy and Stephen P. Bruno own three other locations in the metro area, including 501 Decatur Street in New Orleans and 509 Veterans Memorial Boulevard and 800 Metairie Road in Metairie.
Correction: This story initially reported incorrectly that Stephen Bruno Jr. was part owner of several PJ’s locations that were only owned and operated by his father and brother. The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate regrets the error.