Mucho Burrito posted on Twitter that its in-store posters were "interpreted poorly."
Tania Aguila-Way said she was "flabbergasted" when she saw the poster for the chain's latest dessert offering while she was having dinner with her husband at Mucho Burrito in Kanata. The University of Ottawa PhD candidate came to Canada from Mexico 13 years ago.
"It's an ad that calls up a host of associations that range from the culturally insensitive to the downright racist," she said.
"It's making a reference, possibly, to a brick of smuggled pot or a burrito that's been spiked with marijuana — and in that case it invites the viewer to equate being Mexican with drug smuggling and drugs in general."
The words in the ad also have historical baggage for Mexicans immigrants, she said.
"I mean, we can't ignore the fact that the words brownie and illegal have a long history of being used as racial epithets," she said.
Mucho Burrito public relations agent Natalia Smalyuk said the chain intended the ad to be "edgy" and "cheeky" — not offensive. She said the posters were up in stores for three days before headquarters ordered them to be removed.
"They didn't expect that interpretation or that response. They heard it, they've learned from it, they're removing it," she said.
But Aguila-Way said the chain is putting blame on viewers for their interpretation — and called on Mucho Burrito to take responsibility with an apology.
She pointed out that the chain has created controversy in the past with the Consuela Say What? ad. In it, an announcer describes how taco-makers were taken from the streets of Mexico to bring authentic food to Mucho Burrito diners. When a woman complains about being cold in Spanish, the announcer speaks over her, saying, "Put on a sweater and you'll be fine. Uh, she says, 'Hola!' and she is very pleased to serve Canada these authentic street tacos.
Mucho Burrito has 74 locations in Canada, with an additional five in the United States and one in the United Kingdom.