LOS ANGELES — Hugo’s Tacos announced Sunday that it will temporarily close its two locations in Los Angeles after employees reported a mounting onslaught of harassment from customers angered by the business’ “no mask, no service” policy.

The harassment, ranging from racial epithets to drinks being hurled at workers through order windows, has taken an emotional toll on the mostly Latino employees, Hugo’s Tacos part-owner Bill Kohne told The Times.

“We’ve noticed that over the past four weeks, these incidents have become more frequent, and there’s more vitriol attached to them,” Kohne said. “All because of a simple question: Can we ask you to put on a mask? Can we offer you a mask?”

The company’s stands in Atwater Village and Studio City will likely close for a week or so while Kohne’s team strategizes “how to deal with what seems to be a simmering and festering” anger around mask-wearing, he said.

One option is to put someone on patrol out front to greet customers and ask them to put their masks on before they walk up to the stand.

Hugo’s employees who have offered customers masks have been met with a barrage of stubborn but similar responses, Kohne said: “You can’t tell me what to do. You can’t infringe on my personal liberties.”

Some customers have laughed at or ignored the request. Others have demanded a refund or screamed in the faces of cashiers.

Face coverings, while a verifiable way to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, have transformed into a symbol of political identity during the pandemic. Republicans — including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — refuse to wear masks even though public health officials insist they should. Their supporters have followed suit.

Kohne said that Hugo’s mask policy isn’t a matter of politics.

“This isn’t about some tribal choice that you’re being asked to make,” Kohne said. “You’re just being asked to care for the people around you.”


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