Wandering through a derogatory debate: Wandering Dago food truck under fire for ethnic slur

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By Gabriella Levine

The dining scene for Saratoga Race Course’s 150th anniversary season is ripe with a tasty array of food options, including food trucks and vendors serving up everything from mac and cheese to soda floats. Absent from the list of meals on wheels is the Wandering Dago food truck, which was banned by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) on July 19, the night before the opening weekend at the track.

On July 18, Centerplate, a company partnered with NYRA to provide food and beverage services at the track, unveiled the menu for the racing season in a press release. At the top of the list of food vendors was the Wandering Dago, referenced as “one of the country’s top barbeque fusion trucks.”

A day after the menu was released, Brandon Snooks and Andrea Loguidice, the owners of the Wandering Dago, were told that the truck would be banned from the racetrack grounds due to its name. According to most language sources, “dago” is a derogatory and offensive term used in reference to Italians.

Saratoga’s rejection of the Wandering Dago spurred an onslaught of worldwide headlines, and the little food truck known best for its services in the Schenectady area became the source of an opinionated viral divide between those who immediately protested the truck’s name and others who defended the truck’s business and freedom to choose its own name.

The Wandering Dago, which sometimes offers its services on campus, was denied a permit earlier this year at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. According to the New York Times, a spokesperson for the state claimed that the name of the business is considered “an offensive ethnic slur by any standard.”

Despite the Wandering Dago’s past experiences with rejection due to its name, Snooks and Loguidice maintained the name throughout their first year in Schenectady and argue that their most recent ouster by the track is “not only unfair” but also a “complete breach” of their contract shared with Centerplate.

“Our contract states that either party needs to give 30 days notice to cancel. We got three hours,” they explained.

The public’s rejection of the name, according to Snooks and Loguidice, is often due to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. They claim that most people who take the time to understand their story and the meaning of the name are receptive to the truck.

Earlier this year, Snooks and Loguidice told the Concordiensis that the name is meant to imply that the truck wanders as the day goes, harkening back to the “dago” connotation of a day laborer.

In the midst of the media uproar over Saratoga’s ouster, Maxfield Jackson Fey ’14 asserted the importance for those insulted by the truck’s name to understand the origins of its owners. “Andrea and Brandon are friendly and hardworking Italian-Americans themselves,” he commented. Fey is a frequent customer at the truck and was unaware of any derogatory connotation associated with the truck’s name prior to the outbreak of the Saratoga story.

“We do believe that some people don’t take any time to understand anything,” Snooks and Loguidice remarked.

But to some who are familiar with the controversial history of the term “dago,” the truck’s name is discouraging.

Gabriella Bucci ’14 is president of the Italian club on campus, and the use of the slur was shocking to her family members, who are of Italian descent.

“While ‘dago’ may not be heard often anymore, it was once a commonly used term that was, and still is, highly offensive,” Bucci explained. “My grandparents were fully Italian and I have heard from them and my parents how offensive ‘dago’ is and they would be very upset to hear of a truck with this name,” she continued.

Earlier this year, Sarah Darsigny ’13 commented on a Concordiensis article featuring the Wandering Dago, inquiring about the use of the slur in the truck’s name. Today, she is quick to point out that the truck’s food is “unbelievable” and delicious, but the slur in its name, as well as other menu options such as a sandwich called the “Polack” still make her uncomfortable.

Darsigny, nervous about overreacting to the matter, asked her mother’s opinion.

“Her reaction was that my grandfather, who was the first of his family to be born in America rather than Italy, had always been extremely offended by the word ‘dago.’ So I guess for me that really solidified it,” she stated.

Darsigny noted that the use of unusual terms in the truck’s menu and name may potentially cause customers to avoid purchasing what could be a great meal. She mentioned her own hesitation to order the “Polack” at the truck—“I honestly don’t think I could get the word out of my mouth,” she explained.

Others have openly defended the Wandering Dago. President and CEO of the Chamber of Schenectady County Charles P. Steiner submitted a letter to the Times Union detailing that the Wandering Dago has received rave reviews and he supports its business.

Ankur Shah ’14, believes the spotlight on the Wandering Dago’s name is exaggerated, with people paying too much attention to the name rather than the food itself. “Their reason [for the name] wasn’t to be offensive…I think their intention was not bad or to cause harm,” Shah asserted.

Though Shah, for the most part, supports the truck’s business, he believes that the controversy could have been avoided with a simple Google search on the term “dago,” which yields a slew of results indicating that the word is offensive and derogatory.

“Basically, I think that the owners should have looked up the name to make sure it wasn’t offensive before branding themselves with it,” he said.

Further support for the Wandering Dago poured into the comment thread of the truck’s Facebook page, with numerous customers encouraging the owners to persevere in spite of the criticism. One such commenter offered that the “bigger issue” is not the name of the truck, but the alleged “broken contract” between the Wandering Dago and Centerplate.

Following the fallout with Saratoga, the Wandering Dago’s summer will lack the hefty profits that could have been earned at the popular racetrack, but Snooks and Loguidice are looking forward to wandering around campus at the start of the fall term in September.

Originally, Snooks and Loguidice traveled to the Capital Region with a goal of doing business at Union: “We moved up here to Schenectady for Union College. We love the kids and the fact that they want great food to eat.”

Over the course of the year, Snooks and Loguidice sought to expand the Wandering Dago’s services at Union, proposing to appear on campus at meal times and allow students to use declining balance at the truck. As of now, Director of Dining Services David Gaul says that Union does not have a contract with the Wandering Dago, but allows their services primarily on nights and weekends at athletic events.

“We have made a commitment to the Wandering Dago to allow them presence at coordinated on and off campus locations to support concessions at sporting events,” Gaul stated.

Gaul does not anticipate a change in this commitment following the controversy over the Wandering Dago’s name.

Snooks and Loguidice remain optimistic about providing their services on campus. “We love Union College and are still hoping we can work lunches on campus,” they remarked. They also mentioned a new addition of a Build Your Own Salad Station to the truck, something they believe will appeal to the “healthy-conscious Union Crew.”

Speaking from his experience in food service, Gaul advised that a namesake “should be just as politically correct, diverse and inclusive as the environments that we live and work in these days.”

Gaul hopes that the Wandering Dago will respond accordingly to the issues raised about their name, and fears that the controversy will only worsen if they fail to do so. “The scrutiny that the Wandering Dago has fallen under due to their name will no doubt proliferate into something worse should they choose not to react timely,” he observed.

Bucci cautioned that Union may want to think twice before opening its gates to the Wandering Dago this upcoming academic year. The name, according to Bucci, has the potential to offend both students and visitors, and “may make locals think poorly of Union for letting a truck that offends these locals be on its campus.”

Shah offered up an alternative that Snooks and Loguidice are currently reviewing: changing the name of the truck. However, changing the name of any business, as one commenter on the Wandering Dago Facebook page noted, often doesn’t work without large financial resources to promote the new name.

Since being ejected from Saratoga, Snooks and Loguidice have tentatively considered changing their name, but Loguidice told the New York Times that she and Snooks did not want to change the name of the truck.

The Wandering Dago page posted a poll on July 24 to “let the public decide if we should change the name of our food truck.” On Monday, the results were in, with 144 of 373 respondents answering “YES” to the Wandering Dago changing its name, and 229 answering “NO.” All together, 61 percent favored keeping the name the same.

After the public had spoken its piece on Facebook, Snooks and Loguidice stated in a post on Monday that they would take the results of the poll into consideration while making the final decision to keep the name or change it.

On Wednesday, Snooks and Loguidice informed the Concordiensis that a name change would be a serious possibility if they “knew 100 percent that changing our name would get us into the Empire State Plaza Vendor Program and back into the Saratoga Race Track.”

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