A local, family-owned chain of grocery stores will no longer sell a Lebanon County man’s products because of his intolerance towards the LGBTQ community, a company spokeswoman said Thursday.
Karns Foods has pulled the Gumbas sauce and salsa brand – made by Michael Mangano, who’s also family spokesman for the Taste of Sicily eatery in Palmyra – from its shelves.
“As a locally-owned business, we hold our Karns team members to a standard of creating a welcoming environment for all our shoppers and fellow team members,” Andrea K. Karns, vice president of sales and marketing, said in an email to LebTown. “This expectation is no different for our vendor partners. Unfortunately, there are occasions when we must part ways with a vendor. We cannot and will not support intolerance toward any person regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
“We made the decision to end a relationship with a vendor due to intolerance directed towards the LGBTQ community,” she explained. “The services we provide and the products we sell reflect our values of respecting our employees, customers, shoppers, and community. All are welcome – and we ask all those to join us to extend respect and kindness to one another.”
Although Karns Foods, which has nine locations in the region, did not give a specific reason for the decision, sources on social media say it was made because of Mangano’s repeated attacks on state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
Taste of Sicily has been feuding with Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf since mid-May, when the restaurant defied the statewide ban on eat-in service to combat the spread of COVID-19. The restaurant also has refused to require customers to wear masks.
Restaurants were told to shut down in April, but Taste of Sicily reopened its dining room on May 15. Its operating license was suspended June 3, and the restaurant has racked up at least $10,000 in fines for the violations.
Since then, Mangano and other members of the family have been vocal in their attacks on Wolf and Levine, as well as their support for President Trump. In many of his Facebook videos, Mangano has mockingly called Levine “Richard,” which is the transgendered doctor’s former name.
One of Mangano’s friends on Facebook, who goes simply by Heather Lynn, said in a public message that she called Karns’ corporate office and was told the decision had nothing to do with Mangano’s stance against Wolf. It was, she said, entirely because of his attacks on Levine.
“They expect kindness and respect from their team to everyone,” she said.
Mangano announced Karns’ decision on his Facebook page on Aug. 24 and doubled down on his position.
“If you take a stand on certain things and offend people you may receive retribution,” he wrote in the message. “I’m totally committed to our cause against Governor Wolf and Richard Levine and the very poor handling of the situation in this state of PA regardless of the consequences.”
Meanwhile, on Karns’ Facebook page, posts about store specials and a community blood drive were filled with comments from people who either support and oppose the decision to pull Gumbas products, and some of the threads quickly turned into arguments between the two factions.
Mangano told LebTown on Thursday that his customers “are very disappointed and outraged” about Karns’ decision.
He said the Karns family “took it personal when I referred to Rachel Levine as Richard” and that the retail chain “took what I said out of context” and is blowing it out of proportion.
“Now, I could have said things different but I didn’t,” he wrote in response to a request for comment. “Unfortunately the Karns family took what I said totally directed to one person, that being Levine, and they unfairly and mistakenly applied what I said across the whole transgender community.”
That, he said, is a “major error on their end for sure.”
“For the Karns family to be bitter or angry just because I called Rachel Richard is ridiculous,” he added. “The stand against Levine personally is well justified, and I make no apologies for it.
“If I could do it all over again I would have definitely worded it differently , and I would have just referred to Levine as Levine, but as most people do from time to time, we become emotional at times, and we say things that probably are not the best way to say them.”
That said, Mangano isn’t too worried about the impact on sales.
“At the end of the day I’m a big boy, and Karns is not the only player in town,” he said. “The future of Gumbas is bright, and things are moving forward into other avenues and businesses that Gumbas was never in before.”
His online sales have tripled since Taste of Sicily took its dispute with Wolf and Levine public, Mangano said.
“At the end of the day my customers realize it’s what’s in the jar that counts,” he said.
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