A former Glenwood Springs waiter and chef has caused an online uproar among the celiac disease community for his Facebook page posting about disregarding requests for gluten-free meals.
Damian Cardone, who worked as a chef at the Sopris Restaurant and Buffalo Valley, and more recently worked as a waiter at Florindo's, posted the message on his Facebook page March 10.
The message was discovered this week by celiac disease online advocate Shauna Ahern and posted to her Facebook page, "Gluten-Free Girl". It was picked up by other activist blogs and resulted in hundreds of phone calls to Florindo's on Tuesday and a dozen calls and emails to the Post Independent from outraged people across the country.
Cardone left his position at the restaurant March 15, according to Florindo's owner Florent Gallicchio, and has moved back to the East Coast, according to his former boss Kurt Wigger, who owned the Sopris and Buffalo Valley.
Cardone did not return a reporter's phone call or Facebook message seeking comment.
In the March 10 post on Facebook, accompanied by a stock photo of a fancy cake dessert, Cardone wrote, "People ask me for gluten free pasta in my restaurant all the time, I tell em sure, Then I serve em our pasta, Which I make from scratch with high gluten flour." (sic)
Cardone's post does not mention his employment at Florindo's, but angry celiac disease activists made the association. Critics are saying Cardone should be fired and not be allowed to work in the food industry.
Gallicchio said Cardone only worked at Florindo's as a waiter and was never involved in preparing food for customers, nor did Cardone have any ownership in the restaurant.
"He never was the chef. I am the chef. He was a part-time waiter and never did any cooking," Gallicchio said.
He said customers with special diet needs usually call ahead, and he lets them know if he has gluten-free pasta on hand or offers them a vegetable side dish. Walk-in patrons who ask their server for a gluten-free meal would get the same response, he said.
"It's mind blowing what's happening today. I must have had a couple of hundred calls today, all asking for Damian," Gallicchio said, and then broke away from a phone interview to answer a call from a caller in Chicago. "I do not have time to be on the Internet, so I have no way to answer back to these people."
A Glenwood Springs woman and a customer of Florindo's who was diagnosed with celiac disease a year ago confirmed Wednesday that the restaurant is a safe place to eat.
"The three times I have eaten at Florindo's since my diagnosis, they have fed me safely and well," said Jen Hancewicz in an email to the Post Independent. "I have chosen naturally gluten-free items from the menu (a couple of their appetizer selections work well), explained to the server (their long-time, excellent crew) the situation, and asked them to please let the kitchen know. And they have done a great job feeding me safely."
Celiac sufferers are angered by the post and the idea that a chef would intentionally ignore their request, because eating gluten foods, such as bread, pasta and pastries, can make them extremely ill for days or weeks.
"His behavior is both infuriating, and for me and many others, risky," Hancewicz said.
On Wednesday, two people filed consumer complaints with the Colorado Attorney General's office, according to spokesman Mike Saccone. The complaints are kept confidential, so it is not known if they resulted from anger over the Facebook posting or an actual illness.
Saccone said legal action into the matter would take the form of a civil lawsuit, although the office would try to resolve the problem first through a cease and desist letter or a signed document indicating voluntary compliance.