Bodegas, crime and Chick-fil-A: The bad taste of Trump's culinary campaign trail stops

"You know where the crime is? It's in the bodegas," Trump said while visiting a Harlem bodega last week

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published April 22, 2024 1:29PM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at a rally on April 02, 2024 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at a rally on April 02, 2024 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

When former president Donald Trump stopped in to visit Sanaa Convenient Store, a tiny Harlem bodega, last week, he told the crowd that gathered to “have a good time.” As some cheered and broke into chants of “U.S.A, U.S.A, U.S.A,” he described how he was “way ahead in the polls against Biden” and promised that, as election day nears, he will be doing similar rallies “all over the place.” 

With that bodega stop, Trump followed in a long line of politicians who have attempted to use food as a way to bond with constituents by trying local delicacies or visiting neighborhood institutions while on the campaign trail. It’s a relatability ploy that is both genius in its simplicity — food really is a natural connector of people — and dangerous in the way it tends to expose frauds, like when Gerald Ford choked on a tamale husk while campaigning in San Antonio for reelection against Jimmy Carter, a Texas-sized faux pas several political experts believe may have ultimately cost him the 1976 presidency

However, this wasn’t part of some multi-borough bodega tour upon which Trump was embarking in order to reassert his New Yorkerness in a city that often hates its association with him (a move that would be reminiscent of Andrew Yang’s “authenticity blitz,” which saw him visiting a bodega and posting about it on Twitter as part of his failed New York City mayoral run). Rather, he specifically chose Sanaa Convenient Store because, as reported by the Associated Press, it had been the site of a violent attack on an employee, a case that resulted in public criticism for the district attorney now prosecuting him.

On top of that, the presumptive GOP nominee had come straight from court in Manhattan where he is facing four criminal indictments and a civil lawsuit to hold this event. 

This isn’t Trump’s first food stop along the campaign trail, nor is he the only candidate making these familiar plays (just last week, the Biden campaign sent a very serious email about sandwiches), but it really crystallizes the absurd dichotomy between the omnipresent reminders that Trump is the first ex-president to stand on criminal trial and the “business as usual” approach that’s been adopted by him and other politicians on both sides of the aisle. And while the age-old strategy of breaking bread with potential voters during an election year has always been just that — a strategy — perhaps that’s why it now feels more hollow than ever. 

According to the Associated Press, Trump used his stop at Sanaa Convenient Store as an opportunity to compare his prosecution to crime in the city. “They want law and order?” Trump said of businesses in New York. “Every week they’re being robbed.” 

We need your help to stay independent

He continued: “You know where the crime is? It’s in the bodegas.” 

In July 2022, Jose Alba, a clerk at the bodega Trump visited, was attacked by 35-year-old Austin Simon. Alba, in turn, fatally stabbed Simon and was arrested and charged with murder. The altercation was captured on surveillance footage and the Manhattan district attorney’s office dropped the charges within weeks, saying they could not prove Alba had not acted in self-defense — but not before Alba was jailed for several weeks at Rikers Island. 

It was a controversial case, especially because Alba is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, and was overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who oversees the office now prosecuting Trump. In a statement released Tuesday, Bragg’s office wrote that Simon’s death and Alba’s case were “resolved nearly two years ago, and the charges were dismissed after a thorough investigation.”

“D.A. Bragg’s top priority remains combating violent crime and the office has worked hand in hand with the NYPD to drive down overall crime in Manhattan,” the statement continued. 

"You know where the crime is? It’s in the bodegas."

Regardless, journalists who attended the event at the bodega were given materials criticizing Bragg. That’s the thing about these campaign visits of Trump’s — there’s always a more insidious throughline pulsing beneath the surface. For instance, earlier this month, the former president planned a photo-opp at an Atlanta Chick-fil-A where he bought the largely Black audience chicken sandwiches and milkshakes. 

One particular video from the event, which featured a Black woman embracing Trump, was widely shared by his supporters who speculated mainstream media had downplayed the amount of support Trump has from the Black community. By all accounts, it appeared that woman, Michaelah Montgomery, was a random customer until it was later revealed that she was a conservative activist who had previously worked for Blexit, a movement founded by Candace Owens to recruit Black voters into voting for Trump and joining the Republican Party.

Again, Trump isn’t the only candidate attempting to appear accessible to their constituents through food. On April 19, the Biden campaign sent out an email with the subject line: “From Sheetz to Wawa: President Biden Rallies with Voters Across Pennsylvania in Three-Day Blitz.” 

“This week, President Biden took his economic vision to the voters in a three-day swing across Pennsylvania,” the email read. “From his hometown of Scranton which forged his worldview to the city of brotherly love, the President was welcomed with open arms by Sheetz and Wawa loyalists alike.” 

When Biden stopped at a Pittsburgh-area Sheetz on Wednesday, he bought sandwiches for construction workers. The next day, when stopped at Wawa, his order included “an Italian hoagie (with American cheese and pickles) and a black-and-white milkshake,” the email dutifully noted. 

As the email pointed out, Trump’s campaign opportunities are going to be limited over the next several weeks as he’s “dealing with a personal matter and catching some z’s,” so it’s unclear where his next food-focused stop will be. Perhaps somewhere with an early-bird special on a Wednesday evening, the one weekday when court is not supposed to be in session.


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

MORE FROM Ashlie D. Stevens

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Campaign Trail Chick-fil-a Commentary Donald Trump Joe Biden