Wandering Dago food truck bounced from The Track because of name

food truck festival troy 2013 wandering dago truck crowd

The Wandering Dago food truck at the Food Truck Festival of NY in Troy earlier this summer.

The owners of the Wandering Dago food truck -- Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks -- said Saturday in a statement that the truck was bounced from the Saratoga Race Course after an "unidentified state official" complained that the truck's name is offensive. (full press release post jump)

NYRA spokesman Eric Wing told the TU it had received "several complaints" on Friday. And to the Daily Gazette: "This should have been handled before Friday, but once we received complaints, we took immediate action on behalf of our customers." And to the Saratogian: "Saratoga's a very welcoming family place. If patrons are telling us they are offended, that's important to us." [TU] [Daily Gazette] [Saratogian]

The term "dago" has been used as a slur against people of Italian descent, and sometimes people from Spain and Portugal as well. But as Snooks explained to AOA last year, the couple says they had embraced an alternative definition of the word in an effort to reclaim it:

Brandon, who's Italian, explains that he knew the term as a word used for Italian immigrant workers back in the day who wanted to "be paid as the day goes." "Day-goes" became "dago." And in parts of Italian culture, he says the word has been reclaimed as a term of endearment.
Brandon and Andrea say they chose Wandering Dago "because we wander as the day goes."

It appears others aren't ready to get on board with reclaiming the word, though. Snooks and Loguidice also say in the press release that they were "banned by the Empire State Plaza Vendor Program" this year because of the truck's name. Update: From Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the Office of General Services, which oversees the ESP:

The food vendor in question was not banned from selling food at the Empire State Plaza. OGS has the authority and latitude to determine whether it is appropriate for any particular vendor to be issued a permit. This food truck applied for a vendor permit for the 2013 season and was not issued one. Among other reasons, it was determined that their application was not appropriate because the name of the business was found to be an offensive ethnic slur by any standard.

The food truck open last year, working primarily in Schenectady. It's since expanded its coverage area to also include other parts of the Capital Region (such as Rockin' on the River in Troy, and the Riverview Center in Menands). Snooks and Loguidice moved to the area from Colorado to open the truck.

Wandering Dago press release

The Wandering Dago Food Truck was set to serve the patrons of the 150th season of the Saratoga Race Course, but what was a great opportunity for the increasingly popular food truck has gone up in smoke. Opening day saw large crowds at the truck, but owner Brandon Snooks was notified late that evening that they must leave the track because an unidentified state official had complained that their name was offensive. Mr. Snooks cooperated with officials, but returned again this morning where he was again asked to leave. The Wandering Dago Food Truck has a contract with the Saratoga Race Track for the duration of the meet that requires 30 day written notice of cancellation.
"As a small business the lost revenue is damaging, to say the least. We had to turn down several weddings and a few festivals to make this commitment to the Race Track, not to mention the food product already purchased " said Mr. Snooks. While this is upsetting to the owners of the food truck, it is not the first time they have faced similar discrimination. The Wandering Dago Food Truck has been banned by the Empire State Plaza Vendor Program. Mr. Snooks further comments that, "it is ridiculous that we are a licensed NYS Corporation, yet we are being blocked from doing business by State officials. " The Wandering Dago's name was approved by the NYS Division of Corporations, the NYS Department of Taxation & Finance and the IRS.


Elsewhere and earlier:
+ FUSSYlittleBLOG: Cleaning Up the Crass and Clueless (Daniel suggest changing the name to the "Wandering Bacon.")
+ Where the food trucks are. And aren't. And why.

The Saratoga Race Course advertises on AOA.


How about covering up the name with a piece of paper and some tape?

people are so PC now adays its stupid. people complain to just complain. and dont cover up the name.

first the problem with infamous graphics. banned from being at the concourse, and now this.. wow NY, giving these people a hard time.

I understand their intentions to reclaim the word, but it seems like that was quite a risk to take with a name for a business. But hindsight is 20/20

I'm Italian and I grew up downstate, and I had never in my life heard the term "Dago" used as a derogatory term towards Italians before this uproar. Their usage of the word seems appropriate to someone like me - a 30 something naive of 19th century ethnic slurs. I can't imagine the type of person who would actually be offended at this. Oh, wait, yes I can. Old, white, bigots who are outraged someone would dare be bigoted against them. Sigh.
The name means they wander as the day goes. If it was really that offensive, someone - anyone - would have pointed it out to them during the 6 months of contract talk. I really can't fathom this horrible business decision by NYRA, other than it seems to be the way NYRA does business, hence all of their trouble. Ahh, New York State politics at it's finest. Let's gang up on a small business just trying to make it because some a-hole white man got upset at a word. Jesus. I hope they sue NYRA and NYS for as much as they can, and I hope they win.

I always read it as "Wandering Dingo" anyway - I think that has a nice ring to it.

(As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, I had no idea that dago was a derogatory term.)

If there's one place where funny, outlandish, and sometimes even offensive names do not belong, it is the grand tradition of horse racing. Pot meet kettle. Now leave!!!

For the record, I have heard it used as derogatory term.

I've also heard it used as a derogatory term, and I think it's worthwhile to note that it's not just the truck name that people found offensive. From the menu on their website:

Polack – PBR Braised Brisket, Sauteed Onions, Provolone, Horseradish Mayo

Mick & Cheese – Gooey Mix of Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Mozzarella with Crispy Hash Browns topped with Grated Parmesan. Not Weight Watcher Approved yet.

It's entirely within their rights to use whatever name they want, but it's within the Track's rights to determine that they don't want to sponsor a business that represents themselves in a way some find offensive. It's a consideration that should have been taken into account when the brand was developed.

From what I understand, there were negotiations going on since February and the truck had been setting up at the track for about a week prior to opening day. Nothing was said at that time about the name. They were given 2 hours notice to leave with the truck only or the track would tow it and they had to return later after the races were over to remove the rest of their items including a 6 foot smoker purchased for the race season.

Perhaps we should ban "Cracker Barrel" , Burger Kings "Whopper", "Hooters", "Washington Redskins", or maybe Best Buy's "Geek Squad"

When you make a conscious decision to court controversy - and they did, let's not pretend - you get what may come with that. A lot of free press and probably a lot of backlash.

They have a legal right to operate under that name - if nothing else, the Secretary of State legitimized that by issuing them a certificate of incorporation - but they don't have a legal RIGHT to do business with anyone that they choose. OGS won't issue them a permit and the Track kicked them out after complaints. It won't be the last time. It's cute to take the piss out of ethnic stereotypes and I wish them all the luck in the world, but it's a hard enough business without having shot yourself in the foot.

Stupid that NYRA didn't recognize the potential for problems earlier in the process. But as has been pointed out, the owner's took a risk when they came up with that as a business name. Of course it's a slur; if I'd said that when I was a kid, my parents would have had alot to say about it. Maybe the offensive meaning is fading, but it is certainly not a "19th century" slur.

I think there is something to it being a generational thing. They were parked outside my office and my older co-workers mentioned that it may be offensive and I had no idea what it even referenced. I grew up downstate and never heard it used.

I'm pretty sure if this had happened during the days of Mad Magazine and All in the Family there'd have been a far saner response.

Meanwhile the popping sound of NYRA management heads could be heard furlongs away.

Dago certainly was an ethnic slur when I was growing up and remained so in much of the second half of the 20th century. I have no idea if its sting has become less among younger generations. Words like limey, mick, and kraut barely retain any traces of derision in my mind. But my Irish grandparents would have thought differently about "mick" in an era when "No Irish Need Apply" signs kept them from employment.

What about "garlic eater" as an ethnic slur? It seems ridiculous now to a nation who has embraced garlic as a key cooking ingredient, but in the early/mid 20th century it was just like dago and wop and generally meant Italians and other southern Europeans. In "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) the banker Mr. Potter refers with contempt to the immigrants who would buy George Bailey's home loans as "garlic eaters." (I've since learned that the Japanese also use "garlic eater" as an ethnic slur against Koreans so this isn't just an American thing.)

I hear The Wandering Kike sells a great bagel. Anybody want to take back that word? I think the k-word is up there with the n-word and is not becoming a word of endearment any time soon.

Language changes but not that fast and not for every segment of the population. Maybe it hasn't changed enough for the owners of The Wandering Dago unless their business plan is to continue to be kicked out of places to sell their food. Are they in the food business or the cultural desensitizing business?

That said, NYRA is also to blame for signing the contract without thinking through the consequences and I think NYRA owes the food truck owners a ton of money in lost profit. The contract should be binding even if the name of the truck is offensive to some people.

It's definitely not an "old-time" or "19th-century" slur.

My Brooklyn-born partner is of Italian descent and has pretty heavy Brooklyn accent, too. I'm also mostly of Italian descent.

Back in 2008, he lived in an apartment on Delaware Avenue. The building had a problem with the electricity and one afternoon, the power went out because someone in another unit turned on an AC. The man in the unit next to my partner came storming out, convinced my laptop had caused the outage (it hadn't...I was well aware of the problem and was just on battery).

The first words out of the other tenant's mouth were "You #$%!*&#$% dagos."

(And it only got worse from there.)

So the word is definitely still in use as an ethnic slur.

That said, I don't think the Powers That Be at the track handled this well. They knew what the name was when they approved the truck for the track. Anyone offended by the name has the option not to patronize the truck.

Which is exactly what I did when I saw them in Troy. I've heard good things about the food and I definitely understand why they've chosen the name. But, for me, it was a reminder of an ugly incident and I simply decided to buy my food from a different vendor...instead of crying to the organizers that I was offended.

This whole NYRA situation I find to be (1) a breach of contract issue and (2) a First Amendment issue. If you don't like what someone has to say, don't patronize their business.

Anyone getting offended by Wandering Dago should consider the last time they gave pause to consider what they were saying when they ordered an "Irish Car Bomb" or "Black and Tan", which I find tasteless, insensitive, and oblivious to very tragic periods in Irish history. But do I go around getting all butthurt about it, NO (ok, ok, I may have enlightened a barkeep or two, but it wasn't in a defensive manner).

Now here is a list to memorize as to never offend anyone again:


Thank you Governor Cuomo and the NYS Racing Commission.
There are words that are considered to be ethnic/racial slurs. "dago" is one of them.
Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa
Italian American Legal Defense and Higher Education Fund, Inc.

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