'To die for': Hacienda restaurant chain pulls offensive billboard ads making fun of horrific Jonestown massacre

The Hacienda restaurant chain has been accused of insensitivity after putting up billboards making fun of the 1978 Jonestown massacre.

More than 900 people died in the horrific mass suicide of Peoples Temple members who downed glasses of juice laced with cyanide.

Now Hacienda has been forced to remove the offensive signs.

The boards in South-Bend, Indiana, showed a picture of a red cocktail with the strap line: 'We're like a cult with better Kool-Aid' and 'To die for'.

'Mistake': Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda restaurants, ordered the signs to be removed less than two weeks into the company's new advertising campaign

Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda, has acknowledged the billboards were a mistake.

He said the South Bend-based company ordered the signs to be removed less than two weeks into the company's new advertising campaign.

'Our role is not to be controversial or even edgy. We want to be noticed - and there's a difference,' Mr Leslie told the South Bend Tribune.

Shocking: Leader of Peoples Temple, Jim Jones and his wife Marceline, taken before more than 900 members of his cult poisoned themselves in a mass suicide

'We have a responsibility to (advertise) with care, and that's why we're pulling this ad. We made a mistake and don't want to have a negative image in the community.'


The Peoples Temple was founded by Jim Jones in 1956. Jones’s vision was one of a communist community in which everyone could live together in harmony.

The group’s base was originally in California but was moved to Guyana in South America in the 70s.

But people were suspicious of the group, especially family members who were concerned that some Peoples Temple followers were being held against their will.

In 1978 U.S. Representative Leo Ryan from San Mateo, California heard these reports and decided to investigate.

He took an adviser, an NBC film crew, and a group of concerned relatives of Peoples Temple members to the group’s base or ‘Jonestown’ as it had become known.

He tried to take those who no longer wanted to be part of the group back to the U.S. but was shot dead along with four others at the airport, by Peoples Temple members.

Jones was worried about the imminent come-back from the U.S. government and announced the only way out was the ‘revolutionary act’ of suicide.

Large kettles were filled with grape-flavoured Flavour Aid, cyanide and Valium.

Babies and children were given the deadly concoction first followed by the adults. 912 people died from drinking the poison, 276 of those were children.

Jones was found dead with a single gunshot wound to his head. It is still unclear whether he shot himself or not.

Patricia Barbera-Brown of South Bend, who lives a few streets away from one of the billboards, said she was so shocked when she initially read the message that she had to drive around the block again.

'I thought perhaps I had misread the sign,' she said. 'It brought back quite a few horrible images and memories, and the very notion that a local restaurant would trivialise such a worldwide tragedy to simply increase their sales of cocktails is outrageous to me, and it offended me to the core.'

She sent an email to Hacienda executives telling them the billboards weren't 'funny at all,' calling them 'extremely offensive and very irresponsible marketing.'

Hacienda executives responded in writing, apologising for offending her and informed her the billboards would be taken down.

Like many restaurant companies, Mr Leslie said Hacienda uses billboard advertising to connect with the community and resonate with customers.

He said that company leaders look at their restaurants, the economy, their customers, and the competition to determine an idea or theme to use for advertising every year.

They had brainstormed the idea of people who belong to clubs and teams and how sometimes these entities can develop a cult following of like-minded people.

'It went the wrong direction, hit a nerve, and we have come to realise we should not have done this billboard. We lose the core message,' he said.

Katherine Sredl, assistant professor of marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, agreed that the company's message came across wrong.

'They want people to think there are more things to love there than the food, but it's not the right humour for its clientèle," she said.

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