Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Removal of pope’s bust creates bust of its own

With the passing of the pope, people nationwide have pondered the life and death of one of history’s most beloved pontiffs – along with an Italian restaurant chain’s decision to remove his busts from private dining rooms.

The Buca di Beppo chain intended its action as a show of respect to the memory of John Paul II. Instead, it sparked an unexpected controversy.

The chain removed plaster busts of Pope John Paul II from its private dining rooms upon the pope’s death April 2, but the statues’ departure might be a bust itself after customers complained that the “pope rooms” feel barren without the centerpiece.

The restaurant’s corporate parent, Buca Inc., ordered the 90 busts from restaurants nationwide returned to corporate headquarters in Minneapolis. The original plan was to donate the busts to Catholic schools.

“We were just trying to do what we thought was the right thing,” company spokesman Bob Kleiber said. “It didn’t occur to us that people would be upset. . . . This has turned out to be a lightning-rod issue.”

An assistant manager at Albuquerque’s Buca di Beppo, 6520 Americas Parkway N.E., said customers have been relatively unconcerned about the removal of its John Paul II bust, which rested in the middle of a large table.

But patrons of the restaurant say their feelings are mixed.

Val Lind, who has dined at the restaurant and seen the pope’s table from a distance, said it was “extremely cool.”

“You have his head staring at you, floating in space. I’m kind of surprised that they would do that,” she said of removing the bust.

But customer Kim Kelly said she won’t miss the decoration.

“I’m uncomfortable with that being there anyway,” she said.

Kleiber said he has received about 40 e-mails and the same number of phone calls from people expressing opinions both for and against removing the busts.

The chain will decide what to do with the busts over the next week or two, he said. Putting them back is a possibility, as is creating a separate area for pope memorabilia.

“We’re looking at a variety of things,” he said. “We certainly will honor him.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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