Restaurant pulls billboards with cult reference

This file photo from 1978 shows victims of the Jonestown cult massacre in Jonestown, Guyana. Some 900 followers of Jim Jones' Peoples' Temple committed mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced fruit punch.
AP

SOUTH BEND, Indiana - A restaurant that erected billboards referring to the 1978 Jonestown cult massacre in which more than 900 people died has removed the signs following complaints that the signs were offensive.

The billboards included the statement, "We're like a cult with better Kool-Aid," over a glass containing a mixed drink, as well as the phrase "To die for!"

In November 1978, more than 900 members of Jim Jones' People's Temple drank cyanide-laced, grape-flavored punch in a mass murder and suicide in the group's compound in the South American nation of Guyana.

30 Years Later, Jonestown's Horror Endures
Video: The Jonestown Tragedy

Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda restaurant, acknowledged that the billboards were a mistake. He said the South Bend, Indiana-based company ordered the signs removed less than two weeks into Hacienda's new advertising campaign.

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

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

"I thought perhaps I had misread the sign," she recalls. "It brought back quite a few horrible images and memories, and the very notion that a local restaurant would trivialize 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 e-mail to Hacienda's executive telling them the billboards weren't "funny at all," calling them "extremely offensive and very irresponsible marketing."

Hacienda executives responded in writing, apologizing for offending her and informing her that the billboards would be taken down.