NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Olive Branch is noted for its mozzarella sticks, its pizza and its fun, festive atmosphere.
Of all the things on the menu, however, “In Fauci We Trust” T-shirts have been selling like hot cakes – or more accurately, hot wings.
Spend $29 on food at the sports bar and restaurant on Bartlett Street – take out or delivery, of course – and you get a free T-shirt emblazoned with the grey-haired, expressionless likeness of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Recently, owner Doug Schneider has been offering the T-shirts on his website for $16 and has gotten orders from 47 states.
“It started out as something that we were doing for our customers,” said Schneider, who also owns Tavern on George (formerly Tumulty’s Pub). “We have a tradition of giving out T-shirts at the Olive Branch. When there's a Rutgers football game or a special event going on, we would give out shirts. We started giving out Fauci T-shirts and it just exploded.”
The mild-mannered director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 has seen his notoriety soar in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, even if the president does sometimes tweet about firing Fauci.
Seizing on the marketing opportunity before anyone else was a stroke of genius for Schneider, who was losing his shirt before he started selling these shirts.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s social distancing orders that prohibited dining in was a huge blow for the Olive Branch, which had it all under an antique tin ceiling: good food, large-screen TVs and wall to wall Rutgers students having a good time.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, business has fallen off and Schneider said he has been forced to furlough his servers and bartenders.
The kitchen staff and management team are still intact, and Schneider is still hoping to keep selling enough T-shirts to recoup some of the lost dining dollars.
The “In Fauci We Trust” T-shirts were such a hit that he’s introduced a second one was created with the doctor’s visage transposed over a vintage Uncle Sam. He's pointing the finger at you, and ordering you to stay at home.
The idea to use Fauci on the shirts was borne of out Schneider’s admiration for the doctor, who is working with his sixth U.S. president.
“We feel like we didn't want to do anything that was political,” he said. “And I think that he certainly crosses all partisan lines. And he makes all of us comfortable when he talks and he tells us what's going on. We really like that and that's why we thought it was great.”
Schneider said he’s trying to pay it forward by setting up purchase-a-meal programs to provide meals for the doctors, nurses and others on the front lines of the war on COVID-19. He’s delivered meals to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick Police, Rutgers Police and others.