Local restaurant owner appears to be mocking Pa. Secretary of Health in since removed social media posts

BRADDOCK, Pa. — A local restaurant owner appeared to be mocking the person who is leading the state’s fight against coronavirus on social media.

Robert Portogallo is the owner of Peppers N’at in Braddock.

It's super popular in our region, but Portagallo is coming under fire for recent Facebook comments that he posted on his personal page -- comments that some say are transphobic.

In one of the Facebook posts, Portogallo is wearing a wig, glasses and pearls, appearing to mimic the look of Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, who is a transgender woman.

Another post shows Portogallo appearing to impersonate Levine holding a news conference around rolls of toilet paper with the caption “Now we know who hoarded all the toilet paper.”

While Portogallo said his intent was to be funny, members of the LGBTQ community aren’t laughing.

“She’s done nothing but be a wonderful, compassionate leader in guiding the commonwealth in making sure they stay safe,” said Christine Bryan.

Bryan is with the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh whose mission is to fight for the LGBTQ rights.

“I know there’s a lot of people that didn’t realize that she was a member of the transgender community and truthfully it doesn’t matter. She’s a human being just like everybody else with an extensive resume that is so impressive,” Bryan said.

Portogallo said he wasn’t aware Levine was transgender. He said he constantly impersonates public figures for fun, like in a video he posted on Saturday where he impersonates President Donald Trump.

“A lot of people got a good laugh out of it and obviously some people were offended by it, but there was no intention of offending anybody,” Portogallo said.

Portogallo spoke to Channel 11’s Christine D’Antonio about it over the phone this afternoon.

“If my humor was in poor taste I apologize because they’re offended by it,” Portogallo said. “I’m not seeing it through their eyes but like I said there was no harm intended. If I would’ve thought there was harm intended I would’ve never posted that. That’s just not me. I’m never going to degrade or insult someone on Facebook or embarrass them.”

Portogallo said he has permanently removed all of the posts.