If you plan on eating out in D.C. tonight, Feb. 16, 2017, don’t count on it. The list of restaurants that will be closed is large, and the list of closings continues to grow. Schools and other businesses will also be in for a bumpy ride as teachers, staff, and students stay home.
Unless you missed the news over the last two days, restaurants in Washington, D.C., Austin, Philadelphia, and other cities across the country will be closed, or are running things with skeleton staffs because immigrants in restaurants and other industries are striking as part of the national boycott called “Day Without Immigrants.”
This grassroots movement is part of a social media campaign created to protest President Trump’s immigration ban, his vow to build a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico, and his executive order to increase the arrest and deportation of illegal immigrants.
“Day Without Immigrants” is encouraging all immigrants — not just those in the restaurant business — to close their businesses, stay home from work and school, and avoid spending money, and apparently the groundswell of support has turned this into a national phenomenon.
The goal of the strike seems to be to provide a graphic, unequivocal demonstration of the vital role immigrants play in America’s economy, government, culture, society, and daily life. The American economy is diverse and interdependent, and the restaurant industry is one of largest sectors of the economy. Restaurants and related businesses, products, and services employ millions of people and account for billions in revenue.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Restaurant Association, the immigration population and the restaurant industry are linked. There are 14.4 million people, or 10 percent of the nation’s workforce, employed in the restaurant industry. The industry is expected to add 1.7 million jobs over the next decade, with employment expected to reach 16.1 million by 2026. In 2014, 21 percent of first-line supervisors/managers of food preparation and service workers were of Hispanic origin. The number of Hispanic-owned restaurant businesses jumped 51 percent between 2007 and 2012. In 2016, projected restaurant industry sales were approximate $782.7 billion and equal to 4 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
In addition, half of U.S. consumers say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle. In 2015, there were 2,333 eating and drinking places in the District of Columbia. By 2016, restaurants accounted for 61,600 jobs in the District, or 9 percent of the city’s employment, and restaurant sales in the District were approximately $3.6 billion.
In Washington, D.C., reactions from chefs, staff, and restaurant owners have been as varied as the city’s food scene, but it has also illustrated how much restaurants rely on immigrant employees and how many restaurants are owned by immigrants. Dozens of D.C. chefs and restaurant owners have joined the cause “Day Without Immigrants” and are closing to show their solidarity, but some restaurants aren’t closing by choice, they are forced to close because they can’t operate without their immigrant staff members.
One of the first owners to announce he would be closing voluntarily in support included celebrity chef José Andrés, who immigrated from Spain. On Feb. 14, 2017, he announced he would be closing Zaytinya, Oyamel, and both locations of Jaleo in response to his employees’ declarations to participate in the protest. As a result, other restaurants joined in and stated they were voluntarily closing in solidarity.
What Andrés’ announcement didn’t make clear, however, was whether or not all employees agreed with the protest and closings or if employees would be paid for their time off. Instead, he mentioned those who wanted to work could work at China Chinlango, another of his restaurants that will remain open.
The city and its restaurants have never had a protest like this before, and over the least two days, the list of closings has grown from a handful of participating restaurants to dozens. But this raises some concerns about the people the protest is supposed to help because a day of lost wages can be disastrous for low-wage, hourly employees that don’t get paid time off. It can also be a financial hardship for a small restaurant, often owned by an immigrant, that struggles to make it in an expensive city with high rents and low margins. And the ripple effect could be disastrous.
Many immigrants and restaurant workers are financially vulnerable, and the public has no idea if the closing is just political grandstanding at the employees’ expense or if the employees are being paid. According to an article in Washington City Paper on Feb. 15, 2017, and another story in The Washington Post from Feb. 14, 2017, some owners decided to close and pay their employees during closing.
Other owners will be open but with very limited menus and a skeleton staff, and some restaurants will be open and show their support for the protest by donating proceeds from Thursday’s sales to Ayuda, a local non-profit that supports immigrants from 104 countries.
Some restaurants have already come forward and said they will be closed and will pay their employees like Bub & Pop’s, Pizza Paradiso, and Colin McDonough who owns Boundary Stone in Bloomingdale. His giving his staff off, with pay, and will be handling things in the kitchen and have a limited menu and staff.
John Andrade, who owns Meridian Pint, Smoke & Barrel, and Brookland Pint, stated on Smoke & Barrel’s Facebook page that “as a Latino business owner I stand in solidarity with all of my immigrant staff. Therefore, we will close our kitchen this Thursday in support of our immigrant staff's desire and right to protest the evolving state of immigration policies in our country. Our bars will remain open, and our guests are welcome to BYOF (bring your own food).”
Let’s hope this protest isn’t in vain and doesn’t cost a lot in goodwill, money, and talent because it’s unclear how the protest is expected to affect immigration policies. So far, no group or organization has stepped forward to take credit for being the driving for the organizer and with no single voice to articulate the movement’s goals and message it’s hard to see what this accomplishes. Public response on social media has been significant, but it seems the politicians and lawmakers that make immigration policy are silent about the protest and so far, the “Tweeter-in-Chief” hasn’t posted one tweet about #DayWithoutImmigrants.
To help you decide what to do, find out who’s open or closed, we have searched the internet to create a list (it’s incomplete but is a start) of places that have announced they are closed and who is closing but paying their employees. Consider sending a tweet of support, commenting on Facebook, etc. using the hashtag #DayWithoutImmigrants, and then head out on Friday to help as many restaurants as possible recoup lost revenues.
Acqua al 2
Bub & Pop's
Busboys & Poets (all locations).
Denson Liquor Bar
Hank's Cocktail Bar
Hank's Oyster Bar (all locations)
Hank's Pasta Bar
La Puerta Verde
Pizzeria Paradiso (Georgetown and Old Town locations)
Rappahannock Oyster Bar
Smoke & Barrel
Sweetgreen (all 18 locations)