The restaurant industry has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies. Restaurants famously rely on the skilled and unskilled labor of immigrants from busboys and servers all the way up to executive chefs like José Andrés (minibar, Jaleo) and Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa (arguably one of the successful undocumented immigrant chefs in America).
On February 16, restaurants across the nation closed in solidarity with the “Day Without Immigrants” protest which encouraged immigrant workers to stay home and let the nation feel the weight of their absence. They are also being encouraged to refrain from shopping and consuming goods. Instead of serving and cooking food, immigrant restaurant workers will be joining their fellow activist Americans in rallies planned all afternoon around the country.
What started as a movement solely in Washington, DC has spread through word of mouth and social media. In Washington D.C., many of José Andrés’ restaurants closed for the day, as well as other popular eateries like the café Busboys & Poets, a center for African-American culture. In Chicago, Rick Bayless is shuttering his restaurants for the day. In Baltimore, the Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group's properties are participating. In New York, the Blue Ribbon restaurant group has closed all of its locations. Tom Colicchio has not closed his restaurants today, but supports employees who want to participate:
If members of my team decide to protest I will support their decision. https://t.co/v3mjoU7p85
— Tom Colicchio (@tomcolicchio) February 15, 2017
Other restaurants like Eataly will remain open but serve limited menus, due to the limited number of employees who will be coming into work that day. In Philadelphia, Tequilas Restaurant is just one of many that will be closed today.
“I sense that we have many people who are very uneasy about what's happening,” Andrés told The Atlantic. “We have over 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. They're the backbone of the American economy ... This is almost saying, ‘We're here. We're working. We want to be part of the system. We want to keep supporting the America that has supported us, but at this moment we're really fed up.’”
Although the restaurants participating in the protest nationwide are in the minority, workers hope to gain the attention of lawmakers in Washington. Restaurants employ 2.3 million foreign-born workers, or about 23 percent of the industry, which is significantly higher than the national average of 19 percent of foreign-born workers, according to the US Census Bureau.