A Day Without Immigrants in Seattle
On February 16, restaurants and bars across the country stood in solidarity with their employees by participating in A Day Without Immigrants. Whether immigrants forfeited a day of wages by no-showing at work or business owners donated money, the point was to protest President Trump’s proposed immigration policies and to prove how vital immigrants are to consumer services—restaurants in particular.
While the showing for Seattle restaurants was surprisingly small—many say they weren’t aware of the impending protest until just a day or two prior—those who took part say they are happy to have made an impact, no matter how minor.
“I had to cover a couple of cooks’ stations and was more than happy to do so. Sauté in solidarity, right?” says Piatti executive chef, Dylan Giordon.
Chester Gerl, chef and owner of Gracia, saw zero fallout after closing his one-year old Mexican restaurant on Ballard Avenue for the day. “As far as the [back of house] staff goes, we are about 90 percent Latino. There wasn’t much effect on the staff. Only few servers were called off. We actually had some staff come in to work to finish projects that we’ve been putting off. It was great to have people in Ballard recognize what we were doing and show support as they walked by or tried to come in.”
Gerl further noted, “We did have a few guests specifically come in to support us the next night because they heard about what we had done. I think it was a nice gesture to stand with my crew in solidarity for a day against this administration and [the administration’s] new approach on immigration.”
Bryan Jarr, owner of JarrBar, was also one of the few restaurants to close. He made the decision after talking it over with his staff to make sure they were all okay with it. “They lost money by not working,” says Jarr, “but we all believed in the overall statement.”
Other businesses remained open and fully-staffed, but still participated.
“I added a donation line to the bottom of the receipt at Rob Roy. It was right under the tip line and clearly said NWIRP [Northwest Immigrant Rights Project],” says Anu Elford, who owns the mega-popular bars Rob Roy and No Anchor. “There was a blurb at the bottom of the receipt explaining that it was totally optional. Having that line on the receipt opened up the conversation.”
Elford and her team raised $200. “For a last-minute fundraiser, I think that’s pretty great,” she says. “Not sure how far 200 dollars will go with NWIRP, but even if it’s just half an hour of legal help for an immigrant, I believe that will make an impact.”
Jarr says he hopes A Day Without Immigrants is just a start. “I felt strongly about doing something with other restaurants across the country. I hope more businesses find creative ways to support immigrant rights and shed light on a very important issue. I know it was easier for me to make the choice to close than other businesses with a large staff, but I hope this helps keep the conversation at the forefront.”
And that seems to be the theme.
While to the general public’s eye this protest was pretty much an invisible one, the broader effect is that it kept the flames of conversation burning.
“It’s hard to gauge the impact this day had,” says Giordan (Piatti). “I feel like a lot of the individual decisions made by protesters to stay home are not seen because it didn’t have the large march/civil-gathering image of something like the Women’s March.”
As Giordan points out, restaurants demonstrated on a much smaller scale that they stand behind their staff’s right to exercise their voice. And in that, the protest was a success.
Gerl (Gracia) says he thinks a bigger deal would have been made had distributors like Charlie’s Produce and Pacific Seafood taken the day off, too. If restaurants hadn’t been able to receive product, they’d likely be forced to close. Talk about a tough hit.
As for why more bars and restaurants didn’t participate, Elford says closing might not have been the best way to show support. “I understand the fear of an owner to close for even one day. It’s so hard to meet needs without [losing] even a day’s worth of revenue. Also, it’s all or nothing. If even part of your staff protests, the whole place shuts down, [and that] leaves everyone else financially hung.”
Elford makes an interesting point. She says having two small businesses, plus a third that’s under construction (Navy Strength), is a game changer. “Some of our subcontractors for Navy Strength took the day off. It was fine because the other subs were able to continue working. That model doesn’t work at a restaurant. Also, I get it. I totally do. But had all the subs taken the day off, our project would have been delayed, inevitably hurting the first-generation small business owner, who in turn chooses to hire diverse [staff]. Perhaps if this would have happened two years ago when all I owned was Rob Roy, my thoughts would be different. I would have closed and been financially fit enough to still pay labor hours for that day.”
“I feel like people around the country expect Seattle to be on the front lines of activism around something like this,” says Giordan. “For me, it’s more impactful to know that we saw action in places like Fort Worth, TX, Atlanta, and DC.”
Other restaurant owners, like Miles James from Dot’s, say instead of just supporting their employees’ decision to take the day off, they’ll likely close altogether next time. They just need more of a heads-up first, and more leadership behind the movement.
Interested in supporting restaurants that support immigrants? Check out the Sanctuary Restaurants movement.