DC Restaurants Prepare For “A Day Without Immigrants” Strike on Thursday

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Latino immigrants across Washington plan to skip work on Thursday as part of a “Day Without Immigrants” campaign aimed at showing their economic power and protesting Donald Trump‘s immigration policies.

In the meantime, many restaurateurs are scrambling to figure out exactly how many employees will be participating in the strike. Some restaurants are preparing to close for the day if need be.

The campaign has largely spread through word of mouth, paper and electronic fliers, and Facebook. One flier that’s been circulating calls on immigrants not to go to work, open businesses, shop, eat in restaurants, buy gas, go to classes, or send children to school. “Mr. President, without us and without our contribution this country is paralyzed,” the flyer reads in Spanish. A similar “Day Without Immigrants” protest took place earlier this week in Milwaukee.

“One of our delivery men who’s Latino told our kitchen about it, and then it started spreading from there,” says Compass Rose owner Rose Previte. In the kitchen, all but the chef and one line cook are immigrants and asked if they could participate. “My staff was like, ‘We feel this is something we have to do.’ They felt really strongly about it. I was like, ‘Okay, absolutely.'” Previte says a friend and at least one manager have offered to help keep the kitchen running on Thursday.

Compass Rose is also preparing for limited deliveries on Thursday. After all, many of the drivers are immigrants. “We’re just going to go with what we have that day and tell customers, ‘This is what happens when immigrants don’t come to work,'” Previte says.

A senior account manager for Lyon Bakery emailed restaurants yesterday to say the strike could disrupt deliveries: “With this is mind, we are encouraging our clients to double up their orders on Tuesday for delivery on Wednesday, as our Thursday deliveries may experience delays.”

At Bar Pilar, the entire kitchen staff will be participating in the protest, “which leaves just me,” says chef Jesse Miller. The bar anticipates being down 17 employees in total on Thursday, including food runners, bussers, and bartenders. In a show of support, Miller (with the help of a few friends) is swapping the regular menu for a limited selection Latin American dishes. “My thoughts were if most of the Latino population is going to take off for the day, then we should try to do our gringo version of Latino food and serve them if they want to come in,” Miller says.

Some of Bar Pilar’s front-of-house staff have pledged their tips from the night to their absent colleagues, and a portion of cocktail sales will go to the American Immigration Council.

Others are considering possibly shutting down for the day. Mezcalero and El Sol chef and owner Alfredo Solis, a Mexican immigrant himself, says he’s still trying to gauge how many of his employees—the majority of whom are Latino immigrants—will participate in the protest and how many want to work in order to have a paycheck. “I have to support my team. Whatever their decision is, that’s going to be my decision,” he says. “If they’re not going to come to work, I will have to close my two locations.”

Not everyone expects Thursday’s strike to be so massive. Greg Casten, who owns Tony and Joe’s and Nick’s Riverside Grill, says he’s heard of similar strikes before but never really felt them. After talking to his employees, he didn’t get the sense that this time would be all that different. “Ninety percent of my back-of-house and support employees are definitely in the category that would walk out. Probably a third of them had heard of it, and all of them said they weren’t going anywhere,” he says.

Jeff Black, who owns Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, BlackSalt, and Republic, among other restaurants, says he put out a notice to all his Latino employees that if they’re going to strike to let the management know so they can make arrangements accordingly. “Right now, we don’t know how many people are planning on protesting,” he says. If there’s a substantial drop in employees at any one of his restaurants, he’ll close that location for the day.

“We’re just going to put a sign in the window letting people know that we believe in our employee’s rights, and it’s their right to stand up for what they believe in,” Black says.

Black says he suggested to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington that they have a day of solidarity with immigrant workers (ideally on a Monday, when restaurants would be less busy).

“Let the city see what impact it has when all their favorite restaurants are closed,” he says.





Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.