Chris Nardelli won’t be opening Blue 44 Restaurant and Bar in DC this morning. No cast iron sprouts, no pan roasted chicken, no fish tacos.
“People have asked if I really wanted to lose the revenue from the day, but the loss in revenue is nothing compared to what our brothers and sisters lose every day.”
The restaurant, like many others across the country, is closed as a nationwide protest of President Donald J. Trump’s controversial statements and policies regarding immigration. It has workers leaving the kitchens and floors of restaurants to join the organized walkout which is being called a “Day Without Immigrants.”
At Blue 44, Nardelli said about 65% to 75% of the staff are immigrants and that “no one threatened to not come to work.” His choice to close for the day, he said, was out of solidarity and his own personal convictions.
“The main reason [for closing today] being that, this is an issue that hits home for me personally. I’m married to a Colombian immigrant. Our daughter is a product of she and I, and she is kind of an immigrant in that way as well,” Nardelli said. “People have asked if I really wanted to lose the revenue from the day, but the loss in revenue is nothing compared to what our brothers and sisters lose every day.”
The walkout is trending nationwide. Restaurants across the country are shutting down as part of the protest, from Boston to L.A. to Detroit. Restaurant workers and owners, immigrants and citizens alike, are posting photos of their signs informing patrons of why they have closed. Though the politics of the issue are divisive, many restaurants are taking a stance of solidarity, acknowledging that much of the workforce for the industry is made up of immigrants.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 20% of dishwashers and 30% of cooks are illegal immigrants. Put simply, immigrants, those with legal or illegal status, make up a significant segment of restaurant labor in the country. In an industry that employs 12.7 million, the issue is particularly pressing.
“The staff is standing together because of what is going on, and showing support for each other. We are not scared.”
Many restaurateurs depend on foreign-born workers. Anything that threatens to shrink the pipeline of talent is concerning for many in the industry, as restaurants are already facing shortages of qualified workers, including chefs. Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity in the restaurant world, previously warned that if President Trump’s administration chose to deport all illegal immigrants “every restaurant in America would shut down.”
Whether that’s accurate or hyperbolic, many restaurants are selecting to either shut down in solidarity with protestors or allow workers to participate. In Boston, Eataly opted to remain open but issued a statement saying they “apologize for any delay or disruption you might experience tomorrow at Eataly. We are an immigrant company, born in Italy, with many immigrant employees. Any team member who chooses to participate in the national ‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest strike has our support.”
At Erbaluce, also in Boston, Alexis Flanagan, private events manager, hopes their closure isn’t seen as a divisive stance but a day that will bring staff together. “The staff is standing together because of what is going on, and showing support for each other. We are not scared,” she said. “There is a general anxiety, but if anything, it has brought us closer and made us want to fight harder.”
Tomorrow hundreds of restaurants will reopen and protestors will don aprons and uniforms. But the question of whether routines return to normal will likely remain unanswered for many restaurateurs and their employees.