There have been an undeniably high number of political changes in the past months, many of which have to do with immigrants and the restaurant industry.

Recently, concerns surrounding immigration in the industry were kicked off with workers organizing a walkout, and their places of employment closing their doors in solidarity. This is an illustration of the fact that what happens in politics can reverberate through the country’s restaurants, from the back of the house to the front of the house, and everywhere in between.

One of the newest political options on the restaurant scene is the sanctuary restaurant.

Since immigrants are decidedly integral to the daily operations of not only the food service industry in the U.S., but the food system at large, the uncertainty of sanctuary cities (a loosely defined term that essentially means a welcoming attitude towards immigrants and refugees) has led to a new, restaurant-focused iteration: sanctuary restaurants.

The movement is a “joint project of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and Presente.org with participation by dozens of restaurants nationwide,” according to the Sanctuary Restaurant website

Participating restaurants are scattered across the country, but tend to aggregate on the coasts and major Midwestern cities. The general intent of the organization regarding participation is simple: have a “zero tolerance policy for sexism, racism, and xenophobia and believe that there is a place at the table for all.”

The organization that supports sanctuary restaurants offers a placard designed to be placed in the window of each of its participating sanctuary restaurants, and it offers support and resources to its constituents. However, the term is not a legal designation. In fact, it is mostly symbolic. 

waitress tying on her apron

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Intentions and legality aside, in some cases many have chosen to take it a step further and sign an open letter to President Donald Trump that calls “for an end to deportation threats and the harassment of immigrants (including Muslim immigrants) and for a path to citizenship for these workers.”

As sanctuary cities have shown, it doesn’t always come down to just making the choice that you believe in at face value. Like everything, there are pros and cons to sanctuary cities and it’s likely that there are (or will be) some regarding sanctuary restaurants as well, especially since culture and norms shift geographically.

While choosing to show your political stripes in the industry can have effects, such as Yelp trolls or the loss of a customer, restaurants have to decide what makes the most sense for them and business in their city.

The Sanctuary Restaurant’s website has an extensive list of resources that restaurateurs can dive into to aid decision making. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to whether or not a restaurateur wants to join in. It could be joining in on the unity that is potentially already present in a city like it is in Minneapolis. It could mean sparking a change where they live by being the first sanctuary restaurant like Double Comfort did in Ohio, or it could mean abstaining from the idea altogether. The choice is entirely up to the restaurateur.

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Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at www.cinnamon-janzer.com.