Spreading the Sanctuary Restaurant Movement

Out of the 15,131 eating and drinking places in Massachusetts, 11 have already declared themselves as sanctuary restaurants. In the light of President Trump’s rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, Sanctuary Restaurant movement is gaining ground all over the country.

This project was launched by Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, with Presente.org, in January 2017. The aim of the movement is for restaurants, who are a part of it, to “have a zero tolerance policy for sexism, racism, and xenophobia, and believe that there is a place at the table for all,” according to sanctuaryrestaurants.org.

Out of the 370 restaurants, across 35 US states, currently participating in this movement, 11 of the restaurants are in Massachusetts. The restaurant industry is highly dependent on immigrants, and this movement seeks to make sure that the restaurants are a safe space for all.

Evy Tea Restaurant in Jamaica Plain. (Photo Courtesy: Evy Tea, Facebook)

“Restaurants are very much a part of our culture…People of all nationalities, all languages, should feel comfortable going to the places in their neighborhood, and not feeling that they have to look over their shoulders, or watch their backs,” said Rachel Sholtes, manager at Evy Tea.

The movement is spreading in the state through social media and word of mouth.

Andrea Beaudoin, the founder of Hearty Eats restaurant in Shelbourne Falls in Mass., found out about the movement through a friend of hers who is also involved in the movement. Upon receiving the link via a text message from her friend, she clicked on it and found about the project. “I found it interesting and signed on to be sanctuary restaurant,” she said.

Another restaurant owner, Denise Tracy of Jasper Hill Café, Milford, found out about the movement through social media. She joined the list to show that all are welcome to her restaurant.
“We opened three years ago. Next week would be three years for us. My husband and I wanted this to be a place for everybody. That’s how we signed on to it and that’s how we want things to be,” said Tracy.

Beaudoin’s decision to participate in this movement was also motivated by the current political climate and discussions around immigration. “To stay silent right now is to agree [with what is going on],” she said.

Tracy, who considers herself a non-political person, thought that this is the time for her to take a stand and use her restaurant to do that.

“Restaurants are traditionally meeting places for people, from all walks of life. We are a big part of the community here. It is a place for people to congregate and I would hate to think that anybody would not feel welcome coming to our place,” she said.

For Josh Lewin at Juliet, Somerville, this was the time to show solidarity with immigrants and take a public stand in front of their employees.

“There is a lot of talk in general in this country, and especially highlighted after last year’s presidential election, about equal rights and discrimination, and other crossover issues in this area. Restaurants tend to be very prone to these issues. We wanted to make a public stand, mainly for our staff to understand, that this is a place of equal opportunity where any type of harassment or discrimination will not be accepted,” he said.

For Evy Tea, this movement is important to show solidarity with its employees.

“I don’t know a single restaurant that doesn’t have an employee who is an undocumented immigrant or a documented immigrant. It’s how it functions in America. Anybody who has worked in food knows that. It is important for restaurants to stand behind their people,” said Sholtes.

Bon Me Food Truck in front of Massachusetts State House, Boston. (Photo by: Corallys Plasencia)

Massachusetts currently ranks as No. 10 on the list of a number of restaurants participating in this project by presente.org. Mass. restaurants that are currently a part of this project, hope that more restaurants join to make a difference.

I just looked at the list for Massachusetts. Someone sent me a text about something going on, and I clicked on it and there weren’t many restaurants on it. I think it would be nice if more restaurants do it… I hope it changes things,” said Tracy.

This story was done for Invisible Boston.

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