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D.C. Restaurants Reflect on ‘A Day Without Immigrants’

Some restaurants were praised for pro-strike stance, but the long-term impact remains unclear

A shuttered Busboys and Poets location in D.C. during the #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike.
[Maria Tama/Getty Images]

It’s been two weeks since the D.C. restaurant industry essentially shut down for an entire day, standing in solidarity with the “Day Without Immigrants” strike.

Some 100 restaurants decided to temporarily close up shop in deference to immigrants working in the hospitality field, while others elected to donate some portion of the day’s sales to related nonprofits.

Was it all worth it?

Many restaurants remain mum on the sensitive topic, declining to comment on whether taking a political stance affected business one way or the other.

Both Surfside locations and all but one Jetties outpost went dark that day, a move that Bo Blair, president of parent company Georgetown Events, said garnered positive feedback all around.

“I received over 85 texts personally from friends and customers lending their support for our employees and congratulating us on our position on this very important issue,” he said. “Immigrants are the backbone of our company and we will continue to support them however we can."

Pizzeria Paradiso, which shuttered its Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, Va., outposts, did have a “really good week,” after the strike, reports founder and chef Ruth Gresser. But it’s unclear whether the uptick was due to its activism or the unseasonably warm weather.

Staff at Brookland’s Finest Bar & Kitchen in Northeast said it's “probably too soon to tell” whether the one-day closing has translated into additional business. They did, however, report receiving instant feedback in the form of congratulations and support from well-wishers on closing for the day.

Belga Cafe’s customers “respected the fact we supported our employees,” general manager Joey Zucconi said. As far as any kind of visible business impact from the strike, “there’s been no real pushback one way or the other,” he estimated.

The sensational plan to close kitchens across town on a Thursday was largely spearheaded by José Andrés, the Spanish restaurateur who’s been a big immigration spokesperson ever since then-presidential candidate Donald Trump took a controversial stance on the topic. Despite his leadership in supporting the nationwide demonstration, parent company ThinkFoodGroup has little to say about its overall impact on the family of Andrés-owned properties.

“Many guests expressed their support for the decision to close restaurants in support of the strike,” ThinkFoodGroup said in a statement.

Toli Moli, which occupies a small food stall within Union Market, considered itself an underdog among the laundry list of restaurants that took action. “We are small, so closing on a weekday has a big impact,” co-owner Simone Jacobson said.

But it “wasn’t difficult” to make the decision. Jacobson said her mom, a co-owner in the Southeast Asian-themed business, is an immigrant. And another business associate is from Taiwan by way of Japan. According to Jacobson, a lot of customers visited the shop this past weekend because they wanted to thank her for shutting down.

“It’s helped us to connect to like-minded people that are sort of the natural customers that maybe hadn’t heard of us before,” she said.

Some of the restaurants that decided closing wasn’t the way to go opted to cook for a cause that day and pledged to donate varying degrees of the proceeds to Ayuda. (The nonprofit, which helps immigrants from 104 countries residing in the D.C. area, didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding any contributions it received.)

Dino’s Grotto on 9th St. NW ended up donating $200 from the day’s tabs to the nonprofit.

At Sauf Haus Bier Hall & Garden in Dupont Circle, striking workers received regular pay, while remaining staff elected to donate any tips collected — which management matched — to Ayuda.

Co-owner John Issa didn’t provide a final amount, but said it “was up there.”

“I’ve been in the industry 21 years now and I can’t run a business without these guys. They work hard and are an integral part of our economy,” Issa said.

That was especially evident on the day of the strike — which happened to be one of its biggest delivery days of the year (105 kegs scheduled to come through the door).

All-Purpose, Red Hen, and Boundary Stone said they aren't commenting on the strike at this point. Countless others declined to call Eater back to discuss the historic event.

Issa has a theory as to why: It’s generally a good idea to leave politics out of the restaurant business.

“Especially in this city, it can be detrimental if you make the wrong statement,” he said.

Brookland's Finest Bar and Kitchen

3126 12th Street Northeast, , DC 20017 (202) 636-0050 Visit Website

Surfside

4200 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, , DC 20015 (202) 733-3239 Visit Website

Belga Cafe

514 8th Street SE, Washington DC, DC 20003 Visit Website

Toli Moli

1309 5th Street Northeast, , DC 20002 Visit Website

Pizzeria Paradiso

3282 M Street Northwest, , DC 20007 (202) 337-1245 Visit Website

Sauf Haus Bier Hall

1216 18th Street Northwest, , DC 20036 (202) 466-3355 Visit Website

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