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“The crackdown on immigration has rattled the restaurant industry and the millions of foreign-born workers it relies on.”
In this current climate of anti-immigrant policy and a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism and bigotry throughout this country, joining the Sanctuary Restaurants movement is just one way we can communicate our support for these communities,” said former Detroiter Max Sussman, a chef who co-owns Samesa, a Brooklyn Middle Eastern restaurant, with his brother, chef Eli Sussman.
The Sanctuary Restaurants movement that attracted the Sussmans seeks to affirm people’s humanity and dignity by designating eateries that offer safe, tolerant spaces for their workers and customers.
Started two months ago, the project is a collaboration between the aid group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United) and Presente.org, an online advocacy group for Latin American immigrants in the United States. As of late last week, the number of Sanctuary Restaurants participants has grown to 300.
According to the Presente.org website, Sanctuary Restaurants do not allow “harassment of any individual based on nationality, refugee status, religion, race, gender, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.”
“We are saying ‘no’ to sexism, racism and xenophobia at Zingerman’s,” declared Paul Saginaw. His family of companies with co-owner Ari Weinzweig was among the first to join the Sanctuary Restaurants movement.
Zingerman’s and other establishments that display the official placard, “Sanctuary Restaurants: A Place At the Table for Everyone,” also pledge to confront the discrimination they see in the restaurant industry, offer or obtain informational support through ROC United, and participate in a peer network to exchange ideas and strategies.
Devita Davison is interim executive director of FoodLab Detroit, a membership-based network of more than 220 locally owned food businesses — including bakeries, coffee shops, grocery stores, cafes and restaurants — “that want to make a positive social impact in their community,” she said.
Davison said she supports the Sanctuary Restaurants movement because “many of our member businesses are deeply concerned that the current administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies could have disastrous consequences for the restaurant industry, as well as the entire American food system.
“The crackdown on immigration has rattled our industry and the millions of foreign-born workers it relies on,” she added.
As a form of resistance, Davison said some FoodLab member businesses are hosting workshops about understanding their rights as employers, coming together for financial and emotional support, and hosting fundraisers on behalf of organizations that work to stop ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) from deporting people.
The inclusive, non-discriminatory stance taken by Sanctuary Restaurants is mostly symbolic. It’s meant to reassure employees and the community at large. Although restaurants are private operations, claiming “sanctuary” status bestows no legal authority for restaurant owners to block a potential federal raid against their employees.
Saginaw said the response to his Sanctuary Restaurants sign has been good, but nothing overwhelming. For anyone raising objections, he noted that Zingerman’s does not employ foreign-born undocumented workers — those facing the greatest risk of deportation.
The Sussman brothers’ support for Sanctuary Restaurants has to do in part with their decision to open Samesa, which captures the flavors of the Middle Eastern restaurants they enjoyed growing up in Southeast Michigan.
“For this reason, we owe a debt to the Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian and other immigrants to that region,” Max Sussman said. “By joining the SR movement, we are making a statement that we do not allow racism and bigotry in our restaurant and that we value our diverse community of customers and staff.”
— Devita Davison, FoodLab Detroit
Restaurants interested in participating in the Sanctuary Restaurants movement can text the word TABLE to 225568.
Sanctuary Restaurants already in Michigan:
• Zingerman’s businesses, including the Deli, Roadhouse, Bakehouse and Creamery; also Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in nearby Dexter
• Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub
- Seva Restaurant
• Russell Street Deli
• Flowers of Vietnam
LANSING & ELSEWHERE
- Midtown Brewing Company, Lansing
• Morning Star Cafe, Grand Haven
• Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge, Grand Rapids
• Cuppa Joe, Traverse City