Sanctuary cities have received plenty of attention due to President Trump’s continuing tough-on-immigration promises (for the unaware, these are urban areas, Philadelphia included, that support undocumented immigrants by refusing to enforce federal immigration laws on a city level). And now, “sanctuary restaurants” have arrived.
At least seven Philly restaurants so far have declared themselves sanctuary restaurants: South Philly Barbacoa, El Compadre, Girard Bruncherie, Rad Dish, Le Virtu, Russet, and Royal Tavern.
The sanctuary restaurant concept comes from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a national advocacy group representing restaurant industry workers across the United States.
However, while sanctuary cities have a relatively clear definition based in law, the exact purpose of a sanctuary restaurant is a little more nebulous — spokesperson for the organization Sheila Maddali tells Eater that they’re basically restaurants interested in helping marginalized groups or minorities.
“Sanctuary restaurants are restaurants that have a zero tolerance policy towards racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, they’re safer spaces in the restaurant industry that promote value, diversity and inclusion.”
Restaurants who sign up to be sanctuaries receive a placard to place in their window and receive support from the organization — including information for employees about their rights, and legal help.
Because restaurants are private companies, and don’t have powers and resources on hand in the same way that cities do (see: police forces), there are obviously limits to what even a large number of sanctuary restaurants can do in comparison to a sanctuary city. But Maddali says it’s more about amplifying opposition to various moves and threats from the Trump administration, such as promises to crack down on illegal immigrants, or women’s access to abortion.
“It brings in the voice of an entire industry. [The restaurant industry] is the largest employer of immigrants in the entire country, one of the largest employers of Muslim workers, of LGBTQ workers.”
“It’s not just that you’re an immigrant when you’re at home.”
Restaurants aren’t obliged to do anything more than to simply declare themselves a sanctuary, flagging to customers and employees that they’re a welcoming venue — in effect, they’re flagging themselves as desirable places for progressive-minded customers (or alternatively, somewhere that a Trump supporter might wish to avoid). But the initiative also has a tipline where restaurateurs, customers, or workers can report illegal or discriminatory behavior.
Some restaurants are going further than just highlighting their anti-racist credentials, though: as Billy Penn reports, East Passyunk’s Le Virtù is putting on a fundraiser dinner March 15, the “Sanctuary Supper”, offering both the Abruzzese cuisine chef Joe Cicala is known for, and Mexican elements from sous-chef Poli Sanchez, with profits going to a workers’ rights advocacy group.
Similarly, Queen Village restaurant Hungry Pigeon (which isn’t part of the Sanctuary Restaurants scheme) is pairing with nine other restaurants and chefs, including Cheu Noodles, to throw an all-inclusive dinner to benefit the ACLU.
The support for such causes is almost certain to get bigger: Sanctuary Restaurants’ official launch is next week, and Maddali says she’s hoping to canvass Philadelphia restaurants to get more locations signed up as sanctuaries.
- Participating Restaurants [Sanctuary Restaurants]
- Philly restaurant owners, concerned by Trump, start taking action [Billy Penn]
- Sit Down and Eat to Stand Up for Change [Hungry Pigeon]