Why Restaurants Joined In A Protest

What started in D.C. spread rapidly

Earlier this week, rumblings began in D.C.'s restaurant world. Chefs and restaurant owners, including the acclaimed José Andrés, vowed to close their restaurants on Thursday as part of a grassroots campaign called A Day Without Immigrants. The protest spread like brushfire to New York, where Mario Batali and Tom Colicchio spoke out in support of their employees joining the protest, to Chicago, where Rick Bayless closed his restaurants, and beyond.

In an industry with the tightest of margins, closing a restaurant for a day is a more significant decision than it may appear to outsiders. "Closing one day is really painful," Sakura Yagi, whose family owns several Japanese restaurants in Manhattan including Soba-Ya, tells Grub Street. But, he says, it was "the least we can do...New Yorkers have always supported my immigrant father and his businesses through the years. We're just passing it on."

It was also a significant decision for employees, many of whom didn't receive the tips that make up the bulk of their pay. In some cases, restaurants decided to remain open to support their employees financially but planned to donate a percentage of their proceeds to causes like the ACLU.

At Bar Pilar in Washington, several members of the staff who worked said they would share their tips with colleagues who joined the protest.

Even office workers got getting involved. A few who would normally buy lunch shared photos on social media of their packed lunches as a sign of solidarity.