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Amid Travel Ban Debate, Chefs And Food Brands Take A Stand On Immigration

Feb 8, 2017
Originally published on February 8, 2017 11:07 pm

Customers who walked through the door of Everyman Espresso, a cafe in New York's East Village, last weekend got a pitch at the check-out counter to support a fundraiser to help defend immigrants.

"We're donating 5 percent [of our proceeds] to the ACLU in response to the travel ban," Eric Grimm, a manager at the cafe, explained.

Grimm was referring to the executive order issued by President Trump restricting people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

Over 800 cafes around the country participated in the weekend fundraiser, which was the brainchild of Sprudge, a coffee publication and event organizer. Organizers say at least $400,000 was raised — though only two-thirds of the cafes have reported their tallies, so they expect that number to keep rising.

"I think it speaks to the wider moment we're in right now," Jordan Michelman of Sprudge told us.

It's a way of saying "immigrants are welcome here," says Sam Penix, the owner of Everyman Espresso. Penix says he wants to remind people that "we're a nation of immigrants, a city of immigrants." And restaurants and cafes depend on immigrants as employees, too.

The food industry is often the on-ramp to employment for immigrants. An estimated one in four restaurant workers are foreign-born, according to an analysis done by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United using data from the Census' American Community Survey for 2015.

And the vast majority of farm workers are immigrants, many of whom are in the U.S. without legal authorization.

The U.S. food supply depends on immigrants. Ben Hall, a chef and co-owner of the Russell Street Deli in Detroit, says lots of people don't realize this. "We can't run a business without labor," says Hall.

Hall has designated his deli as a sanctuary restaurant, which is a nationwide movement aimed at promoting discrimination-free workplaces and helping protect workers from discriminatory acts based on their immigration status, gender, religion or other factors.

It's not just independent cafes and restaurants speaking up. Big brands have jumped in, too.

Just After President Trump's travel ban was announced, Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz wrote to all his employees assuring them "we are doing everything possible to support and help" employees who are impacted by the travel ban. For example, Starbucks is offering free legal advice to employees with questions about immigration status. And the company announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years.

The CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, who is foreign-born, sent an email to her employees after the travel ban was announced. "We are an incredibly diverse organization, comprised of men and women from all walks of life and every corner of the globe — including the countries impacted by this new policy," Nooyi wrote. Her email affirmed the value of diversity. "PepsiCo remains a place where everyone feels welcome and anyone can succeed. These are values we will never abandon," Nooyi wrote. She pledged to remain "steadfastly committed to the safety, security and well-being of all our associates."

As food companies decide how and whether to weigh in, some brands are finding that speaking up for immigrants and inclusion is good for business.

"This is a very important time and we really want to be part of this conversation," says Sepanta Bagherpour, director of marketing at Nando's Peri-Peri, a chicken restaurant chain. (He's South African.) The company is currently promoting its Everyone Is Welcome campaign.

Nando's has 38 restaurants in the U.S. and 1,200 internationally. When I walked by one of the Washington, D.C., locations, I noticed a big, bold sign in the storefront window that read:

"Nando's Peri-Peri is an immigrant employing, gay loving, Muslim respecting, racism opposing, equal paying, multi-cultural restaurant."

Bagherpour says the Nando's brand — which began in South Africa in the waning days of apartheid — is built on social commentary. And he says this campaign has been good for business. The company says that traffic and sales have jumped compared to the same time last year.

But taking sides in this national conversation has its risks.

"We've definitely seen push back," says Russell Street Deli's Ben Hall. After he was featured in a national business story on the sanctuary restaurant movement, he was slammed on social media.

There were comments such as: "I'll never ever eat in your restaurant," and "I only want my food [to be] made by an American."

Hall says he was taken aback, but he realizes this conversation elicits strong feelings on both sides. And, in the end, despite the negative comments on social media, his deli has been more crowded than usual for this time of year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Since the president's executive order restricting entry to the U.S. for people from seven mostly Muslim countries and all refugees worldwide, an industry that relies on the work of immigrants is starting to speak out. Several major food brands and hundreds of coffee shops and restaurants are jumping into the national conversation on immigration. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Customers who walk through the door of the Everyman Espresso cafe in New York's East Village last weekend got a pitch at the checkout from manager Eric Grimm.

ERIC GRIMM: So we're doing a fundraiser this weekend. We're donating 5 percent of our proceeds to the ACLU in response to the travel ban.

And would you like to make an additional donation?

AUBREY: About 800 cafes from all over the country participated in the ACLU fundraiser and brought in more than $200,000. Grimm says the message they're aiming to send is this.

GRIMM: We need immigrants as customers. We need immigrants as our friends.

AUBREY: Grimm says for him speaking up is not just about upholding bedrock American values. He says immigration policy directly impacts the business model of cafes and restaurants.

GRIMM: We have immigrants as employees, green card holders, people who are seeking out citizenship who came here to find their life in America, to live the American dream.

AUBREY: The food industry is often the on-ramp to employment for immigrants. An estimated 1 in 4 restaurant workers in the U.S. are foreign-born. And a vast majority of farm workers are immigrants, many of them in the country without legal authorization. So the U.S. food supply depends on immigrants. And Ben Hall, a chef in Detroit, says more people need to realize this.

BEN HALL: We can't run a business without labor.

AUBREY: Hall has designated his restaurant, Russell Street Deli, as a sanctuary restaurant. It's a nationwide movement that has sprung up in response to anti-immigration sentiment. Hall says his own neighborhood has lots of immigrants, and he wants to remind customers and his community of Detroit's roots.

GRIMM: The entire auto industry was built on immigrant labor. So much of what we have here is a result of immigrant labor. And people here, I think, are pretty keyed into that.

AUBREY: It's not just independent cafes and restaurants speaking up. Big brands have jumped in, too. Just after President Trump's travel ban was announced, Starbucks said it plans to hire 10,000 refugees. The company is also offering free legal advice to employees with questions about immigration status. And the CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, who is herself foreign-born, sent an email to all of her employees reaffirming the value of diversity and making everyone from all walks of life feel welcome. As food companies decide how and whether to weigh in, some brands are finding that speaking up for immigrants and inclusion is good for business.

SEPANTA BAGHERPOUR: This is a very poignant time. And we really want to be a part of this conversation.

AUBREY: That's Sepanta Bagherpour, a South African who is director of marketing at Nando's Peri-Peri, an international chicken restaurant chain. They have about 40 locations in the U.S. And if you happen to walk by one, you may notice big bold signs in the window - Bagherpour reads one.

BAGHERPOUR: Nando's Peri-Peri is an immigrant employing, gay loving, Muslim respecting, racism opposing, equal paying multicultural chicken restaurant where everyone is welcome.

AUBREY: So that's pretty inclusive.

BAGHERPOUR: It is inclusive to the T, yes.

AUBREY: Bagherpour says the Nando's brand, which began in South Africa in the waning days of apartheid, is built on social commentary. And it works for them. But taking sides in this national conversation does have its risks. That's what chef Ben Hall in Detroit learned after he spoke out about the sanctuary restaurant movement.

HALL: We've definitely seen pushback. There's nothing more difficult to hear than I will never ever eat at your restaurant. I mean, I'll tell you a little...

AUBREY: And people said that?

HALL: Oh, yeah, yeah, hundreds.

AUBREY: Hall says he was taken aback, but he realizes this conversation elicits strong feelings on both sides. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.