Sanctuary Restaurants Offer A Place at the Table for All


Sanctuary RestaurantA new sanctuary movement is developing in the food world

By Alex Gillett

In the past year, amid the politics and controversies, the Sanctuary City movement has been all over the news— mayors from cities like L.A. and Chicago declared their cities Sanctuary Cities stating they would not cooperate with the federal government’s immigration enforcement measures.  Now, there’s a new, slightly less controversial but nonetheless important, Sanctuary movement happening in the food world:  Sanctuary Restaurants.

The message behind Sanctuary Restaurants differs from those of the other highly politicized sanctuary movements.  While Sanctuary Cities establish law enforcement policies that refuse to follow certain federal government immigration directives, Sanctuary Restaurants instead aim to prevent discrimination in any form and establish inclusion in their businesses.

According to the official Sanctuary Restaurant website, “Sanctuary restaurants have a zero tolerance policy for sexism, racism, and xenophobia, and believe that there is a place at the table for all.”  By providing a place at the table for everyone, Sanctuary Restaurants “affirm the humanity and dignity” of all.  This inclusive movement was started by ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) United and after the 2016 election that left our country divided and immigrants and minorities concerned for their futures in the U.S.

Immigrants are integral to the restaurant industry, and the Sanctuary Restaurant movement is a reflection of the industry’s support for their workforce.  Of the 12.7 million employees in the U.S. restaurant workforce, 1.4 million are immigrants according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Many fill the traditional employee roles like servers, cooks, and dishwashers, and many are also the business owners themselves.  Trump’s threats to deport millions of “bad hombres” has struck fear in the immigrant community and this fear is pervasive, regardless of whether immigrants are documented or undocumented.  If there are mass deportations of immigrants and workplace ICE raids, the restaurant industry will be severely affected.  The fear of ICE coming to a place of employment or being pulled over on the drive to work is enough for an immigrant to stay home or suddenly pick up everything, move, and regress into “the shadows.”  The Sanctuary Restaurant movement seeks to rectify the Trump Administration’s hostile actions towards immigrants and other minorities.  The movement is an attempt to ease the fear in these communities by providing a safe place to work or enjoy a meal.

Restaurants can easily become a Sanctuary Restaurant and promote their inclusive practices with resources available at their website.  The organization’s website also includes a directory of Sanctuary Restaurants across the country.  In Michigan we have at least 20 Sanctuary Restaurants, and West Michigan has Lantern Coffee and Taqueria El Rincon in Grand Rapids, Morning Star Cafe in Grand Haven, Tio’s in Berrien Springs, and Cuppa Joe in Traverse City.

Diners can participate in the Sanctuary Restaurant movement and help to create safe spaces from hate, harassment, and discrimination by dining at a Sanctuary Restaurant or encouraging favorite restaurants to join the movement.


  1. Lori Evesque on October 20, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Hi Alex. Interesting concept and definitely needed. I teach a class on sustainable food systems at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. I’m doing a class on cuisines and culture and would like to include something on the Slow Food Organization. The other class that’s possible is one on structural racism in our food system – where the idea of sanctuary restaurants could come in.
    Could I talk to you about this? Others in SFWM are also possibilities too. Thanks

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