“There is a place at the table for everyone,” declares the Sanctuary Restaurants website. The movement, which seeks to designate eateries where all are welcome, has grown to include more than 300 restaurants across the country. Three are in North Carolina: Lantern on East Frankin St. in Chapel Hill, the Summit Room and the Mayobird on East Blvd. in Charlotte.
Sanctuary Restaurants is a joint project of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and Presente.org. Both organizations serve unique populations that occasionally overlap.
ROC United seeks “to improve wages and working conditions for our nation’s 12 million restaurant workers,” and many of these workers are Latin American immigrants, whom Presente serves. The organizations have united under the Sanctuary Restaurants cause to show that they “stand by restaurant workers, owners, and consumers and respect their dignity, human rights, and contributions to our industry and our nation – including immigrants, refugees, people of all genders, faiths, races, abilities, and sexual orientations.”
The need for such a movement has become more apparent since the new presidential administration took power. With ICE arrests reaching startling numbers, immigrant populations are at risk for persecution and deportation.
“Imagine going to your favorite restaurant, you take a sip of your drink, bite into an appetizer, and watch a raid as workers are inhumanely arrested because of Trump’s latest attack,” reads Presente’s site.
It is a frightening image, but one that is not foreign to many in the country. According to The Daily Tarheel, in the second week of February alone, there were 680 ICE arrests, 84 in North Carolina.
Immigrant restaurant workers aren’t the only community that Sanctuary Restaurants seeks to protect. The organization’s page declares, “We have zero tolerance for sexism, racism, and xenophobia,” and the movement has “the participation of thousands of workers, diners, and allies nationwide.”
Sanctuary Restaurants are not legally designated, however. A venue on the list has no legal status protecting its occupants, but rather represents a pocket of community where judgment and fear are reserved. The movement prides itself on fellowship:
“We offer support and resources to workers, restaurants, and consumers to help create the inclusive and equitable world we want to see.”