Businesses close in support of Day Without Immigrants

Dozens of businesses, including many restaurants, join nationwide strike

Ami Cruz, manager of Fresco’s Pasta Bar, said his business was closed Thursday in solidarity with immigrants. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Dozens of Minneapolis businesses closed Feb. 16 to show their support for the Day Without Immigrants, a national labor strike and boycott intended to demonstrate immigrants’ contributions to society and economy.

Niki Stavrou, owner of Victor’s 1959 Café, said she’s the daughter of an immigrant and she’s concerned about the Trump administration’s position on immigration. She said half of her staff members are here legally from other countries.

“My staff stands by me every day through their hard work and I stand by them as well,” she said in an email. “If you go back far enough, we are all either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. This country was founded by immigrants.”

Stavrou said she felt closing was the right thing to do, regardless of the inconvenience.

“We knew our customers would understand — and they have responded with extremely positive support. It is my sincere hope that this action, this movement will make a difference,” she said.

Taqueria la Hacienda owner Miguel Zagal said he closed his Lake Street restaurant because he wanted to “send a message that immigrants contribute economically and manually with their sweat and tears” to the country.

Zagal, who arrived in Minnesota over two decades ago, said most of his employees are, like him, immigrants. He said he was acting in solidarity with immigrants across the country who “work arduously for a better life for their families.”

The Spanish-immersion daycare Tierra Encantada closed Thursday at 38th & 4th. The daycare serves more than 200 children at centers in Eagan and Minneapolis.

“All of our staff are native Spanish speakers, and most of them are immigrants,” said Owner Kristen Denzer. “Our entire program wouldn’t exist without immigrants, so to not support this day would be wrong.”

Denzer said staff approached her Wednesday with a request to participate in demonstrations at the Mexican Consulate in St. Paul. An email seeking thoughts from parents yielded more than 100 affirmative responses, so Denzer decided to close, despite a single day’s notice.

She said a couple of families weren’t thrilled with the short notice and inconvenience, but they also realized that’s exactly the significance of the Day Without Immigrants.

“The point is kind of the inconvenience,” Denzer said. “It’s recognizing the critical role immigrants play in our life.”

Blue Plate Restaurant Co. closed its bars and restaurant across the Twin Cities, including Mercury Dining Room and Rail, Shindig Event Space and The Freehouse in downtown Minneapolis. The local company also owns neighborhood restaurants The Lowry in Uptown and the Edina Grill in Edina.

“Since we are a family of community restaurants, we listened to our community. And believe we are strongest when we are united,” read the restaurants’ Facebook pages on Feb. 16.

A spokeswoman with Blue Plate said the company had yet to decide if it will pay employees who had been scheduled to work that day.

“We are actively working on a number of implications from today, and this is one of them,” she said in an email.

A sign notifying customers of Mercury Dining Room and Rail, part of the Blue Plate restaurants group, closed for the Day Without Immigrants. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
A sign notifying customers of Mercury Dining Room and Rail, part of the Blue Plate restaurants group, was closed for the Day Without Immigrants. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

About 20 restaurants were closed Thursday at Midtown Global Market, with several posting signs in support of the Day Without Immigrants movement.

“We deserve the respect of society as human beings and the government must us for the contributions we make to the country,” said a sign at Salsa A La Salsa.

Ami Cruz, manager of Fresco’s Pasta Bar, said he thinks that everyone, including immigrants, deserves a chance in the U.S, adding that he thinks immigrants are working hard for their money and respect everyone’s culture.

Cruz, a Mexico City native, said he hopes Trump can “kick out all of the bad people” out of the country but not everyone.

“Not all the good people,” he said. “Good people need to have opportunities.”

Cruz said people are worried about being deported, especially on Lake Street. He said he’s not personally worried about being deported but knows people who don’t want to go to work or the store out of fear.

Cruz said he’s hopeful that things can change for the better but that “some people need to open their eyes and see what’s going on.”

Lake Street Council Executive Director Allison Sharkey said about 60 of the 2,000-plus businesses on Lake Street were closed Thursday. She said that included the 40 businesses inside the Mercado Central building on Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street.

She said the movement appeared to be spontaneous, with most of the organizing happening within 48 hours of the day.

Business owner Tony Avandaro closed his Lake Street beauty salon and attended a rally that same day in St. Paul. He said through a translator that the immigrant community wants to be treated with justice, dignity and human rights.

“We are not all criminals,” Avandaro said. “We are hard-working people. We come to this beautiful country to contribute and work hard.”

Avandaro said he thinks the messages are getting through to people and that the immigrant community is “united against injustice.”

Minneapolis Public Schools Chief of Schools Michael Thomas, who was eating lunch at the Midtown Global Market the day of the protest, said enrollment was down a bit in the district, with “a higher impact in the EL (English-language learner) schools.”

“This is a teachable opportunity to incorporate a social studies framework,” he said.