Amid Travel Ban Debate, Chefs And Food Brands Take A Stand On Immigration : The Salt From pledges to hire refugees to fundraisers for the ACLU, food businesses large and small are getting vocal about their support for immigrants in the wake of President Trump's new policies.
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Amid Travel Ban Debate, Chefs And Food Brands Take A Stand On Immigration

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

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

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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.

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