LINCOLN SQUARE — Immigrant workers are the backbone of Chicago's dining scene, which is one reason restaurants are joining the "sanctuary" movement.
Jerry's, 4739 N. Lincoln Ave., and Local Pizzeria, 3352 W. Foster Ave., are the latest to sign onto the list of restaurants pledging "zero tolerance for sexism, racism and xenophobia" among both customers and staff.
"There probably isn't a restaurant in Chicago that could function without immigrants, both documented and undocumented," said Mindy Friedler, co-owner of Jerry's.
"If you eat out in Chicago, there's a pretty good chance an immigrant cooked your food, cleaned your tables, washed your dishes or waited on your table," she said.
Sanctuary Restaurants launched in January, promoting the premise of a "place at the table for everyone."
Bistro Campagne, Brightwok Kitchen, Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Hopewell Brewing were among the first in Chicago to join the nationwide campaign. Participating restaurants can be identified by the "sanctuary" placard.
The hospitality industry notably offers entry-level job opportunities for people with limited or no English, and can be a launching point for employees to move onward and upward, Friedler said.
"We've been fortunate at Jerry's to see young kids we've hired as dishwashers or busboys grow into managers and some of our most valued workers," she said.
Luis Garcia, owner of Local Pizzeria, experienced that exact trajectory at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, where he rose up the ranks from dishwasher to general manager.
"The Local Pizzeria employs a young diverse group of individuals who speak a myriad of languages and come from many different backgrounds," Garcia said in a statement.
It's important "to provide a safe dining experience for everyone," he said.
On a personal note, Friedler added that she's the granddaughter of immigrants who fled Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.
"Without the promise of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, my grandparents might never had the courage to get on those boats," she said.
"Had they stayed in Europe," Friedler said, "there is little doubt that our family would have been wiped out. Talk of walls and bans seems to go against the very spirit of America.