Some players in Seattle’s restaurant industry are reacting to the Trump administration with fundraising and more. A look at the approach of three places — how does the motivation outweigh the risks, and what’s the response been?
President Donald Trump has spurred some in the Seattle restaurant industry to political action. Restaurateur Renee Erickson led the charge, holding a fundraiser for the Anti-Defamation League on Inauguration Day, then raising money for the American Civil Liberties Union via “Cocktails for a Cause.” Seattle’s Roanoke Park Place donated half of gross sales one recent night to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, calling the event “Drink for ’Merica.” Northgate’s Watershed Pub & Kitchen dedicated their regular monthly fundraiser to the ACLU in February. All say that — a handful of online detractors aside — the reception has been tremendously enthusiastic.
Of course, for every place that’s taking a stance, many more are staying out of it. Restaurateur Tom Douglas, who’s active in philanthropic and environmental causes, says, “I wanted Mr. Obama to get a fair shake when he took over, and I think Mr. Trump deserves the same — he won the election.”
For those who do decide to fundraise — and take further steps — how does the motivation outweigh the risks? What’s the response been? Will they do more?
Activism with frosting on top
Would you like some politics with your cupcakes? Jody Hall of Seattle’s Cupcake Royale has been mixing the two liberally for years. She’s vocally supported and/or raised money for causes such as the Affordable Care Act, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Hall donated 25 percent of cupcake proceeds this past Presidents Day to the latter, and, she says, sales were up 35 percent.
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But introducing “The Gay” rainbow cupcake in 2011 gave her pause. “As a woman business owner, a gay business owner, to be out about that — it was really a tough decision to make … Should I put myself on the line like that?” For each one sold, every Gay Pride month since, $1 has gone to a different LGBT nonprofit. Negative reactions have come in via email, phone calls, comments on social media. “Really hateful stuff,” she says. “It’s crazy.”
But, Hall says, “99.9 percent” of the feedback has been “astounding” in its positivity. People call from all over the country in June, she says, to buy a dozen cupcakes, asking just to have them delivered to an LGBT nonprofit here.
Her success with The Gay inspired Hall to take action now that some of the Trump administration’s programs are, she says, “creating an environment of, honestly, hate and intolerance.” She’s pledged that for the foreseeable future, a “Liberty and Justice for All” cupcake will benefit a different nonprofit every month. “Our idea was to bring back the bake sale,” she says.
Hall doesn’t think the message needs to be cast in a partisan light — “just a light of these people need love and attention.” She notes that Cupcake Royale also gives 50,000 cupcakes a year to all kinds of causes: schools, churches, nonprofits, arts organizations.
“The power is in the people,” Hall says. “We elect these guys — some of them are listening and some aren’t … And I feel like being a good American today is showing up and putting your neck on the line, not standing on the sidelines.”
Restaurants and immigration
Racha and Wassef Haroun, owners of Seattle’s Mamnoon, Mbar, and more, are both from Syria. They chose to donate 10 percent of Mamnoon’s revenue on Presidents Day to the ACLU “to fight for the rights of immigrants and refugees.”
“We come from the part of the world that’s being called bad and terrible,” Wassef says, “and people tend to forget, with what’s happening now, that Syria has had the longest continuously inhabited cities — several of them — in the world. It’s the cradle of many civilizations, not just one.”
Racha’s family is among those who’ve fled the country as refugees, immigrating to Texas in the 1980s; she arrived not knowing a word of English and graduated three years later from the University of Houston summa cum laude. Wassef immigrated for a job at Microsoft; the company paved the way to his citizenship in 1995.
“The minute I became an American, the doors opened up …” he says. “To realize that somebody is actively trying to close the door — not just for people like me, who had the education, but people who have no choice … This is the very last opportunity that they might get to make a better life for themselves.”
The Harouns are aghast at Trump’s immigration policies, but Wassef says the business of resistance involves “a delicate balance.” “Part of what makes Mamnoon and everything we’re doing so special is that diversity is very, very important to us — which should also include diversity of views,” he says. They don’t want anyone to feel unwelcome at any of their establishments, ever. At the same time, he says, “There are so many people who are asking us every day, telling us they want to help.”
The Mamnoon Presidents Day fundraiser for the ACLU saw about double the usual lunch business and 150 percent higher for dinner than an average Monday. Starting soon at Mbar, proceeds from a soup on the menu will go to help Syrian refugees. And, Wassef says, “We really feel like we have to do more — a lot more.”
The intersection of sandwiches and politics
Just over a month after opening, Mean Sandwich in Ballard papered its windows in hand-lettered signs responding to Donald Trump’s inauguration. “NO ONE IS ILLEGAL,” one read. “WE STAND WITH STANDING ROCK,” said another. Co-owner Alex Pemoulie says she and her husband, chef Kevin Pemoulie, have discussed the intersection of restaurants and politics “endlessly.” She says it felt “crass” to debut “and hype our sandwiches pretending like everything was the same …
“To us,” she says, “there was simply never any question of not using our business as an opportunity to do what we little we can to fight for what we feel is right.” The Pemoulies decided first to do what they themselves are able (after paying their employees above minimum wage, Alex notes) — donating their soft-opening proceeds to the ACLU and the Indigenous Environmental Network; giving $1 per every sandwich sold on Wednesdays to a different local charity. Secondly, there’s The Mean Action Report: a weekly email newsletter directing subscribers to political events, lectures, concerts, and more. A recent edition included the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and a town hall meeting with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Overall, reaction to Mean Sandwich’s politics have been positive, they say. But the Pemoulies also recognize that it may be too radical for some. They respect and relate, Alex says, to those “wonderful and lovely people [who] just want to eat a delicious sandwich and use our restaurant as a place to escape for a bit.” They, too, want everyone to feel welcome. The invitation to The Mean Action Report is just a sign-up sheet on the counter, waiting.