Arts and Culture

When Mae Suramek heard about President Trump’s ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, she took a look around her community in Berea, Kentucky, to see how people were reacting.

“I saw that a local church was going to be a sanctuary church,” Suramek says. “I saw my friends posting on Facebook saying they would be a sanctuary and provide housing for anybody that might need respite. And I wanted to see how my business could be really at the forefront of letting our community know that we are a safe space.”

Suramek’s business is called Noodle Nirvana. Currently, it is one of three “sanctuary restaurants” in the state.

Started in December 2016 as a joint project of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Presente.org, the Sanctuary Restaurants initiative is a national program that allows food-based businesses to publicly declare they have a zero tolerance policy for sexism, racism and xenophobia.

The initiative also offers resources for immigrant employees, which is especially important to Suramek, whose mother immigrated from Thailand in the 1970s.

“When this ban happened, it did speak to me in a personal level,” she says. “If my mom wasn’t permitted to enter the country, you know 40-something years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Josh Poling, the owner of Bowling Green’s Home Cafe & Marketplace, says when people hear the term “sanctuary restaurant,” their minds might immediately go to issues pertaining to employees who are undocumented immigrants. But it’s a bigger topic than that.

“And while it does include a lot of worker rights, it’s more of just setting the policy of being a completely discrimination-, harassment-free workplace,” Poling says. “That is something we have practiced at home cafe ever since we opened. And the fact that now there is this organization kind of emerging that represents all those things, we are excited to be a part of it.”

Louisville’s Heine Brothers’ coffee locations are also registered as “sanctuary restaurants.”

In an email, Heine Brothers’ technology and marketing manager Chuck Slaughter said the decision was a no-brainer.

“Heine Brothers’ has always had the mission of promoting respect and dignity for the Earth and all of it’s people, and this fits right in with that,” Slaughter writes. “We have employees and customers of different religions, nationalities, gender identities, sexual orientations, races — and we want everyone to feel welcome in our shops.”

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.