May 1, 2006

Few restaurants closed as immigrants rally

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Immigrant-owned taco stands and
bakeries from California to New Jersey largely were shut down
on Monday, but most U.S. restaurants reported no shortage of
busboys and cooks despite a national boycott and major protests
by pro-immigration activists.

In Los Angeles' predominantly Latino neighborhood of Echo
Park, mom-and-pop bakeries joined other businesses in closing
for the day. The same was true in a largely Hispanic area of
Jersey City, New Jersey, where a normally busy Mexican
restaurant was closed at lunch time.

A shortage of workers also extended to some restaurant
chains. McDonald's Corp., for instance, said some of its
restaurants were operating with limited staff or were just
running their drive-thrus.

Overall, however, experts said most restaurants were
operating normally and estimated the rallies would have a
limited impact on the industry since many had rejigged their
schedules to accommodate workers who wanted the day off.

"The actual economic damage will be minimal because they
will be able to double up on shifts," said Malcolm Knapp,
president of restaurant research firm Malcolm M. Knapp Inc.

In downtown Los Angeles, employees at several popular lunch
spots said everyone had shown up to work. Eateries at the
Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jersey also
reported no lack of workers and a spokeswoman for Starbucks
Corp. said the chain had not had to close or pare back the
hours of any of its coffee shops.

A spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association,
Chrissy Shott, said the trade group had encouraged restaurants
to be flexible with shifts or to send one or two employees to
the rallies as representatives. She could not estimate how many
of the restaurant industry's 1.6 million immigrant workers had
asked for the day off or stayed home.

Major restaurant companies such as IHOP Corp., Applebee's
International Inc. and Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants
Inc. said they had been planning for Monday's rallies for
several weeks.

"This is definitely a situation that we were able to plan
for," said Applebee's spokesman Frank Ybarra, who added that
employees in Texas and California had shown the most interest
in taking the day off.

IHOP spokesman Patrick Lenow said some of the chain's
restaurants were prepared to offer a limited menu or even close
if staff failed to show up to work, but added those plans had
not been implemented.

"We have not heard of any difficulties," he said.

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller, Chelsea Emery,
Robert MacMillan and Anupama Chandrasekaran in New York and
Alexandria Sage in Los Angeles)