When Donald Trump became the President-Elect, almost all of my loyal employees at all of my restaurants were utterly devastated. A lot of them—my best cooks, valets, dishwashers, and everyone else—cried because they thought that meant their lives were over.
It killed me. It hit hard and it had a huge negative impact on each and every one of their morale. I'll never forget seeing one of my oldest servers, Julio, crying. He's been working at the same restaurant since 1969, which is longer than when I took it over 15 years ago. I sat there, and I knew that I had to do something to make him and the rest of my 200 or so Mexican and Central-American employees feel better.
The first thing that I did was write a reassuring letter in both Spanish and English, basically saying, "Hey, you're going to be all right and everything is to stay the same. I will make sure of that." I slipped this into every single one of their paychecks after the election. I also instructed all of my managers to do their absolute best to console everyone and make sure to emphasize that everything will be fine. Three of my best maids who work with me in my hotels were also in tears, and again, I reassured them that everything will be fine and told them: "You and your family can always just come live with me." The saddest thing is that these emotions are not hitting them at work—it hits them when they are sleeping at night or waking in the morning.
Let me kindly remind everyone that people who cook and clean for a living are the hardest-working people there are.
Like many others, Trump's election took me by complete surprise. I don't support any of his proposed laws, but I feel that as an entrepreneur, you have to deal with the system that we've been dealt and keep on moving forward. For example, many restaurateurs are scared of the pending $15 minimum wage. My thoughts are that you just gotta figure out how to pay your employees that wage and still make money. As an employer, I feel that we have to do something on our end to set up a system to give money back to our employees who aren't documented so that they can become citizens. Let me kindly remind everyone that people who cook and clean for a living are the hardest-working people there are.
Naturally, as a lifelong California resident who gets along with everybody, I don't see this the same way as the rest of the country and can't speak for anyone else. This is just my perspective as the son of a woman who taught ESL for 15 years. I grew up in too strong of a loving community where everyone embraces each other and in too intelligent of a state to allow any of Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric affect us. I am the first to call out my own privilege and I know I might just get shrugged off as a "white guy" talking about immigrants, but really, to generalize any group is pathetic. My mom is Irish, my dad is a dark white person because he is part Native American, and I married an Asian woman. What does that make my kids?
My dad taught me a very important rule: Treat the janitor like the president and the president like the janitor.
My dad taught me a very important rule: Treat the janitor like the president and the president like the janitor. Everyone gets the same treatment from me, no matter your job title, or if you are black, white, brown, or whatever. The truth of the matter is that when you work in the restaurant industry, your employees just become an extension of your family, and my employees to me are as important as my immediate family.
Many other restaurateurs may be too afraid to say anything about this situation because our margins are already paper-thin, but I urge any other ones out there who are reading this to take a stand and be there for your employees in this time of political uncertainty. Remind your employees that know that you are behind them and committed to their wellbeing. Understand that you will sleep in a very comfortable bed but your employees may not. Like I said earlier, if it came down to it, I would put my money where my mouth is and invest in creating a program that legalized my employees. I have a feeling I am not the only restaurant owner in town who would do this, which makes me happy for the future.
And if Donald Trump or any of his genius cabinet members happen to be reading this, consider putting yourself in their shoes for a minute. You will then probably realize that they themselves are the epitome of the American dream.
As told to Javier Cabral
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mark Verge is the founder of Westside Rentals, a hotelier, and a restaurateur who is involved with 16 different restaurants and bars around LA.