Attendance for last weekend’s Women’s March in Washington, DC shattered projections, with an estimated 485,000 people taking to the streets — and the protests reached far beyond the nation’s capital. Crowds turned out in all 50 states, from liberal strongholds like Austin and San Francisco to small red state towns (such as Stanley, Idaho, where 30 of the town’s 63 residents turned out to protest). Scores of women — as well as men and children — sported the pink pussyhats that have become a symbol of the march, bearing signs with messages like “Love not hate makes America great” and “Nasty women keep fighting.”
In fact, Saturday’s protests may have marked the largest day of demonstrations in U.S. history, with an overall turnout of more than three million people across more than 500 cities. And when this many people hit the streets, they inevitably need fuel in the form of coffee, bottled water, and food: Restaurants on and near the protest routes were packed on march day, with many crushing sales records. Here’s a look at how restaurants in three American cities were affected by the Women’s March.
As the site of the official Women’s March on Washington, the nation’s capital was flooded with protesters who came in from all over the country to rally at the National Mall. Hundreds of buses registered with the event, and more than a million Metro rides were taken, making it the second-busiest day in history for the city’s subway system.
Several restaurants handed out freebies to help fuel protesters through the chilly weather, from coffee and snacks to hand warmers. Centrolina, chef Amy Brandwein’s Italian market and restaurant at the City Center DC development, is located approximately a mile and a half north of where the Women’s March speeches and performances took place; though typically closed Saturday mornings, Brandwein decided to open for brunch, and to hand out free hot chocolate to approximately 400 marchers.
“It was among our best sales days ever in the history of the restaurant,” the chef says. In addition to being fully occupied all day and seeing a huge influx of diners right after the March ended around 3 p.m., the restaurant also had its busiest dinner service ever, with 230 covers. Reservations were fully booked up early in the week, and Brandwein notes 100 percent of the bookings were made by women.
Other restaurants augmented their usual operating hours to accommodate the crowds, too, including chef Mike Isabella’s Graffiato, located just half a mile north of the Washington Mall. The restaurant hosted a special Women’s March happy hour from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., donating a portion of sales to the Human Rights campaign, but stayed busy all day. “Given the volume of guests, we decided to keep the kitchen open all the way through dinner without a break between lunch service,” says Isabella. “We kept the volume up on our TVs at the bar during the day, and many guests were watching and cheering on the marchers.”
Meanwhile at Hank’s Oyster Bar, located on Pennsylvania Avenue in Capitol Hill, general manager John Bayer says the restaurant saw a huge uptick in sales due to the crowds: “On a typical Saturday we’ll do in the neighborhood of $7,500 in sales, and we did almost $14,000 that day.” Staffers also handed out “a ton” of free bottled water and coffee to marchers. “We’re a restaurant group founded by a woman [chef Jamie Leeds], and we’re very invested in the community,” Bayer says. “It was certainly an amazing amount of people out on the street. We saw a lot of people that went to the March and then came back and sat down with us because it was just too crowded to move.”
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But the sheer amount of bodies crowding the streets made it difficult for other restaurants to operate as normal. Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont Circle received a number of phone calls from women around the country who wanted to have pizzas delivered to marchers, but the restaurant couldn’t deliver with the streets so jam-packed. Instead, the pizzeria decided to let patrons “pay it forward” so that hungry marchers who came into the restaurant could be surprised with free meals. “There is no greater pleasure than telling customers that their pizzas have been paid for by a kind stranger from across the country who wanted to show them their support,” the restaurant wrote on Facebook. “There is always solidarity in pizza!” Overall, Pizzeria Paradiso did about 25 percent more business than a typical Saturday in January.
Compared to the craziness that Saturday brought, Inauguration Day was comparatively much quieter for restaurants: While Graffiato saw an uptick in business as the inauguration was drawing to a close late Friday afternoon, business before 1 p.m. was on par with a typical Friday lunch. Centralino was also “significantly less busy,” though Brandwein noted that “diners were enjoying multiple courses and clearly celebrating the inauguration.”
The biggest march turnout was actually not in the nation’s capital, but in Los Angeles. Though organizers expected a turnout of 80,000, the reality was exponentially larger, with an estimated 750,000 people turning out to march past City Hall and through downtown beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday; a roster of speakers included everyone from Miley Cyrus to the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti. Public transit was jammed, with waits for trains reaching up to two hours and Uber costs reportedly soaring due to surge pricing that takes effect when there are more potential riders than drivers.
Located directly on the protest route, Grand Central Market, a 100-year-old landmark that was recently revamped into an on-trend food hall, was predictably crowded: Micah Wexler, chef-owner of Wexler’s Deli, says the market “was absolutely busting at the seams packed.” His business served approximately 400 bagels, 500 sandwiches, nearly 100 pounds of smoked fish, and 400 pounds of pastrami and corned beef, marking a 25 percent increase in business over a typical Saturday. “In the days since, I have had no less than 20 people tell me how they tried to get to Wexler's from the march to no avail, with a line around the corner,” Wexler says, noting that “the mood was energetic, upbeat, and celebratory.”
Business was booming for fellow Grand Central Market vendor Belcampo Meat Co., too: “It was one of the busiest Saturdays we've seen that wasn't over a holiday weekend,” says manager Erin Mitchell. “I don't think any vendor at the market was expecting how busy and long the lines would be, but the crowds and patrons were very patient all day. Even though I didn't march, it felt like I was out there marching and part of the experience."
Prolific LA chef Josef Centeno has five restaurants located within steps of one another in the city’s downtown area — Bäco Mercat, Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston, Ledlow, and PYT — and all saw “a huge influx” of business on Saturday thanks to the March, according to director of operations Genevieve Hardison. “I personally have never seen anything like it,” she says. “Each of the restaurants did record brunch numbers and the energy in the restaurants was awesome. All the people, signs still in tow, were understanding of how crazy it was and super patient. We had a blast, though we definitely got a workout.”
And some marchers who weren’t stopping off for some of LA’s finest pastrami or a post-protest brunch were lucky enough to find a free meal: A local Sikh group set up a booth along the march route to distribute free vegan food and bottled water.
Restaurants in smaller cities with much smaller turnouts seemingly felt the impact of the women’s marches just as much. More than 7,500 people RSVP’d to the Facebook event for the Indianapolis Women’s March, though organizers say even more showed up. (Indiana, which is considered a purple state, went red for Trump in November.)
The rally kicked off at 11 a.m., with the crowd gathered on the west side of the Indiana State House for a lineup of speakers that included representatives from the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, and the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance. Restaurants in downtown Indianapolis were flooded with customers both before and after the march. Located just steps away from the capitol building, Cafe Patachou — a local breakfast, brunch, and lunch mainstay that describes itself as “a student union for adults” — found itself serving as an impromptu meet-up point for protesters.
Owner Martha Hoover says the restaurant is typically very busy on Saturdays, but the Women’s March boosted business an estimated 30 percent. “What we enjoyed the most is we really felt that we were very much a meeting place and a planning place for people who were going to the rally, to the point where my managers told me there were people finishing their posters [inside the restaurant],” she says.
As the grandchild of immigrants, many of the issues raised by the Women’s March are near and dear to Hoover. On Inauguration Day, her restaurant group made a significant donation to the Immigration Welcome Center of Indianapolis, which assists immigrants and refugees transition to life in Indianapolis and helps provide legal services. “People do vote their conscience, they do vote with their feet, they spend money at companies, I believe, that reflect their values,” she says. “The value of being inclusive and welcoming and open-minded are values that really translate to my customers.”
Less than a mile from the State House, The Garden Table was flooded with hungry marchers seeking fancy toast and acai bowls. General manager Jordyn Nelson estimates the juice bar and brunch hangout also saw about a 30 percent boost in traffic. “We open at 9 for brunch on Saturday, and we had probably close to 10 tables when we very first opened,” she says. “We got a lot of people coming in after the march, too. The entire street [Massachusetts Avenue] was packed all day. I felt like the energy was really positive; granted, I think in general the heart of the city is pretty liberal, but there was a very uplifting energy.”
According to Hoover, the impact extended beyond the area immediately surrounding the capitol building, too — including at Petite Chou, her bistro and champagne bar located eight miles north of downtown. “That night, people came in and they were in a celebratory mood. There was this sense of community I have not seen in any of our restaurants [previously],” she says. “Not just a sense of community, but a sense of unity.”
• Home Slice Handed Out Free Pizza During the Women’s March [Eater Austin]
• Scenes From Four Wage Protests Across the Country [E]
Whitney Filloon is Eater's senior reporter.
Editor: Daniela Galarza