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Recipe for trouble? Sometimes, mixing politics and business, in this case for Sutton restaurant

Politics and business sometimes can make for a difficult partnership.

At the dinner hour this evening, for example, members of the immigrant-heavy Service Employees International Union will hold a demonstration outside Baja Sol Restaurant in Minneapolis’ Uptown area.

The target of the union is Tony Sutton, who along with his wife, Bridget, owns the successful chain of restaurants.

But it’s not Sutton’s non-union business that, at least outwardly, troubles SEIU. It’s his politics. Sutton is chairman of the state’s Republican Party, and SEIU links his position to statements made by the party’s endorsed gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer.

“Emmer fully supports the irresponsible and racist Arizona [immigration] law, SB 1070, saying that it is a wonderful first step and advocates for Rep. Drazkowski’s copycat bill which demonizes immigrants and institutes racial profiling,” the SEIU said in a statement.

It is true that Emmer once said he thought the Arizona law was “a wonderful first step.” An immigration bill by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, went nowhere in the recently concluded session.

Tony Sutton
Tony Sutton

As far as I know, Sutton never has made a statement on his personal feelings about immigration reform. And certainly, no one ever forced him to become his party’s chairman, a job he handles with great skill, glee and enthusiasm.

The SEIU says it is pointing to Sutton’s “hypocrisy” for “making millions of dollars selling Mexican fast food while making millions for the MNGOP to spend bashing immigrants.”

Sutton, typically available for comment on issues involving his party, declined to comment on this story.

Personally, I’ve never understood why any person in business would risk offending potential customers by having political or religious signage in their place of business. But then, as far as I know, Sutton doesn’t have portraits of Ronald Reagan or Tom Emmer in his restaurants.

There are people across the political spectrum who have made the choice to mix politics and business.

For example, for decades, Tom Gupta, the kindly owner of Schneider Drug at 3400 SE University Ave., has been advocating for liberal causes and political candidates with signage in his storefront window.

He assumes that it’s cost him some business, though he’s seldom confronted by customers unhappy with his politics.

“There was a case once where a man came to me and had his hand on his wallet,” recalled Gupta, an immigrant from India. “He said I was going to buy a lot of things, but I don’t like what you stand for, so I’m not buying anything. I said, ‘Fine, it’s a free country. The door’s always open.’ ”

There are all sorts of reasons people may or may not choose to do business with him, Gupta said.

Some come, because they like doing business with an independently owned, small store. Others like doing business with him because his store is the antithesis of the big-box stores that have come to rule the pharmacy business. Others, though, Gupta says, have left his store “because they think they can get a better price at the box stores.”

What it comes down to for Gupta is that “sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is.”

Felipe Illescas, who is coordinating the protest outside Sutton’s restaurant, said that it appears that many of the employees at the chain of Baja Sol restaurants throughout the metropolitan area are immigrants. He also said that the fact that Sutton’s chain is non-union has nothing to do with the demonstration.

“This is just the start of a campaign,” said Illescas. “We’re doing research on other businesses that are making money by using immigrant labor, then turning around and bashing immigration.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/27/2010 - 04:04 pm.

    Hassling Hispanics does nothing effective to keep illegals from coming to work for your campaign contributors. There needs to be a legal way for those who have jobs to fill and those who want to fill them can get together.

    If you don’t go after the people who hire illegals, you are wasting your time. I strongly suspect that if we rigorously enforce existing employment laws vis a vis illegal immigrants, we will be forced to reexamine or current immigration laws. And probably liberalize them considerably.

    I’ve never known any local business to get a surprise audit of their staff: tie all employees to their I-9, ensure the forms are filled out correctly, and spot-check all substantiating documents. Perhaps give employers 1 “get out of jail free card”, but have follow-up audits in direct proportion to violations, with at least one audit every year or two. Heck, restaurants get inspections twice a year without too much disruption.

    What I propose is to use their ire to force business people to crack down on illegal hiring, which they most certainly don’t want to do. But they don’t want to be seen as accomplices to illegals, either.

    If we fine enough of ’em enough money and toss enough of ’em into jail for illegal hiring practices, the power of green will persuade business owners to agitate for immigration reform, “for the good of the country”. Let the conservative business leaders then persuade the agitators using their own methods.

    To paraphrase an old saying, “money talks, reason walks”. So beat ’em into submission with cash…

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/27/2010 - 04:18 pm.

    This is a little more ironic than most cases of politics in business, though. The word “Mexican” is OK if it’s front of taco or tortilla, but we don’t want any Mexicans around speaking Spanish and making old people feel put upon. People forget that Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona once belonged to Mexico. Apparently it’s OK to take big parcels of land from a country by force, but if any of those people want to come here to improve their lot in life, we just put them all in jail.

  3. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 05/27/2010 - 06:27 pm.

    Sutton’s restaurants ought to be boycotted by gays as well for heading up a party that accommodates the despicable likes of Bradlee Dean and his organization You Can Run But You Can’t Hide. You know Dean–the guy who says executing gays is moral. And his organization, which is all too cozy with Tom Emmer and Michele Bachmann:

  4. Submitted by John Olson on 05/27/2010 - 09:16 pm.

    If you are gonna sling mud, you better be ready to take a few yourself.

  5. Submitted by Dan McGrath on 05/28/2010 - 11:16 am.

    SEIU’s position (and strategy) is nonsensical. They point out that Sutton’s business employs many immigrants. Isn’t that a good thing? The problem with SEIU is that they fail to distinguish between law abiding legal immigrants and law-flaunting illegal aliens. I’m sure all of Sutton’s employees have their proper documents. How is it hypocrisy to favor enforcing immigration laws and then to hire people who immigrate legally? That seems entirely consistent (and welcoming) to me.

    Protesting a business that employs immigrants because the owner associates with people who have the unmitigated gall to advocate for enforcing the democratically crafted laws of our nation and defending the border against unauthorized foreign incursions is the silliest thing I’ve read today (but hey, it’s still early). It’s a crazy world.

  6. Submitted by Patrick Cronin on 05/28/2010 - 01:48 pm.

    Just an FYI – that location is not owned by Tony Sutton. It is owned by a franchisee, an owner/operator that puts in 65-70 hours a week managing at her other location. Altogether, there are eight locations in Minnesota that are owned by franchisees, not Tony Sutton. Some are immigrants themselves and some are from smalltown Minnesota. All of the franchisee locations, with the exception of two, are managed by the owners themselves and/or family. And, I can promise you that not everyone in the chain agrees with SB1070. Please don’t punish these folks for what certain members of the GOP are backing. They work very hard to make ends meet.
    And as for gay people boycotting the chain, they shouldn’t. Baja Sol has always been impartial and open about hiring members of the GLBT community, and has many folks working in leadership roles.

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