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An In-Depth Look at the Legal Fight Between the Trumps and D.C. Chefs

Mud-slinging and more

GOP Presidential Nominee Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally At Collier County Fairgrounds In Naples, Florida Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about immigrants, women, and minorities have done more than hurt his polling numbers. They’ve hurt his brand, too. But when chefs began pulling out of his most recent hotel project in Washington, DC — inside the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Ave — he fought back. The legal battle that ensued was, in true Trump fashion, huge.

The problems began the very day Trump announced his candidacy for President. In a now-infamous speech, the now-Republican nominee for President compared Mexican immigrants to “rapists” who bring crime to the U.S. Almost immediately, the big-name chefs tied to his D.C. hotel put the breaks on the deal.

José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian were the first to nix plans to open restaurants at the Old Post Office project, and finding replacements proved awfully difficult for the Trump machine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turned out very few chefs were interested in having their names attached to Trump.

Andrés and Zakarian’s decisions to back out of the project eventually sparked a series of lawsuits that have been widely reported. But a new report by The Washingtonian sheds more light on the legal battle that followed. Below, the highlights:

Ivanka Trump initially attempted to smooth things over with Andrés.

Nine days after Trump made the comments regarding Mexican immigrants, Kimberly Grant, CEO of Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup, reached out to Ivanka, saying the restaurant group was “getting crushed over DJT comments about Latinos and Mexicans.”

Ivanka — who The Washingtonian reports had “drafted her own clarification of her father’s statements” that was never used — then spoke to Andrés, saying: “You know, it’s America. You’re entitled to your political views…as is my father.”

But Andrés was not convinced, telling a friend that he could not associate himself with someone who demeans immigrants in that way. After trying to privately work out a deal to end his lease, Andrés was rebuffed. His next step? Go to the press and Twitter to air out his grievances in public.

The relationship between Zakarian and Trump didn’t fare much better.

Though Zakarian had a close rapport with Trump Jr., whom he called “Donnie,” Ivanka wasn’t entirely convinced of the TV chef’s business acumen. In a deposition, Ivanka noted that Zakarian had filed for bankruptcy in 2011, saying: “I recall telling my brother to make sure that he got a good guarantee, because I had heard from a partner of mine that Zakarian had treated him very badly in a deal.” (It is worth noting, of course, that Trump’s own companies have filed for bankruptcy four times.)

She and Zakarian also butted heads over the interior design of the chef’s restaurant, but it was ultimately her father’s remarks that led the chef to pull out of the project.

From The Washingtonian: “Zakarian said he’d consider moving forward with the restaurant if that happened. According to the chef’s deposition dated April 28, Donald Jr. replied: ‘He’ll never do that.’”

So, just as Andrés had done, Zakarian went to the press and the Trumps again learned that they had lost another restaurateur after reading about it in the newspaper.

A slew of other chefs expressed similar reservations.

Fabio Trabocchi, Eric Diebold, Richard Sandoval, Tom Colicchio, and Bryan Voltaggio were all approached about opening restaurants in Trump’s D.C. space. All said no.

Jeff Tunks, a partner and chef at Passion Food Hospitality toured the space, but apparently only “as a favor to a friend at Streetsense.”

He told The Washingtonian: “My fiancée would leave me if I opened a restaurant in the Trump hotel.”

In separate suits, the Trumps sued Andrés’s and Zakarian’s companies. Countersuits were eventually filed, though those suits remain unresolved.

One thing that is clear? Trump’s brand — which he often touts on the campaign trail — has taken a beating over the course of his campaign. Though the D.C. property did eventually find one chef for the D.C Hotel (David Burke heads up the kitchen at BLT Prime), it was forced to turn the other empty restaurant space into a conference room.

Trump’s company is now planning a new hotel brand targeting a younger clientele. Their name? Scion.

How Donald Trump Lost His DC Restaurants [Washingtonian]
All the Big-Name Chefs Who Refused to Work With Donald Trump [E]
The Many Lawsuits of Donald Trump and D.C. Chefs [E]