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Donald Trump's Restaurant Feud With Vanity Fair Goes Way, Way Back

A history of the President-elect’s years-long dining vendetta against Graydon Carter

The interior of Trump Grill
Trump Grill
Nick Solares

America awoke today into the only mildly surprising reality of President-elect Donald J. Trump directing his early-morning Twitter spotlight at the circulation rate of Vanity Fair magazine and the fate of its editor-in-chief, Graydon Carter, and not at, well, literally anything else occurring in the world. The reason for Trump’s ire was quickly hypothesized to be a story published on the magazine’s website yesterday (and prominently displayed on the homepage today) written by staff reporter Tina Nguyen, whose headline wonders if Trump Grill might be “the worst restaurant in America.

Trump’s feud with Vanity Fair is, at this point, decades old; more to the point, it’s beef with Carter personally. In the mists of the late ‘80s, Carter started to refer to Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian” in the pages of now-defunct Spy magazine, and he brought his jovial disdain for the celebrity businessman with him when he took over Vanity Fair in 1992. The famously thin-skinned Trump has always thrown pebbles at Carter’s publication, but it wasn’t until Carter began moonlighting as a restaurateur that Trump could stop relying primarily on the magazine as a metonymic crutch, and instead could take shots at Carter’s personal endeavors.

Carter has had his hands in three New York restaurants over the last decade, beginning with The Waverly Inn in 2006, Monkey Bar in 2009, and most recently a revamp of the Beatrice Inn in 2015 (which he recently sold to its chef, Angie Mar). All of them are — or, at their peak, were — posh, expensive, power-and-fame-attracting revivals of beloved old New York City haunts.

In late May and early June of 2013, Trump began a campaign of tweeting about Carter’s “bad food restaurants,” often addressing his tweets to the Twitter handle of Conde Nast, Vanity Fair’s parent company, seemingly in an attempt to get Carter in trouble with his bosses for neglecting his day job in favor of extracurriculars. (This was and is not the case: Under Carter’s leadership Vanity Fair has steadily increased its reach, and its current media kit identifies its audience as 6.9 million people.) The timing of the tweets coincides with the publication of a series of satirical stories speculating on things found in Trump’s hair, including a battlefield map, the lyrics to Dark Side of the Moon, and cicadas.

Trump returned to his anti-Carter-restaurant tweeting in December of the same year, coincidentally around the same time a deep dive into the fraud investigation of Trump University was released online, ahead of its print publication in Vanity Fair’s January 2014 issue. This time, Trump named names, slamming Waverly Inn for serving the “worst food in city [sic].” (Since its opening in 2009, Trump has never been confirmed to have eaten at the restaurant.)

In his January ‘14 editor’s letter, Carter writes that in the course of being interviewed by William D. Cohan, the writer of the Trump University story, Trump angrily referred to Carter as, among other things, a “desperate restaurant man.” In what is only questionably an act of desperation, Carter took Trump’s dislike of his restaurant as praise, and for the past three years has had an excerpt of Trump’s eviscerative tweet printed at the top of the Waverly Inn menu.

"Waverly Inn - worst food in city" - Donald Trump, cheers to the silent poet!

A photo posted by ♲ (@thiagorosareal) on

It’s surprising, after all this time, that it took so long for Vanity Fair to decide to engage with Trump’s restaurant wars with a dining salvo of their own. But Nguyen’s chronicle of her meal (a cheeseburger that’s a “sad little meat thing” on a stale bun with awful fries; “flaccid, gray Szechuan dumplings with their flaccid, gray innards”; desperate-eyed waiters who deliver unprompted jokes that they were contractually obligated to vote for their boss) is, by most measures, a devastating blow. If not to the business itself, which Nguyen reports is now, post Trump’s electoral victory, so full of patrons that tables have been set up in the hallway outside the restaurant proper, then certainly — and demonstrably — to the ego of the man whose name is over the door.

Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America [Vanity Fair]
Diving Head First into Donald Trump’s Culinary Abyss [E]
Cutting Down to the Gristle at Trump Grill [E]
Donald Trump Really, Really, Really Hates Eating in Tents [E]

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