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The Many Lawsuits of Donald Trump and D.C. Chefs

Trump vs. D.C.’s food establishment

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Donald Trump, the world’s leader in firing missiles over chocolate cake, has faced more lawsuits than any president in U.S. history. Besides that whole Trump University debacle, the 45th POTUS has also found himself entangled in a scourge of litigation involving the restaurant world: Celebrity chefs José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian both signed on to open restaurants but later pulled out of the project after Trump made disparaging comments about immigrants on the campaign trail, resulting in a series of back-and-forth lawsuits, and now the president is also facing litigation from some who say his refusal to divest from his hotel has resulted in an unfair playing field for other area businesses.

Here now, a timeline of Trump's many legal disputes involving the restaurant world:

2012

February: Donald Trump sets plans in motion to redevelop Washington, DC's Old Post Office into a hotel.

2014

December: Trump announces he will sign on award-winning chef José Andrés to lead a restaurant in the hotel.

2015

May: TV personality, restaurateur, and chef Geoffrey Zakarian joins the mix with plans to take charge of an eatery within Trump International. The deals are set, and all is well.

June 16: Trump is on the campaign trail and lets loose some pretty heinous statements regarding Mexican immigrants.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Andrés, a native of Spain, took great issue with the vitriol.

July 6: Some of Andrés' supporters launch a Change.org petition to encourage the chef to dump the Trump project.

July 8: Andrés announces his decision to abandon the project.

July 9: Geoffrey Zakarian also announces that he will not move forward with a Trump Hotel restaurant.

July 31: Trump sues Andrés for breach of contract and releases a statement on the issue:

In the event Mr. Andrés defaults in the performance of his obligations, we will not hesitate to take legal action to recover all unpaid rent for the entire 10 year term together with all attorneys' fees and additional damages we may sustain.

August 5: Trump announces his plans to sue Zakarian.

August 24: Andrés expresses his extreme displeasure with Trump's statements on Twitter.

September 30: Despite all this controversy, the hotel manages to find a restaurant tenant. BLT Prime is set to open at the hotel, extending the longtime partnership between chef Laurent Tourondel's restaurants and Trump hotels. The original concept, BLT Steak, has been around for years, and the partnership with Trump first emerged in 2006, when BLT Soho was announced as the restaurant in for Trump's New York hotel condominium.

October: Andrés announces plans to countersue, with claims that Trump was the one breaching the contract, given the massive affronts he had made in the direction of immigrants. Zakarian also countersues.

2016

January 6: D.C.'s mayor Muriel Bowser jumps into the fray, saying that while Trump's hotel was valuable, the lawsuit had the potential to harm the chef's business, saying "we really would like them to resolve that."

February 17: Trump is told he must appear in court if he wants to continue with the lawsuits.

February 26: Additionally, lawyers for Trump and Andrés have appeared in court, with Andrés' lawyers asking for summary judgement on the case to determine its merits.

May 9: David Burke (formerly of the David Burke Group and a repeat Top Chef Masters alumnus) is announced as the executive chef at BLT Prime.

June 17: Lawyers for Zakarian depose Trump in D.C. Both Andrés and Zakarian have expressed concerns that Trump's comments could hurt their businesses and reputations. Zakarian's countersuit read, in part:

Mr. Trump's comments would inevitably affect the customer base as well, given that high-income customers — immigrants and non-immigrants, Hispanics and non-Hispanics — were refusing to patronize establishments associated with Mr. Trump.

In both lawsuits, Trump is seeking to recover more than $10 million in damages, estimated to be the cost of the lease over the course of the contract, as well as attorney's fees.

The suit against Zakarian addresses Trump's potential losses from the soured deal.

As a result of Tenant's decision to abandon its obligations under the Sublease at this late date, Landlord has already suffered and will continue to suffer millions of dollars in costs, expenses, losses and other damages.

October 26: Surprising no one, Andrés hits the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton, introducing her at a rally in Tampa.

November 9: Surprising literally everyone, Trump wins the presidency.

December 13: Andrés proposes in a tweet that he and Trump drop their respective lawsuits and instead donate money to a veterans’ charity. Sadly, the prolific tweeter does not respond.

2017

January 3: A lawyer for the Trump Organization tells a D.C. judge that talks between her clients and Zakarian "are at an impasse"; the case is expected to go to trial.

January 5: Despite his lawyer’s best efforts, Trump is deposed in the Andrés case. The 90-minute videotaped deposition takes place at Trump Tower in NYC; sadly, the tape is never leaked to the public.

January 19: Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

January 22: A group of legal scholars and ethics experts file a federal lawsuit against the new POTUS, claiming that by taking foreign leaders in as guests at his D.C. hotel Trump is violating a part of the Constitution known as the emoluments clause, which bars government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.

March 8: Washington DC’s Cork Wine Bar files a lawsuit against Donald Trump and his D.C. hotel, citing unfair competition. The owners claim they’ve lost business from politicians and visiting officials who are being courted by the president; instead of being able to freely choose among all of D.C.’s independently-owned restaurants and meeting places, they’re now largely being put up and fed at the president’s own hotel. The business is not seeking monetary damages, but is rather asking that the court "remedy" the situation — which could potentially mean Trump would be forced to give up ownership of the hotel.

April 7: Trump and Andres release a joint statement announcing the end of their legal battle. Terms of the deal are not disclosed, but the chef says in a statement, "I am pleased that we were able to resolve our differences and move forward corporately, as friends. Going forward, we are excited about the prospects of working together with the Trump organization on a variety of programs to benefit the community."

April 10: Trump and Zakarian also settle their respective lawsuits. Again, the terms of the settlement are kept confidential.

April 18: Restaurant labor lobbying group ROC United announces it’s joining the federal emoluments lawsuit against Donald Trump, saying in a statement, "The Administration’s conflicts of interest are glaring and dangerous. As a hotel and restaurant owner, the President puts restaurateurs and restaurant workers nationwide at a disadvantage, pushing foreign dignitaries and governments to patronize his establishments over others." The lawsuit also wins the support of big-name restaurateurs such as Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio.

The Politics of Cooking for Trump [E]
• What Should Be on Trump’s Food Policy Agenda [E]
All the Big-Name Chefs Who Refused to Work With Donald Trump [E]

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