Food

Donald Trump Sues José Andrés Over Old Post Office Hotel Restaurant

Trump is seeking $10 million in damages.
Photograph by Flickr user iprimages.

Mouthy Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is suing restaurateur José Andrés over the chef’s decision to cancel a planned restaurant at the forthcoming hotel at the Old Post Office Building because of Trump’s campaign-trail comments about immigration.

In the suit, filed Friday in DC’s federal district court, the Trump Organization seeks $10 million in damages from Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup, claiming that it has “already suffered and will continue to suffer millions of dollars in costs, expenses, losses and other damages.” Andrés announced July 8 that he would abandon plans to open an anchor restaurant at Trump’s hotel, following an online petition that urged him to distance himself from the fatuous developer and politician.

The Trump Organization announced last December that ThinkFoodGroup would launch a flagship restaurant at the Old Post Office, which is undergoing a $200 million renovation into a Trump International Hotel scheduled to open in late 2016, just in time for those Inauguration bookings. At first glance, the partnership seemed gaudy, but not unusual. Besides his Washington-area properties, Andrés has also opened restaurants at luxury hotels in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami.

But Donald Trump’s emergence as a presidential candidate drove a wedge into the plans, especially as he’s pushed a message that describes undocumented immigrants from Mexico as “criminals and rapists.” Trump’s bombastic campaign has made him the Republican Party’s frontrunner first GOP debate next week, but has also alienated him from many of his old business interests.

“Donald Trump’s recent statements disparaging immigrants make it impossible for my company and I to move forward with opening a successful Spanish restaurant in Trump International’s upcoming hotel in Washington, D.C.,” Andrés said July 8 when he replied to the petition. “More than half of my team is Hispanic, as are many of our guests. And, as a proud Spanish immigrant and recently naturalized American citizen myself, I believe that every human being deserves respect, regardless of immigration status.”

The Trumps’ public response was swift and furious. “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,” Donald Trump, Jr. said after Andrés made his statement. Tom Kaufman, a veteran real-estate lawyer, told Washingtonian it will be very difficult for Andrés to actually extricate himself from the Trump project.

Geoffrey Zakarian, another restaurateur who planned to open shop in Trump’s DC hotel, also pulled out of the project. He is not named in the suit filed today.

Trump evidently hires lawyers as prone to superlatives as he is. The 13-page complaint states that once complete, including an “opulent 13,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom and a 5,000 square-foot super luxury spa and state-of-the-art fitness center,” the Old Post Office will be “one of finest hotels in the nation’s capital and the world.” Andrés’s restaurant was expected to meet the same standard—”first class, high quality, flagship, top-tier.”

In the complaint, the Trump Organization alleges Andrés was aware of the elder Donald Trump’s views on immigration when he signed a ten-year lease to operate a restaurant at the hotel.

“Mr. Andrés’ stated refusal to proceed with his obligations under the Lease were allegedly based on his personal offense to statements made by Mr. Trump with respect to illegal immigration during his June 16, 2015 presidential campaign announcement speech,” the document reads. “Mr. Andrés’ offense is curious in light of the fact that Mr. Trump’s publicly shared views on immigration have remained consistent for many years, and Mr. Trump’s willingness to frankly share his opinions is widely known.”

The suit also quotes Andrés original announcement of the now-canceled restaurant, in which he praised Trump. “I have long respected Donald Trump for his business acumen and am proud to partner with him to create a truly remarkable, fine dining restaurant in the city I have called home for many years, right in the heart of the historic Post Office,” the chef said at the time.

According to the complaint, Andrés’s restaurant was supposed to be placed at the center of the hotel’s nine-story atrium. The location is so crucial, the Trump Organization believes it cannot open the hotel without an eatery anchoring the atrium. “In addition to Landlord’s obligation in the Master Lease to operate a “signature” restaurant, is indisputably harmful to open a luxury hotel without its planned restaurant,” the suit reads.

Going forward, the suit states that if the Trump Organization cannot find a “timely replacement” for Andrés, it “will be forced to design and develop a restaurant itself at significant cost.” (The company would also lose out on any potential rent.)

Andrés and ThinkFoodGroup have not yet responded to the suit.

Read the suit:

Trump v Andres

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.