Of the two celebrity chef restaurants that backed out of Donald Trump’s DC hotel, only one will ultimately be replaced.
José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian both withdrew plans to open restaurants in the Trump International Hotel after the presidential candidate’s controversial remarks about immigrants. The Trump organization then sued both restaurateurs for breach of contract, and they countersued.
The Trump hotel subsequently brought in BLT Prime, helmed by celebrity chef David Burke, to take the place of Andrés’ flagship restaurant. But in the transcript of a June deposition of Trump for the Zakarian case (first obtained by Politico), the developer-turned-politician says they won’t replace Zakarian’s restaurant with another restaurant. Instead, the space will be converted into a very large conference room.
“We wouldn’t have had time to have a restaurant,” Trump says in the deposition, later adding, “I would have much rather had Zakarian.”
While there were talks with other chefs about filling the lease, the man famous for The Art of the Deal says, “We couldn’t get them to make a deal. We couldn’t get them to sign a lease.”
Trump previously told Washingtonian in a statement that “Zakarian’s foolish decision will be his loss and will have no effect on the completion and success of this project.” Asked by Zakarian’s attorney Deborah Baum if that was a true statement, Trump hedges: “I’ll tell you in about five years. I just don’t know.”
Zakarian was going to spend “millions of dollars” building out his space, Trump says. “And now we’re going to have to spend millions of dollars to build out whatever space it is.”
Before Zakarian, Trump says the hotel had been in talks with Jean-Georges Vongerichten. But according to Trump, the celebrity chef didn’t want to pay for the build-out and was interested in a management deal, not a lease. Trump, however, says he prefers a lease with steady rent as opposed to a management deal where the hotel’s revenue can rise or fall depending on the restaurant’s success. As he explains, “it’s certainty. You get your rent every month. The other one, you never know what’s going to happen.”
But with BLT Prime, the hotel ultimately settled for a management deal “because we have to service the hotel. Not because we want… If I broke even, I would be happy,” Trump says.
Still, Trump argues in the deposition that his presidential campaign would actually be beneficial to the restaurants in his hotel: “If [Zakarian] had the restaurant, it would be helped, as opposed to hurt… I’ve tapped into something. And I’ve tapped into illegal immigration. I’ve tapped into other things, also. But, you know, when you get more votes than anybody in the history of the party, history of the party by far, more than Ronald Reagan, more than Richard Nixon, more than Dwight D. Eisenhower who won the Second World War, you know, that’s pretty mainstream.”
Baum goes on to list several businesses that cut ties with Trump in the wake of his divisive comments. Asked if it concerned him that these companies wanted to distance themselves, Trump says, “No. I’m a big boy. I understand. I’ve been making these statements, by the way, for many years.”
Trump says “it is always possible” that Hispanic patrons would be less likely to visit restaurants in his hotels, but “I just don’t know… Likewise, there could be some people that will come because of whatever it is. You know, because of a candidate.”
As for whether liberal patrons would make a point not to patronize Trump’s properties, Trump says he thinks they would—if it was a great restaurant. Then, he takes a bit of a shot at DC’s dining scene: “They want to go to a great restaurant… There aren’t that many in Washington, believe me. There aren’t that many in Washington, as you know.”
“That may be something we can agree on,” Baum says.