Suing Trump Will Put Cork Wine Bar in The Spotlight. Then What?

Cork Wine Bar owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts speak to reporters at a press conference about their lawsuit against Trump. Photo by Jessica Sidman.

Until today, Cork Wine Bar was probably best known for its avocado toast. Now, it’s the restaurant that sued the president.

Husband-wife owners Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross have filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump and his DC hotel, claiming that they’re losing business from foreign dignitaries, lobbyists, government officials, and others who want to curry favor from the president by spending money at his property. “We feel like every place in town now is second place if you want to do business with the government in any way,” one of their attorneys, Scott Rome, says.

The restaurant owners aren’t seeking money, but they are asking the court order to stop the “unfair competition,” whether that means divestment, a resignation, or something else. Meanwhile, the Trump organization has called the lawsuit “a wild publicity stunt completely lacking in legal merit.”

Whatever happens with the case, Pitts and Gross have now thrust themselves into the spotlight at a time when online harassment and even death threats can haunt restaurants who wade into political territory.

“I think we’re worried. Our concern is always for the staff,” Gross says. Before they filed the suit, the couple talked to their team and found they were “generally supportive of it.” Without getting into specifics, Gross says they’re taking precautions to keep everybody safe, but she’s hoping that’s not necessary.

While the lawsuit is “a little scary,” Gross says, they’ve always taken risks, like opening on 14th Street corridor long before it was a dining destination. Still, suing the president isn’t quite the same as opening a restaurant in neighborhood in the early stages of gentrification.

Pitts and Gross claim the lawsuit is about business, not politics, but their political backgrounds (she’s a Democrat, he’s an independent) and, obviously, the high-profile target of their lawsuit push them in the vicious partisan fray.

So yes, they’ll have to deal with internet trolls, but there’s also a good chance the lawsuit could actually be a boon for Cork’s business. Washington is a very liberal city where Trump isn’t very popular, after all. Already, people are tweeting things like “time to go give @CorkDC some of my money” or “Cork is a great wine bar and you should go there.”

Many locals responded similarly when José Andrés backed out of a restaurant in the Trump hotel and was subsequently sued. A petition calling on Andrés to “dump Trump” before then was transformed into a call for supporters to spend money at his restaurants. And in the face of online conspiracy attacks, neighbors have rallied around Comet Ping Pong, making it busier than ever.

Cork Wine Bar’s owners are banking on that neighborhood and restaurant community support.

“Obviously we didn’t enter into doing this lightly,” Gross says. “We’ve never sued anyone before.”

“Let alone the President of the United States,” Pitts adds.

“It is taking on something quite large,” Gross says, “and we run a small little restaurant.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.