The Top 10 Trump World Dining Controversies of 2018

Restaurants got real political this year

Passersby examine the menu at the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, this past June. (AP Photo/Daniel Lin)

Donald Trump might not dine out much (or really at all). But directly or indirectly, he still loomed large over some of the biggest dining controversies this year. Here are the top 10 moments where politics and restaurants collided in 2018:

10. Trump still has not eaten at a single DC restaurant beyond his hotel’s steakhouse.

The Obamas were regular fixtures in the local dining scene. But Trump? Nearly two years into his presidency, he’s yet to visit a single DC restaurant beyond the steakhouse in his own hotel. In November 2017, it seemed like he might make an effort to get out more. “In Washington, you do have some great restaurants,” Trump said in an interview with the Larry O’Connor Show. “And I’m going to start going to them.” We’re still waiting…

9. Judge dismisses wine bar owners’ unfair competition lawsuit against Trump. 

Cork Wine Bar owners Khalid Pitts and Diana Gross filed a lawsuit against Trump and the Trump International Hotel last year, arguing that the President’s affiliation with his Pennsylvania Avenue property put competing businesses at a disadvantage. But a federal judge tossed the case in November. “I would be foreclosing all manner of prominent people—from pop singers to celebrity chefs to professional athletes—from taking equity in the companies they promote. Indeed, I would be reading the ‘unfair’ right out of ‘unfair competition.’ This I cannot do!,” District Judge Richard J. Leon wrote. Still, the wine bar owners have vowed to appeal the ruling.

8. Group tries to revoke the Trump Hotel’s liquor license.

A DC law requiring liquor license holders to be of “good character” was used to try to go after Trump this summer.  A group of religious leaders and judges (backed by a non-profit called the Campaign for Accountability and Transparency) filed a complaint with the DC liquor board arguing that the Trump hotel’s alcohol-serving privileges should be revoked because of the President’s “lack of integrity.” The liquor board, however, said it would not hold a hearing on the matter—for now anyway. But expect the complaint to resurface when the hotel applies to renew its liquor license in March.

7. Scott Pruitt tries to hold up traffic to get to Le Diplomate.

The former EPA chief apparently couldn’t get his steak frites fast enough. According to the New York Times, the often-late Trump Cabinet member wanted to use his motorcade’s lights and sirens to speed up at least one trip to the scene-y French restaurant. The gougères are good, but not that good.

6. Stephen Miller throws away $80 worth of sushi. 

After the senior Trump advisor ordered $80 worth of takeout sushi from a restaurant near his CityCenterDC apartment, a bartender followed him into the street, gave him the finger, and cursed at him, according to the Washington Post. Worried that someone in the restaurant had messed with his food, Miller told colleagues he threw the whole thing out. We still want to know: What was the restaurant?

5. Taylor Gourmet insiders blame Trump meeting for hoagie chain’s demise. 

The local hoagie chain closed all of its stores and filed for bankruptcy in September after a private equity firm that had invested millions pulled out of the business. Taylor’s overly rapid expansion seems to be a big factor in the downfall, but some insiders also say Trump is to blame. Three sources familiar with the company told Washingtonian that sales began to decline after owner Casey Patten met with the President at a small-business roundtable at the White House in January 2017. “Our sales dropped 40 percent the next day,” says one person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “And it persisted and never really got any better.” A spokesperson countered that the meeting with Trump “contributed” to a downturn in sales, but that the company recovered from that.

4. Protesters confront Kirstjen Nielsen at dinner.

A day after defending the separation of children from their parents at the border, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary was spotted at downtown Mexican restaurant MXDC. In the past, public officials living in DC have been able to go about their private time uninterrupted. But in this moment of widespread political outrage, that unspoken code of DC life changed. A group of protesters descended on the restaurant chanting “Shame!” and “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace!” It was the first big confrontation in a series of confrontations of Trump officials, and the incident has prompted an ongoing debate about “civility” and dining decorum.

3. José Andrés gets turned away from a party at Cafe Milano—and blames Ivanka Trump. 

The political elite gathered for an Alfalfa Club dinner after-party at Cafe Milano in January, but José Andrés, who attended the earlier festivities, was stopped at the door. The celebrity chef/humanitarian tweeted a photo of himself outside, asking owner Franco Nuschese why he was the only person not allowed in: “Is because @IvankaTrump told you so? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Cafe Milano responded to Andrés on Twitter, saying Trump had no role in the guest list and apologizing for the “misunderstanding.” Later, Trump herself reached out to Andrés to say she had nothing to do with it. Andrés accepted their apologies, tweeting “Now let’s all be friends.” He may be able to forgive, but we can never forget. Who dares turn away José!

2. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gets booted from the Red Hen in Virginia. 

The White House press secretary had just sat down for dinner at a small Lexington, Virginia, restaurant when owner Stephanie Wilkinson asked her to leave. The restaurateur didn’t want to serve someone who she believed worked in service of an “inhumane and unethical” administration, she told the Post.

The next day, Sanders called out the restaurant by name on Twitter. Trump followed suit, saying “The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!” What followed was an onslaught of harassment so bad it forced the restaurant to temporarily close.

1. And DC’s Red Hen takes the heat. 

You know things have gotten out of control when a restaurant gets threats for something it didn’t even do. Following the incident with Sanders and Virginia’s Red Hen, DC’s completely unaffiliated Red Hen felt the wrath of a confused mob. The Bloomingdale restaurant was the victim of a Yelp bombing, angry emails and phone calls, an egging, and even death threats. Good riddance, 2018.

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.