When celebrity chefs Geoffrey Zakarian and José Andrés canceled plans to open restaurants in the recently opened Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., they had to know they were in for a fight. The president-elect has claimed in the past that he doesn’t settle legal cases, and he’s sticking to his word on this one as he makes plans to meet Zakarian in court.
A judge on Tuesday set a pretrial hearing for the Zakarian case on May 17 after lawyers for Trump claimed negotiations reached an “impasse.” A trial can be expected within six months of the May meeting, with Trump seeking roughly $14 million in damages.
Zakarian and Andrés each canceled planned restaurants at the property, which inhabits the historic Old Post Office building in the U.S. capital, after Trump referred to Mexicans as “rapists” in 2015 at the beginning of the election cycle. Immigration reform has been a staple of Trump’s platform, and his comments were the catalyst for multiple businesses to cut their ties with the Trump brand, including Macy’s and Univision Communications.
In a statement, Zakarian’s attorneys said the majority of the expert testimony will address claims made by Trump regarding future lost profits from the restaurants, as well as decisions made to reduce losses. Trump is also suing chef José Andrés for $10 million, and Andrés is countersuing for at least $8 million in damages for the costs of developing, and then abandoning, his restaurant in the Trump International Hotel.
Sans two celebrity chefs, the 298-room Trump International Hotel opened in October, and since then, Trump inked a deal with Alessandro Borgognone to open his first Washington, D.C. restaurant, Nakazawa, at the hotel in summer 2017. The restaurant will focus on sushi and will act as the sister restaurant to Sushi Nakazawa in New York City.
The property has seen a troubled development cycle since it was leased in 2014, long before Trump announced his candidacy for president. Last July, Trump’s lawyers filed a suit against Washington, D.C., over a tax bill levied against the property incorrectly treated the building as a “hypothetical, fully functional and rent-producing commercial office building.”
At the tail end of November, the property was embroiled in another controversy, this time regarding its contract, which includes a clause that states “No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.” The General Services Administration has since decided to reserve judgment on the lease.
HOTEL MANAGEMENT asked hoteliers for their feelings regarding Trump’s election to the presidency, and though confusion and uncertainty abounded during the race, it seems hoteliers are interested in seeing how one of their own maneuvers around the Oval Office.
"President-elect Trump has pledged to reduce regulation and lower taxes; everyone concerned with advancing free markets should share our excitement,” Chip Rogers, CEO of AAHOA, said in November 2016. “President-elect Trump understands first-hand the delicate balance between organized labor and private sector businesses. This understanding from the executive branch has been sorely missed for quite some time.”