When we opened Cork Wine Bar in 2008, there were very few restaurants on 14th Street in Northwest Washington. Since then, the area has exploded, becoming a dining destination with more than 25 restaurants just within a few square blocks of us. Despite the tremendous number of options open to Washington diners, Cork has done exceedingly well. We have consistently won awards and praise for our wines, food and our hospitality for the hosting of events. Our patrons include elected officials, White House and congressional staffers, lobbyists, nonprofits, foreign officials, and Embassy staff.
We’re no strangers to competition. But there’s one business in DC that is not playing fairly: the Trump International Hotel and its dining establishments. Last week, we filed a lawsuit arguing that President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE’s ownership of the hotel and restaurants, mere blocks from the White House, is unfair competition for us and other Washington-area restaurants. Here’s why we’re asking the courts to make things right.
Washington is a company town. Many, if not most, people in DC rely on business that is somehow related to the federal government, whether they’re an elected official, a lobbyist, a government contractor, or with a foreign entity. You have a choice of where to dine, host an event, or stay for the night. Why wouldn’t you choose the venue that would most please the president of the United States? Why wouldn’t you choose his restaurants, which he is known to frequent, and maybe have the opportunity to talk with him directly? Why wouldn’t you take advantage of the opportunity to curry favor in this way, especially when we get daily reminders that this president is known to demand and reward loyalty, while punishing those who have crossed or not supported him?
Of course, every time a new restaurant opens in town, it has the potential of taking business away from us and other existing establishments. That was true when we opened, and it is equally true today in DC’s thriving and diverse dining scene. That’s part of the free enterprise system which we wholeheartedly embrace. But competition from the Trump hotel is something different. The president’s name, well-known ownership and presence give the Trump International Hotel a big leg up in winning the competition of attracting diners and tourists, and hosting lucrative events where many people gather to drink and dine or even more intimate political dinners.
How do we know the Trump hotel competition is something different? The lease that Donald Trump signed with the federal government for the hotel clearly spells it out. The lease specifically forbids any elected official, including the president, from having an ownership interest in the hotel where he or she receives benefits while in elective office. Because Trump has been president since Jan. 20, and since he owns 100 percent of the beneficial interest in the hotel, he is in violation of the lease.
When this issue was first raised, people assumed, as we did, that the provision was there to prevent the president from interfering with the General Services Administration (GSA), whose head he can fire at will, and favoring the hotel instead of the United States. Our lawyers then told us that this ban applies not just to the president and members of Congress, but also to any elected official of the District of Columbia and even our non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Because none of them has any power over GSA, the provision of the lease has a much broader purpose: prohibiting an elected official from exploiting public office for private gain at the expense of competitors like us who are not backed by elected officials. In other words, the lease prevents elected officials from unfairly funneling business to the hotel and its restaurants, while taking business away from competitors like us.
We’re not asking for any money. We’re simply asking the court to stop this unfair competition, as the Trump Hotel’s own lease requires. We leave it to the court and the defendants to decide the best means of leveling the playing field, whether that be selling or closing the hotel until the end of Donald Trump’s presidency. If they do, all of Washington will benefit — not just the current occupant of the White House.
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