Restaurant figures pick fight with Trump

donald trump headshot

Celebrity restaurateur Tom Colicchio and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a union-like worker advocacy group, have added their support to a legal challenge of President Donald Trump’s connection to restaurants and hotels, alleging the ties bring him business windfalls in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

A lawsuit filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington charges the chief executive with violating the emoluments clause of the Constitutions, which prohibits the president from pocketing financial payments from foreign governments. Because foreign officers are trying to curry favor with the new administration, the suit alleges, they often stay in Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel or eat in the restaurant inside the property. Such monetary benefits are technically known as emoluments.

The action asks that Trump be forced to divest his hospitality holdings.

Legal scholars say the action is at best a stretch. Trump has already shifted responsibility for his business holdings to his children, and by all accounts has not kept a hand in day-to-day operations.

Still, Colicchio and ROC very publicly added their support on Tuesday for the action. ROC said that it has signed on as a co-plaintiff, and Colicchio issued a statement trumpeting his support for the lawsuit as a member of an ROC subsidiary, Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards Everywhere.

“As a national restaurateur with restaurants in hotels in N.Y., Florida, and Las Vegas, and as a proud member of RAISE, I am proud and supportive that ROC United, RAISE’s parent organization, has joined the lawsuit holding Mr. Trump accountable for emoluments violations,” said Colicchio, whose Crafted Hospitality operates multiple fine-dining concepts.

In announcing the action, ROC asked that other industry parties contribute financially to the effort.

The group was founded by Unite Here, one of the nation’s largest hotel and restaurant workers’ unions. Critics say ROC still derives much of its funding from that organization.

Trump is a familiar adversary to Unite Here. Even after employees of his Trump International hotel-casino in Las Vegas voted for union representation in contract negotiations, management refused to recognize the group. The property was ordered by the National Labor Relations Board to open negotiations.

ROC has been on the forefront of efforts to raise restaurant workers’ wages and benefits, supporting such campaigns as the Fight for $15.

The lawsuit is at least the second that has been filed against President Trump because of his hotel and restaurant interests. A couple who operate the Cork Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., about 1.5 miles from Trump International and its BLT Prime restaurant, say an institution owned by the most powerful person in the world enjoys a business advantage that violates local fair-competition laws. Proprietors Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross asked in their legal action that Trump be forced either to resign or sell the local hotel, since a small business like theirs cannot compete.

The hotel has been the source of considerable legal entanglements for Trump, both before and after being elected president. He sued chef-restaurateurs Jose Garces and Geoffrey Zakarian for backing out of deals to open restaurants in the Washington property, and was counter-sued. The various suits were recently settled, without disclosure of the terms.

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