As a restauranteur, you love your customers. Not only do they validate that your food is edible, they also supply you with the revenue that keeps your business open and, hopefully, puts food on your own plate. This holds true whether you’re a scrappy young entrepreneur or the President of the United States of America. The problem with the latter scenario is that patronizing a restaurant owned by the prez could be construed as trying to curry favor with one of the most powerful men in the world – and depending on who’s doing the currying, that may violate the constitution. This argument is the basis of an ongoing lawsuit against President Donald Trump – a lawsuit that one of the largest restaurant organizations in the US has just joined.
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Restaurant Opportunities Centers United – a non-profit affiliated with over 25,000 restaurant workers and over 200 restaurants – announced today that it is signing onto a lawsuit filed by the Center for Responsible Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleging that the Trump Administration violates the “foreign emoluments” clause of the Constitution. That clause states that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” ROC United suggests that despite his supposed divestment from his company, Donald Trump is still the financial beneficiary of the restaurants in hotels that bear his name, which will lead foreign officials to patronize these restaurants. That, in turn, gives his establishments an unfair advantage over other restaurants in places like New York and Washington, DC, where The Trump Organization has properties.
Though suing the acting POTUS could be seen as a delicate task, plenty of big names have backed ROC United’s decision to join the suit. Danny Meyer, Tom Colicchio and Alice Waters are just a few of the well-known chefs and restauranteurs quoted in ROC United’s announcement. Some of the statements were especially pointed. “As a restaurateur in Midtown, we frequently host foreign dignitaries for dinner and events. There is no question in my mind that foreign companies, countries, and individuals will feel compelled or advantaged by choosing Trump establishments over our own,” James Mallios, the restauranteur behind NYC’s Amali, was quoted as saying. “While I always expected to compete against the best restaurants in the toughest restaurant market in the world, I never thought I would have to compete against the pecuniary interests of the President of the United States.” Meanwhile, Paul Saginaw, owner and operator of the Zingerman’s Community of Restaurants, spoke specifically about his bottom line. “As a restaurateur, I am at a competitive disadvantage because foreign entities are compelled to use Trump establishments,” he said in the statement. “I am losing potential business because my customers are using Trump properties instead of mine. It’s not right.”
As for the suit itself, in an announcement yesterday, CREW said it would be filing the amended complaint today, also adding “violations that have occurred in the last three months including the federal government’s decision to permit President Trump to continue leasing his Washington, DC hotel in violation of the lease – a valuable and unconstitutional benefit – and the Chinese government’s granting of valuable trademarks to the President soon after he had reversed positions to support a ‘one China policy.’” Needless to say, don’t expect this one to be settled in small claims court.