President-elect Trump is a busy guy. With all the festivities surrounding his looming inauguration, one might be surprised to find out that he’s actually been knee-deep a hotel lawsuit and settlement talks with celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian. Why? Well, last fall, Zakarian canceled his plans to open a restaurant in Trump’s new 263-room hotel at the Old Post Office Pavilion. Why? He pulled out of the deal because of Trump’s negative comments about illegal Mexican immigrants. In fact, he stated that Trump’s comments “would make it impossible for him to operate a successful eatery at the hotel.” As a result, Trump sued the celebrity chef for $10 million, a number based on expected losses. According to The Washington Post, however, that number is been bumped up to $14 million.
After months of back and forth, the two have finally reached an impasse in their settlement talks, meaning a trial is soon to come. In fact, attorneys Rebecca Woods, who represents Trump and Deborah Baum, who represents Zakarian, told judge Brian F. Holeman on Tuesday that their clients are ready to hash things out in the courtroom. According to Woods, “we continue to talk settlements in good faith, but we are at an impasse.” Baum was in agreement with her, and the two agreed that there was no need for additional settlement talks. During the meeting, the judge asked whether either party would benefit from a new mediator, but both sides declined and a pretrial conference was scheduled for May 17. However, if an agreement is not reached then, the judge would forego a jury and hear the case himself.
During the pretrial, it’s expected that Trump will focus on Zakarian’s breach of contract and Trump’s claims of “future lost profits from the restaurant deal,” while attorneys for Zakarian will highlight what Trump did to bring about the losses, such as referring to some Mexican immigrants as “rapists,”
This isn’t Trump’s first dance with a celebrity chef, though. In fact, he’s in the middle of a similar lawsuit with chef José Andrés and is actually expected to “sit for a seven-hour deposition” in New York as soon as this week. Andrés is another in a list of people across the country who were less than impressed by Trump’s comments about illegals and withdrew from the plans to open a restaurant in Trump’s new hotel, just like Zakarian.
Fortunately for Trump, he’s a businessman and was able to procure other chefs for his two in-house restaurants, BLT Prime and Nakazawa. BLT Prime is currently open for business, while Nakazawa, a high-end sushi restaurant, will open next summer.
Unfortunately for Trump, if the trial proceeds for this hotel lawsuit, it will undoubtedly create a legal spectacle for him soon after becoming the President of the free world. I doubt that’s the sort of attention he will want, and certainly, the other side of the aisle will use anything and everything against him.