Celebrity chef Jose Andres is backing out of a deal to put his new flagship restaurant inside the new Trump International Hotel in Washington DC after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump caused a media firestorm with his recent comments about illegal immigration.
In a statement, Andres—whose ThinkFoodGroup oversees more than a dozen restaurants in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Puerto Rico—said comments Trump made about illegal immigration during his presidential campaign announcement last month “make it impossible” for him to open his restaurant in Trump’s new hotel.
“Donald Trump’s recent statements disparaging immigrants make it impossible for my company and I to move forward with opening a successful Spanish restaurant in Trump International’s upcoming hotel in Washington D.C.,” Andres said in a statement. “More than half of my team is Hispanic, as are many of our guests. And, as a proud Spanish immigrant and recently naturalized American citizen myself, I believe that every human being deserves respect, regardless of immigration status.”
Andres’s statement comes after Washington DC resident Erick Sanchez started a Change.org petition asking the chef to pull his planned restaurant from Trump’s hotel. The petition had gathered 2,750 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, but it was unclear whether it had played a role in Andres’s decision.
In an email to the Washington Post, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. said that Andres had “no right” to back out of what he said is a 10-year lease the chef signed with the hotel and threatened legal action:
Our relationship with José Andrés has always been a good one, but simply put, José has no right to terminate or otherwise abandon his obligations under the lease. In the event Mr. Andres defaults in the performance of his obligations, we will not hesitate to take legal action to recover all unpaid rent for the entire 10 year term together with all attorneys’ fees and additional damages we may sustain. We will also enforce the exclusivity provisions preventing Mr. Andrés from opening a competing restaurant anywhere in the D.C area. Mr. Andrés’ obligations under the lease are clear and unambiguous. More importantly, construction is ahead of schedule at Trump International Hotel, Washington D.C. and when completed in 2016, will be a crown jewel within the Trump Hotel Collection.
Andres has been a vocal advocate for immigration reform. In a 2013 op-ed for the Post, the chef, who became a naturalized American citizen after living in the United States for decades, lobbied Congress to pass an immigration bill that had stalled in the legislature.
“The fellow immigrants I’ve known and worked with over the years, those with legal status and those without, are here for the right reasons,” Andres wrote. “They don’t want to cause any trouble, take any handouts or steal anyone’s job. Many already pay taxes and have jobs – tough, dirty, exhausting work that America depends on, such as picking our tomatoes, cleaning our fish or canning our products on cold factory floors for low wages and no benefits.”
Andres’s decision to cut ties with Trump follows other individuals and companies who have backed away from the real estate mogul and presidential candidate in recent weeks. NBC, Univision, Macy’s, PGA Golf, the Miss Universe pageant, and ESPN have all distanced themselves from Trump following his comments.