Trump Stands Firm, Sending Celebrity Chef Suit Toward Trial

  • Suit is one of two filed by president-elect after rebukes
  • Chef nixed Washington hotel restaurant after Mexican remarks

Geoffrey Zakarian.

Photographer: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for NYCWFF

Donald Trump isn’t relenting in his lawsuit against celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian over a scrapped restaurant at his Washington hotel, even if it means going to trial as the 45th U.S. president.

A judge on Tuesday scheduled a pre-trial hearing for May 17 after Rebecca Woods, a lawyer for Trump, said settlement talks were at an “impasse.” A trial could be scheduled within six months of that date. The real estate developer-turned-president-elect is seeking about $14 million in damages.

The Zakarian case is one of two lawsuits Trump filed in August 2015 against restaurateurs who abandoned plans to establish eateries in the 263-room Trump International Hotel, which opened in October. The Trump Organization invested $212 million in the hotel, housed in the city’s historic old post office just blocks from the White House.

Zakarian and chef Jose Andres both canceled planned restaurants there after Trump kicked off his presidential run by calling Mexicans “rapists.” The deportation of undocumented immigrants and construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall were centerpieces of his campaign.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems to us,” the billionaire said of the Mexican government during the June 2015 announcement of his candidacy, according to a District of Columbia Superior Court filing citing that speech. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people!”

Business Ties

Those comments prompted several businesses to cut business ties with the president-elect including the biggest U.S. department store chain, Macy’s Inc. and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc., as well as Andres’s Think Food Group LLC and Zakarian.

Zakarian’s lawyer, Deborah Baum, declined to comment Tuesday on the pre-trial schedule. Woods also declined to comment after the hearing.

Andres is fighting Trump’s $10 million lawsuit with his own countersuit. He’s seeking at least $8 million in damages for money spent on developing his restaurant location at the hotel before being compelled to withdraw. Trump is scheduled to be questioned under oath in that case later this week.

In November, the president-elect agreed to pay $25 million to settle claims his defunct Trump University cheated more than 6,000 students with false promises of teaching them his real estate secrets. Last month, lawyers for the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas told a U.S appeals court it had resolved issues that led to a National Labor Relations Board determination it had violated federal law by refusing to bargain with a union.

The Zakarian case is Trump Old Post Office LLC v. C-Z National LLC, 2015 CA 5890 B, District of Columbia Superior Court (Washington). The Andres case is Trump Old Post Office v. Topo Atrio LLC, 2015 CA 6624 B, District of Columbia Superior Court (Washington).

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