Guests at the Trump International Hotel can dine in their room at any hour of the day. They can visit the Spa by Ivanka Trump. The can even have digital access to more than 5,000 newspapers and magazines to catch up on the news, fake or otherwise.
Despite being listed among the dining options at the Trump International Hotel, Nakazawa will be treated essentially the same way as the Starbucks on property. Neither has direct public access to the hotel. Guests may not care about a weatherproof path to a coffee shop — you can get a cup via room service, after all — but they may care that the hotel cuts off their route to Nakazawa. Consider: The New York Times has awarded its sibling, Sushi Nakazawa, four stars, and its eponymous chef was, for many years, an apprentice to Jiro Ono, the Michelin-starred sushi master profiled in the documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
When it opens in late February or early March, Nakazawa will be tucked into the back of the Trump hotel, next to Starbucks, in a space located about seven steps below street level. If there are views from inside the restaurant, they will be limited mostly to the imposing stone facade of the Internal Revenue Service building. The “street” immediately in front of the restaurant will be a short access road to the delivery dock of Trump International Hotel.
To reach Nakazawa from the Trump hotel, guests will have to walk more than 360 steps. They will walk by two other potential entrances and/or exits to the hotel, both locked tight, with signs indicating where the main (and only) entrance is located on 11th Street NW.
“This was the space that we were offered, and we liked it for a number of reasons,” said owner Alessandro Borgognone in an emailed statement from his publicist. First off, Borgognone liked the beauty and history of the Old Post Office building.
“We found the rent fair,” the owner added. “It had its own entrance (which was something we were looking for if we were going to be part of any hotel), and because we didn’t have to worry about coming into a space that belonged to another restaurant before it, we were able to design the space the way we wanted from the get-go.”
Yes, Borgognone’s restaurant at Trump International Hotel will not fill one of the spaces abandoned by José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian. In July 2015, the two celebrity chefs decided to pull their planned restaurants from Trump’s hotel, shortly after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump described Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug smugglers. The restaurant withdrawals quickly led to lawsuits. The Trump hotel later negotiated a management deal with BLT Prime, under chef David Burke, to take over Andrés’s space, and Zakarian’s spot has been turned into a conference room.
At the same time, Nakazawa will be so isolated that neither diners at the sushi restaurant nor guests at the Trump hotel will able to move back and forth between the properties, a rarity among destination dining rooms connected to luxury hotels. Phone calls to a few well-regarded hotel restaurants — Cafe Boulud at the Surrey in New York, the NoMad Restaurant inside the hotel of the same name in New York and Restaurant Guy Savoy inside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas — revealed that each has direct access to the hotel.
In a written statement, Borgognone hinted at the liberal backlash that the restaurateur has been managing since inking a deal last fall with the Trump hotel. Jeff Gordinier with Esquire magazine wondered in February if Borgognone is now the “most hated restaurateur in America?” Borgognone hasn’t helped his cause by calling Washington a “meat-and-potatoes town” and recently being accused of wage theft by Sushi Nakazawa employees in New York.
“We know there are people who are not interested in walking into the hotel but are interested in great food, and we know there are people who, when staying in a hotel, don’t necessarily want to eat in the hotel where they are staying,” Borgognone noted in the statement. “So we felt the separate entrance provided a happy medium for all parties.”
Of course, the liberal backlash existed before Borgognone signed a lease with Trump. The hotel has been a regular target of protesters and pranksters. Hotel management said access to the property is restricted because there’s not enough staff to monitor the entrances on Pennsylvania Avenue NW and 12th Street NW. There are 23 jobs open at the Trump hotel, including positions for a security officer and security supervisor.
Regardless of staffing and access, some VIPs who stay at the hotel may be escorted, via a private back entrance, to Nakazawa. “It is possible a situation may arise when we need to use the hotel’s private access, but 99 percent of the time guests will come through” the Nakazawa entrance, said Patricia Tang, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
Borgognone isn’t certain yet if Nakazawa will have a valet station of its own. But he said the hotel’s valet will be available for diners. And should hotel guests not feel like walking those 360 steps to the sushi restaurant — or not be physically capable of it — the hotel can use its car to drive them to Nakazawa. Complimentary car service is one of the perks of the Trump hotel.
Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.
The Trump administration proposes allowing tip-pooling in restaurants. Critics call it stealing workers’ wages.