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José Andrés backs out of restaurant in Donald Trump’s hotel

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José Andrés, the D.C.-based super-chef with a growing national brand, is backing out of a deal to open the flagship restaurant in Donald Trump’s forthcoming Washington hotel – the latest on a growing list of high-profile partners to sever ties with the presidential candidate over his anti-immigrant comments. 

Andrés, the co-owner of ThinkFoodGroup whose restaurant empire spans 18 restaurants and food trucks, multiple cookbooks  and TV shows, described the move in a statement to The Washington Post as both a professional and personal one. The Spanish-born chef, who became an American citizen in 2013 after living in the U.S. for decades, frequently invokes his pride in being an immigrant.

“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.,” the statement reads. “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.”

Chef José Andrés is backing out of a deal to launch a restaurant in the hotel Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is building. (Video: WUSA9)

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A spokesman for the restaurant group would not disclose the terms of the lease Andrés had signed with Trump’s organization for the restaurant, which was to open next year in Trump’s $200 million redevelopment of the historic Old Post Office Pavilion.  But Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., e-mailed a response, indicating that the contract was for 10 years and that the Trumps could sue for unpaid rent and other damages — meaning a potential lawsuit could prove expensive.

“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, ” Trump Jr. wrote. “In the event Mr. Andrés 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.”

Last month, Trump set off an avalanche of criticism when he said of illegal Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Later, the defiant GOP candidate doubled down on his stance. “I can never apologize for the truth,” he said. Corporate partners have been bailing on him in droves, and a petition sprang up, asking Andrés to join their ranks.

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Andrés has long championed immigration reform, penning a 2013 op-ed in The Post calling on Congress to act on a long-stalled overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws and to support a so-called “path” to legalization for the millions of undocumented workers in the U.S.

“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,” he wrote. “They don’t want to cause any trouble, take any handouts or steal anyone’s job.”

The partnership between Trump, the brash hotelier eager to find a boldface toque with local credibility for his Pennsylvania Avenue complex, and Andrés, a high-profile chef with eateries sprinkled around the country, once seemed promising. “‘I have long respected Donald Trump for his business acumen,” Andrés raved in a news release touting the restaurant. Trump, in turn, called him “a true culinary genius.”

Lavanya Ramanathan and Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.