Cork Wine Bar, a nine-year-old bar and restaurant on 14th Street NW, is suing President Donald Trump and Trump International Hotel along Pennsylvania Avenue NW for unfair business competition. The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Wednesday, identifies Cork as the sole plaintiff.
The David and Goliath-esque lawsuit was filed by a team of D.C. attorneys and law professors on a pro bono basis.
“The president is taking business away from legitimate businesses and that is not fair,” said George Washington University Law School professor Steven Schooner, who announced the legal challenge to a group of journalists from several publications, including Eater, at a press conference this morning.
No monetary damages are being sought. But the parties are asking the court to “remedy” the situation and “ensure a level playing field for D.C. businesses.” At the press conference, they suggest that this could come in the form of asking the president to step aside from his affiliation with the hotel, or shut down the hotel and its restaurants (BLT Prime) entirely.
No other local restaurants are named or listed on the suit — yet.
“We would welcome any other restaurants on the same level of competition to join in as plaintiffs,” said Mark Zaid, co-counsel on the suit. Scott Rome of Veritas Law Firm, which represents various hospitality establishments in D.C., including Cork, is listed as a co-counsel.
Cork, which opened in 2008, employs about 45 people and has weathered the heavy influx of new restaurant competition popping up along 14th Street. Owners Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross say there’s been a clear drop in their business of hosting corporate dinners, embassy receptions, and political fundraisers at their RAMMY Award-winning restaurant since the Trump hotel opened and Donald Trump took office.
“People have a lot of choices where they can eat and our job as restaurateurs is to make sure people want to come in the door every day because we are all competing for those dollars,” Pitts said at the press conference. But he clarified that money is not what the suit is about.
“This is about local businesses trying to make it in the city. We feel the president owning a hotel and promoting those restaurants is unfair,” Pitts said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Cork’s owners claim the suit isn’t about “party affiliation”; Pitts ran as an Independent for city council, and Gross says you can “probably Google” and find out she’s an avid Democrat.
The lease for the Trump Hotel, which is in the General Services Administration-controlled Old Post Office building, made it clear that no elected official can benefit from businesses operating within.
Serving the president with legal papers, which is a requirement for a lawsuit, could get a little awkward. “None of us want to be tackled by the Secret Service,” Zaid said.