April 22, 2006
Fran O'Briens Getting the Boot
Readers of the page will recall that at the end of my posts on our Friday night pro-troops rallies at Walter Reed, I mention that we greet a bus full of troops at the entrance to the hospital. The troops are returning from a dinner at Fran O'Briens Stadium Steakhouse, a popular restaurant in Washington DC.
The restaurant is located in the Capital Hilton Hotel.
The cost of the dinners is substantial. According to an editorial in today's Washington Times, they "...cost $3,500-$4,000 each to serve anywhere from 30-60 people. At least the cost is covered partly by a charity, the Aleethia Foundation. But clearly Fran O'Brien's started this tradition at considerable cost to itself."
Two weeks ago, the Hilton gave Fran's the boot. Their lease was not renewed and they have to be out by May 1.
The problem is 1) the suspected reason for the eviction, and 2) the utter lack of compassion their way of doing business shows for the wounded veterans who go there every Friday night.
Shoshana Bryen, writing in National Review, suspects that the eviction is for one of two reasons. The first is that the stairwell leading down to the restaurant is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, and they either do not want to comply or are worried about a lawsuit if one of the soldiers is injured. Right now, they have to be carried up and down the stairs if they cannot walk, and there have been a few spills.
The other possibility is that the Hilton is simply uncomfortable with having so many amputees come through their lobby every Friday evening. Walter Reed Army Medical Center is the primary rehabilitation center for service members from all branches who have serious injuries such as loss of limb.
The Hilton denies all this, or rather doesn't address it head on. A statement on their website reads
For strictly business reasons related solely to the inability to reach a new lease agreement, the Capital Hilton has elected to terminate the lease with the operator of Fran O’Brien’s restaurant at the hotel. This decision was not at all related to the Friday night dinners for disabled veterans but rather a result of lease negotiations that failed.
Whatever the truth, it is certainly bad publicity for the hotel. As perceptions are reality when it comes to business, I would think that they would realize their mistake and reopen negotiations with Fran's. But apparently this is not going to happen.
For more information
BUZZ PATTERSON sends:
I just had a long chat with Hal Koster. Our worst fears are not only well founded but grossly understated. It's a complete and thorough cluster @#$%. (Sorry, my words not his). I haven't been this pissed about anything in a very long time.
...Kelleher's(General Manager of the Capitol Hilton) responses to our questions were blatant lies. Despite what Kelleher says, Hilton has done nothing to support the dinners... never met a bus, never contributed a cent, never negotiated for changes to bring the restaurant into ADA compliance, never advertised the restaurant or the dinners within their own hotel, never provided logistical support... in a word, they've done absolutely zip. In fact, Kelleher hides out in his office and has had no contact with Fran's owner
Save Frans is a website dedicated to saving the restaurant. Kelleher, take notice.
Andi at Andi's World has several great posts
It's not about Fran O'Briens, the Hilton, or property rights. It's about the troops
The Washington Times weighs in today
According to co-proprietor Hal Koster, the trouble began earlier this year when lease negotiations with Hilton broke down over the installment of a lift for wheelchair-bound veterans to enter the premises, which are at basement level. "We compromised on just about everything else, but we said, 'You have to do the lift,' " Mr. Koster recounted in a phone interview with The Washington Times. But Hilton balked because the costs would be higher than anticipated.
About a month ago Mr. Koster and business partner Marty O'Brien, son of the late Redskins tackle and restaurant namesake, received an eviction notice. "They haven't said anything to us" beyond the official notice, Mr. Koster reports. But to his mind, it was clear enough that Hilton evicted him because it didn't want to pay for the lift.
In the immediate future, a rival has stepped in to be the goodwill enterprise that Hilton apparently isn't. Mr. Koster reports that rival Crown Plaza Hotel has agreed to host the dinners temporarily.
However, the Times notes that this is at best a temporary solution, and that the owners of Frans have not found a permanent location downtown yet.
The Bottom Line
The email I sent to Hhonors@hilton.com generated an autoreply with a generic message. The other email I sent to the individuals listed on the Save Fran's website bounced, whether due to volume or their being turned off I cannot say.
Posted by Tom at April 22, 2006 12:02 PM
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The Hilton is pathetic.
Posted by: doll at April 26, 2006 2:03 AM