On Friday, powerful New York real estate developer Stephen Ross is scheduled to host a fundraiser in the Hamptons for President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. That’s causing some of the biggest names in the restaurant industry to speak out.
On top of being the chairman and founder of The Related Companies—the developer behind Hudson Yards, among numerous other projects—Ross is also head of RSE Ventures. He has used this investment fund to back companies that are ideal tenants for his developments, including Equinox, SoulCycle, Bluestone Lane Coffee, Momofuku and Milk Bar.
When the Washington Post published a story on Tuesday about the Trump fundraiser, which costs upwards of $250,000 per person to attend, the backlash against Ross and the companies RSE invests in began. The first ripples were felt by fitness club Equinox and cycling studio SoulCycle, as calls to boycott the company grew online and reports of people cancelling their memberships spread.
Not long after, the restaurant world began to respond. On his active Twitter feed, philanthropist, restaurateur and chef José Andrés, whose restaurant Mercado Little Spain is inside Hudson Yards, recorded a statement on Twitter directed at Ross. “I support anyone, anytime to support whatever political candidate they believe, but these are not normal times,” Andres said. “I cannot be silent in this moment, so I’m asking Steve Ross hopefully to reconsider this fundraising and do the right thing.”
Today, David Chang, the chef behind Momofuku—the restaurant whose expansion has been fueled by RSE’s investment—cancelled his regularly scheduled podcast to put out six-minute statement instead, asking Ross to reconsider the fundraiser.
As a person in general I always want to be on the right side of the moral fence—having the moral compass to make the right decisions and the hard decisions. Steve was the only potential investor who believed in the vision of what Momofuku could be and offered us the freedom to seek that out. Nevertheless, we’re on the wrong side here. The fact is, our investor is supporting the campaign of a person I emphatically stand against. Steve, if you’re listening, and I know that you listen to this podcast sometimes, I respect and admire you as a businessman. You have been a champion of all the values of Momofuku. You’ve done a great deal for us as a company and I truly appreciate it. But I am imploring you to reconsider hosting this fundraiser. It flies in the face of everything we believe in at Momofuku. It frightens many of the people who work for you and it contradicts what I hope to accomplish by taking your money in the first place.
Christina Tosi of the dessert-centric Momofuku spin-off Milk Bar issued her own statement distancing herself from Ross, saying he was only one of many investors in the company.
“At Milk Bar we believe unequivocally in equal rights for all. We are anti-discrimination, we welcome and celebrate people from all races, sexualities, identities, nationalities, citizenship statuses, religion and beliefs,” she wrote. “I do not personally support the policies of the current administration. However, I also don’t mandate what people who work at my company believe politically. We support people having their own opinion. We support our teammates having their own opinion. At our company we employ Democrats, Republicans, and many doctrines in between.”
Ross has not cancelled the fundraiser and offered the following statement: “I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions. I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”