After declaring himself a big fan of fast food during the 2016 presidential campaign, now President-elect Donald Trump attempted to convince us all that he’s just an average blue collar billionaire who loves tucking into taco bowls, pork chops and KFC—while flying on his private jet.
Now that Trump is set to become the 45th president, some in the restaurant industry he used to help win votes may actually suffer as a result of his proposed policies. But others—especially those at the top of big national chains—stand to keep profits high and labor costs low.
Trump proclaimed his love of fast food to Dr. Oz in September declaring that he preferred chain restaurants because “at least you know what they are putting in it.” But the food industry didn’t reciprocate that love, in a financial sense, during the election cycle.
According to the Center of Responsive Politics the food industry lobby usually supports the GOP, typically giving 70 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans. This year’s cycle, however, saw a major flip across the aisle with $289,208 going to the Trump campaign compared to $1,471,300 given to Hillary Clinton.
Plenty of celebrity chefs rallied together to support Clinton by participating in a “Chefs for Hillary” Pinterest campaign. But their support—and tasty looking dishes—weren’t enough to help Clinton pull off a win on Nov. 8.
But as Clinton tried to woo voters through their stomachs, Trump was embroiled in two legal battles with chefs Geoffrey Zakarian and Jose Andres after each restaurateur bowed out of separate restaurant deals to open eateries at the new Trump International Washington, D.C. Hotel. Both chefs decided to pull their restaurants in response to Trump's derogatory remarks about Mexicans and Hispanics in the U.S.
In March, Zakarian told Metro that he was happy with his decision to cut ties with the hotelier. “My whole life is spent with Mexican-Americans. Seventy-five percent of my staff is Mexican-American. They're my backbone. That's a family. ... I stand by what I did. I'm very happy I did it. I sleep very well at night.”
If Trump moves ahead with his proposed immigration policies which could see thousands deported and bring stricter enforcement to those hiring illegal immigrants, the American restaurant industry could be in for some hard times.
“Parts Unknown” host Anthony Bourdain recently explained to SiriusXM that it’s pretty much impossible to run a restaurant without hard-working immigrants.
“Twenty of those years in this business I was an employer, I was a manager employer. Never, in any of those years, not once, did anyone walk into my restaurant — any American-born kid — walk into my restaurant and say I'd like a job as a night porter or a dishwasher, even a prep cook.. I mean as few and far between. Just not willing to start at the bottom like that,” explained the chef. “If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he is talking right now, every restaurant in America would shut down.”
While Trump’s proposed immigration laws have sparked a moral debate among chefs (and millions of voters), some of his economic policies are being hailed as potential food industry saviors.
While campaigning this summer, Trump said he was in support of a “reasonable $10 minimum wage” standard. With voters in four states casting ballots to raise the minimum wage Tuesday, some employers are worried they won’t be able to afford their employees’ salaries.
“Minimum wage going up is definitely a hurtful thing right now,” restaurateur Michael Sinensky tells FoxNews.com. “Forcing these high wages when we are only profiting a small margin could be the nail in the coffin. If everyone’s minimum goes up to $15 an hour, you have to increase your prices and do away with tips…which the staff wouldn’t be too happy about.”
Last year, Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer implemented a no tipping policy at all of his full-service Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants. The move has been met with mixed reactions in the restaurant industry.
Trump has also vowed to repeal and replace the “disaster known as Obamacare.” It’s a move Sinensky is cautiously optimistic about. Says the restaurateur, “The insurance and fees have gone up, it’s hard to navigate the system. If all Trump does in office is repeal Obama Care then that’s a win for the restaurant industry.”
Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants (which includes brands like Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s) recently opined in the Wall Street Journal that Obamacare is hurting the restaurant industry because fewer people are dining out. “One doesn’t need to be an economist to see that Obamacare is reducing consumer spending, resulting in a reduction in restaurant visits. Combined with the economic advantages of eating at home due to lower grocery-store prices, we are experiencing what you might call a government-mandated restaurant recession,” wrote Puzder.
Trump’s proposed policies may be dividing food and restaurant industry professionals. But some eateries are simply using the President-elect’s brand—arguably one of his most polarizing qualities—to boost business.
Restaurant owner Eddie Hawa of Bellville, Texas claims he’s not worried about Trump’s policies affecting business. Hawa, a Muslim immigrant from Jerusalem, says he recently spent his entire life savings to support Trump by changing the name of his restaurant (formerly Bellville Café) to “Trump Cafe.” Hawa, who now serves Trump-inspired all-American dishes like chicken fried steak, says he’s hopeful about Trump’s upcoming presidency.
Says Hawa, “I am very proud of him and he will do a very good job. My dream is that Donald Trump will come to my restaurant one day.”