When Donald Trump opted for mountains of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s to feed the Clemson University football team Monday, it seemed like just another chapter of the president’s well-known love affair with junk food.
But for local D.C. restaurants or caterers, it was a lost opportunity, made all the more bitter by the fact that their bottom lines have suffered since the government shutdown weeks ago. Instead of giving some local establishments some presidential-level exposure, Trump lavished praise and attention on the biggest fast food corporations in the world.
“This is a precarious time for local restaurants because they have been negatively impacted by the shutdown with restaurants reporting a decrease in sales up to 60 percent,” Kathy E. Hollinger, President and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, told The Daily Beast. “Local restaurants are feeling frustrated and scared for the viability of their business as this shutdown continues and would likely appreciate support and a boost as some have had to reduce hours and are struggling to meet payroll.”
Presidents have, in the past, turned to D.C. restaurants to help cater White House events and even traveled outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to eat at and spotlight local eateries. Those trips have proven to be major boosts for those establishments as they seek to gain recognition in a competitive market.
Trump has notably avoided D.C.’s food scene, choosing instead to dine out in his hotel’s restaurants, when he dines out at all. And when he hosted the college football national champions at the White House on Monday, the president catered the event with, what he called, “everyone’s favorite fast foods.” The Clemson Tigers team was greeted with trays of burgers, fries, nuggets and slices of pizza.
According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump paid for the event’s catering himself—saying that he did so because much of the residence staff that would have normally provided the event’s food was furloughed due to the shutdown.
“If it’s American, I like it. It’s all American stuff,” Trump told reporters at the event. “We have pizzas, we have 300 hamburgers, many, many french fries, all of our favorite foods… The reason we did this is because of the shutdown.”
Though the District has its share of fast food stops, there are ample other options from which to choose, with an estimated 2,233 restaurants in the city’s limits. And according to Raj Aggarwal, president of Think Local First D.C., many local D.C. businesses would be eager for the business, as they have been “stepping up to fill the gaps caused by the shutdown”—like offering free food or discounts to furloughed workers.
“We encourage everyone, including the President, to think local first to meet their needs,” Aggarwal said.
On top of food assistance, local eateries and pop-up food events hosted by catering companies have served as a gathering place for struggling furloughed workers to cope.
“They’re not really showing up for the food, they’re showing up to talk, Patricia Simitakos, owner of Trish Star Events, told The Daily Beast. “They see this has a good opportunity and talk this through… They’re frustrated and they’re hurt, so I think it’s less of a dietary support than emotional support.”
Simitakos said she wasn’t surprised that the Trump White House didn’t opt for local catering, adding that “this particular White House wasn’t social” and the behavior was “par for the course.”
“Maybe [Trump] just wanted to have it his way,” Simitakos said.