Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hilton Heads For Trouble

For about two and a half years, a local restaurant in the basement of the Capitol Hilton hosted weekly dinners on Friday nights for wounded veterans and their families. The owners invited around 60 people a week from nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a full steak dinner including buffet and dessert. After awhile, various patriotic organizations including the American Legion started assisting with the costs – but originally, the $3500-$4000 weekly expense came straight out of the owners’ pockets.

The owners of Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steak House recently lost their lease at the Hilton. According to this letter from Hilton’s Senior VP for Corporate Affairs, the owners had not paid their rent, along with various other violations of the lease. This may be true. Or it may not. Various other blogs, such as Black Five and Leslie’s Omnibus appear to believe that those health and safety violations mainly included the perils of hosting disabled veterans in a facility that does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act – a flaw that, according to those blogs, was Hilton’s responsibility to fix and that the restaurant owners had addressed repeatedly with their hotel chain landlords. Also, apparently the owners stopped paying their rent in an attempt to recoup the cost of the room service meals they provided to hotel guests, which the Hilton had refused to pay for four to six months. In fact, based on the numbers I saw here , the Hilton STILL owes the restaurateurs over $8,000 in room service charges after subtracting out that unpaid rent.

I tried a search of Hilton’s corporate website for any press releases or responses to this controversy and found nothing. The only thing I’ve found in Hilton’s defense was that letter – and it seems to have been amply answered. If Hilton’s detractors are incorrect, it seems to me that they are in serious danger of libel suits. In the absence of such suits, I rather suspect that the various friends of Fran O’Brien’s have their facts straight.

The restaurant is gone. It’s too late for to actually save Fran’s. Fortunately, others have stepped up to fill the gap. This story in Stars and Stripes tells me the Hamilton Crowne Plaza has hosted at least two of the weekly dinners, and apparently there are foreign embassies, including Italy’s, lining up to help out. This is wonderful – but it doesn’t change the fact that the Hilton Corporation cancelled the lease on Fran O’Brien’s. Until and unless I see much more specific information on why that lease was cancelled, I think I’ll be avoiding any hotels with the name Hilton, Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, or Homewood Suites. Yes, those are out of my price range today. That may not be true forever. And it may not be true for you. And I can hold a grudge for a long, long time.

Any of you out there staying in nice hotels from time to time? Or who has influence on locations for business meetings and conferences? Perhaps the Marriott would be a better choice.

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