EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s connection to Portland restaurants, explained

Former Pacific Northwest hotelier Gordon Sondland yesterday contacted investigators of the House impeachment inquiry in a closed-door meeting. Sondland’s name has also returned frequently in Portland hotel industry circles lately. After text messages revealed that Sondland was at the heart of Trump’s attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, US Congressman Earl Blumenauer proposed a boycott of Sondland-founded company Provenance Hotels.

With six properties in the Portland area, Provenance is a giant in the city’s luxury hotel industry. They are home to several of Portland’s best restaurants, including Bullard and its sister bar Abigail Hall. Prominent Portland restaurateur Vitaly Paley has several restaurants at Provenance Hotels including Rosa Rosa, Headwaters, The Crown, and Imperial.

Here’s Blumenauer’s call to action: “Anyone who cares about America shouldn’t be doing any business or staying at any of Gordon Sondland’s hotels. Not until he has fulfilled his duty as a citizen to testify and submit all relevant documents to the House of Representatives.

In response, ice cream giant Salt & Straw, which was once available for room service, quickly cut ties with Provenance Hotels. Picketers gathered outside the Heathman Hotel on several occasions during the week to protest, urging Sondland to “tell the truth” during his testimony. On October 13, protesters said their goal was to show Sondland that “Oregon is watching.” Provenance’s response was to file an ethics complaint against Blumenauer.

When Trump appointed Sondland United States ambassador to the European Union in 2018, Sondland stopped being involved in the day-to-day operations of hotels. He is no more than a minority investor. Since many workers are suffering from boycotts like this, some Portlanders are unsure whether or not they should stop patronizing these companies. Here’s a breakdown of what we know about Sondland, Provenance Hotels, and related restaurants.

Who is Gordon Sondland?

Before Gordon Sondland became President Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union in 2018, he was best known as the founder of the Provenance Hotels chain, with locations all over Boston to Palm Springs. He has donated to several Republican candidates over the years, including Jeb Bush.

In August 2016, news broke that Sondland was on the list of hosts for a fundraising dinner for the campaign. After publicly disowning Trump, he then attempted to disguise a million dollar donation to Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017 by doing so through various LLCs instead of his own name. Voice critics, including novelist Christopher Moore, publicly boycotted the Heathman and other Provenance hotels in response.

Why is Gordon Sondland relevant right now?

Earlier this month, Sondland was called to participate in the impeachment inquiry and testify before Congress, but the Trump administration ordered Sondland not to appear. He spoke to House impeachment investigators on Thursday, testifying behind closed doors. In his published testimony, Sondland essentially said that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was responsible for interactions between Trump and the Ukrainian government. Some correspondents, including Vox’s Alex Ward, see this disclosure as Sondland throwing Giuliani under the bus.

According to Vox.com, “A Republican senator even claims Sondland told him Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine until they agreed to conduct these inquiries.” And when a diplomat expressed his concern about it, Sondland urged him not to text about it but rather to talk about it on the phone (which would leave no record of what was discussed).

Does he take advantage of Provenance Hotels restaurants?

Although Gordon Sondland is one of the founders of Provenance, he is currently not a member of the board of directors and is no longer CEO. According to its recently released financial statements, Sondland severed its business ties with the hotel in June 2018; he remains a minority investor. Kate Buska, vice president of brand development and communications at Provenance, said the company could not comment on the earnings of minority investors.

She clarified that most of the restaurants in Provenance hotels are simply tenants; in this case, Provenance would only receive rent money from these restaurants – theoretically, a significant amount of money each month.

According to Jen Quist and Doug Adams, partners of the Holler Hospitality restaurant group (the group behind Bullard and Abigail Hall), Provenance does not oversee or manage anything related to the Woodlark Hotel’s dining program; they’re under the same umbrella, but separate businesses – Holler works directly with owner NBP Capital. Restaurants, however, are a big draw and a reason more people might want to stay at the hotel.

Paley said his restaurant group has a traditional rental agreement with Provenance Hotels and they also provide food to hotel guests. Even so, Paley does not regret his relationship with Provenance; in general, he regards it as respectful and beneficial. “It’s a long-standing relationship,” Paley says. “We spent seven years with Provenance – not Gordon, I insist – but Provenance. When we first opened Imperial, Gordon was involved. We have never seen him since; we don’t negotiate with him.

But Quist and Paley are worried about their own employees and those of the hotel. All have been influenced by the boycott and the news. Paley and Lahsene say the weight of the boycotts, combined with the downtown clashes between Antifa and various white supremacist groups, has had an impact on earnings and could hurt employees across the board. Marcel Lahsene, another partner of Paley Hospitality, thinks of the hotel valets and restaurant waiters, who have felt the anxiety and weight of picketers and scathing critics. “You’re not hurting Gordon Sondland,” Lahsene says of the picketers. “It takes a long time to start a business… when something like that happens, those regulars don’t come back. “

Why boycott these restaurants?

Because he is a founder, Sondland is always associated with these companies and their success. Even as a simple minority investor, he benefits if hotels are doing well and their integrated restaurants are part of the business plan. The presence of these restaurants within the Provenance Hotels also helped Sondland develop the fortune that enabled him to make such a large donation to the Trump campaign, which most likely helped him secure the post of Ambassador to the EU.

Why not boycott these restaurants?

Because Sondland is not a board member, he has no control over catering partnerships with his hotels. Bullard, Abigail Hall, Good Coffee and Rosa Rosa all opened after Sondland stepped down as CEO. In addition, the restaurant employees – chefs, line cooks, waiters, etc. – are not associated with Sondland. If there are fewer reservations in restaurants, it affects the wages and job stability of its employees. Another thought: The boycott originally proposed by Blumenauer was supposed to last “until he fulfills his duty as a citizen to testify and hand over all relevant documents” for the impeachment inquiry. He appeared on Thursday.

• Provence hotels [Official]
• Gordon Sondland, the ambassador at the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry, explained [Vox]
• Oregon Blumenauer calls for boycott of Gordon Sondland hotels. Sondland pushes back. [OPB]
• Sondland’s financial situation: private jet, art collections and much more [OPB]
• Two Portland hotel executives disown Donald Trump after being listed among his event sponsors [WWeek]
• Portland hotelier hid $ 1 million donation at Trump inauguration [O]
• Salt & Straw sever ties with hotels Provenance by Gordon Sondland [O]


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Sandy A. Greer

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