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NoMa burger joint TD Burger is claiming it was the victim of racial discrimination by its landlord in a lawsuit that alleges the building owner wanted to halt the restaurant’s live R&B and jazz shows in order to turn away an African-American crowd. The suit follows legal action taken by the landlord against TD Burger in November seeking to evict the restaurant for unpaid rent.
Top Chef season 7 alum Timothy Dean opened TD Burger at the base of an apartment building at 250 K St. NE in August 2013. According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court today, the restaurant introduced live music as way to pick up business and help pay the rent. The eatery booked acts like jazz musician Marcus Johnson and others, “which in turn attracted many upscale African American and cultured professionals.” The entertainment reportedly generated more than $20,000 a month in new revenue.
The lawsuit claims the landlord, Union Place Phase I LLC, a subsidiary of TIAA-CREF, sent the restaurant a cease and desist about the live music without any notice about violations of the lease or D.C. law. When the restaurant contacted the landlord about the situation, the management allegedly told them that the building’s tenants did “not feel safe with the Black clientele that the R&B/ Jazz bands were attracting to the restaurant.”
But the landlord claims that is not at all the case. “Eviction proceedings were filed against Mr. Dean in 2015 due to substantial non-payment of rent. The allegations in his suit are completely without merit,” a representative from TIAA-CREF says in an emailed statement. The company declined to comment further.
Indeed, Union Place Phase I LLC sued TD Burger on Nov. 23 in Landlord and Tenant Court. The complaint alleges the restaurant owed more than $168,000 in rent and other fees between Sept. 1, 2013 and Nov. 1 2015.
This would not be the first time one of Dean’s restaurants has faced financial troubles. He also closed another location of TD Burger in Largo, Md. last spring after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (UPDATE: This is also not the first time Dean has alleged racial discrimination in a lawsuit. In 2002, Dean sued the St. Regis Hotel, where he claimed the managers were trying to drive out his restaurant there due to his race, the Washington Post previously reported. The case was settled out of court.)
Nonetheless, TD Burger’s most recent lawsuit claims the landlord “was using the irrational fears of Caucasion/whites to undermine and undercut” the restaurant’s business based on its African-American clientele.
“These R&B/ Jazz bands did not bring in ‘thugs’, gang members or any other negative stereotypical portrayal of African Americans,” the complaint reads. Rather, the audience consisted of “99% African American professionals, lawyers, doctors, etc.'”
The complaint also claims that the landlord advertised TD Burger’s space for lease last April, even though the restaurant allegedly wasn’t in default and no court proceedings were pending at that time. (The landlord’s eviction lawsuit, however, tells a different tale.) When the restaurant owners asked why the landlord was listing the place for lease, the landlord’s agent allegedly responded, “Because I can.”
The complaint goes on to say the landlord tried to “sabotage” the business and force the restaurant out in order to bring in a new tenant “who would in turn attract more of a white clientele and less Blacks.”
The lawsuit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
See both lawsuits below:
[documentcloud url=”https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2699570-TD-Burger-rent.htmlÂ width=500″]
Photo courtesy TD Burger