13 April, 2006

Fran O'Brien's Update

[This is cross-posted at the Castle. Background here.]

Update III: Hilton Replies. John Donovan also shares his thoughts on their reply.

Update II: Hilton has repeatedly said that the eviction of Fran's had nothing to do with the Friday Dinners for wounded veterans. If we accept that at face value, it would make sense that they have plans for using the location in a new way, or have another customer in mind. This now seems highly unlikely. World Net Daily has an article quoting a regional spokesperson for Hilton:

Cole would not say specifically why the lease was terminated or what the hotel will do with the space after April.

"We don't have anything that we're definitely going to do with the space," she said.
The more I read, the less impressed I am with Hilton. [h/t Blackfive]

Update: more contact info courtesy of Buzz Patterson's comments at Blackfive. Remember, keep it civil (Lex's advice on tactics is very good).

Kathy Shepard
Vice President - Corporate Communications
Hilton Hotels Corporation

Atish Shah - Vice President - Investor Relations

Linda Bain - Vice President of Group Communications

Madeleine Kleiner - Executive Vice President, Corporate Secretary and General Counsel

[Original post below]

Andi's World points us to information that clarifies the lease situation. As we already know from the emails Greyhawk posted, Fran's is not going willingly. Local media in DC have picked up the story:
A two-year tradition for wounded war vets is about to go by the wayside. A downtown DC steak house that’s catered to injured troops every Friday night is about to close.

Fran O’Brien’s landlord is forcing out the steakhouse of the same name.

“We're not feeling very good about leaving and especially the Friday night dinner,” O’Brien said.
The short article and video confirm that the restaurant is being forced out, and though there are attempts to arrange something similar to the now-traditional "Friday Night at Fran's," it's very much up in the air.

I hesitate to make assumptions, but it's appearing more and more that Hilton has made a very poor business decision based on surface-level analysis of profit/loss (as Lex has theorized). And it's also becoming clearer that they have treated Fran O'Brien's very shabbily, possibly to the point of not negotiating in good faith. One email sent to Hilton sums it up pretty well:
All I ask is that you deal with the owners openly and honestly, not dissemble, lead them on, and then hit them with a two week eviction notice.
Apparently that has been too much to ask in this case.

To be fair, Hilton has said they want to find some way to continue an activity for the troops on their site. However, they are promising nothing at this point:
A Hilton hotel spokesperson says they are -- on some level -- hoping to keep the Friday night alive without Fran O’Brien’s.

And if it's not the free Friday night steak dinner for injured veterans ... The same statement from the hotel concludes: "the Capital Hilton prides itself on its involvement and service to the community and will continue to support these organizations in the future."
I really think Hilton has missed a great opportunity here. Instead of forcing out Fran O'Brien's in an unprofessional manner that included assuring Fran's they were developing a new lease while they apparently had no intention of doing so and then giving them only three weeks to leave, they could have cooperated with Fran's and then publicized their "great civic-mindedness."

The story of what Fran O'Brien's has done and what it means to the wounded who participate is pure gold. The first time I saw a news report about it I cried. It was so wonderful to see the expressions and hear the laughter and words of the wounded who said that going to Fran's made them feel "normal" for the first time since their injuries. Cooperating with Fran's to ensure the restaurant's continued association with the hotel would have given Hilton the kind of PR that money can't buy...

The owners of Fran O'Brien's are expected to make an announcement of some type this morning.

[More on the Fran O'Brien's story here.]