12 April, 2006

Save Fran O'Brien's

UPDATE IV: Click here [link corrected].

UPDATE III: Andi says at 6:00 EDT: "Looks like I may have some news to share with you soon, likely tomorrow. For now, be VERY respectful when you contact the Hilton Corporation. Let them know how much these dinners mean to our troops, and that we hope they will continue. Stay tuned...." This may be corroboration of the info in the original Update. Well see, I guess...

UPDATE II: Wizbang has the Hilton side of things (scroll down).

UPDATE: Good News!!! Commenter "mdwest" reports (over at Andi's) having spoken to the manager at Fran's this afternoon. They are in the middle of negotiations with Hilton! There is no reason to assume either way, but at least there is hope. And even if it is only a short extension on the lease, it can give Fran's time to find another location nearby and continue its tradition of supporting the troops. Don't stop contacting Hilton, yet!

[This is cross-posted at the Castle. We need to shout it from the rooftops. Let's get a blog-swarm going! As Andi says, "Looks like it's time to introduce the Hiltons to the MilBlogs. You know what to do, but do it with civility and class."]

Many people associated with the military, especially those who work with the wounded, are aware of what the restaurant Fran O'Brien's has been doing every Friday night since 2003 for the patients at Walter Reed and Bethesda. But their great work is in danger of ending in just two weeks. As Capitol Hill Blue reporter Lisa Hoffman describes it:

...for those whose future plans exploded the moment they were maimed, the steps and the landmark restaurant they lead to are a welcome-mat back to normal life...

In a restaurant where a T-bone goes for $30 a pop, each recuperating vet gets a full-course feast, plus whatever libations they choose, for free...it is the atmosphere as much as the food that feeds the 50 or so troops and family members who partake each week...

There they find camaraderie, mutual support and, commonly, a lot of laughs. It's a night out like they enjoyed before they went to war. No one stares at them and no one will let them sink into self pity, said Staff Sgt. Joshua Olson, now 26, who lost his right leg up to the hip two years ago when an enemy rocket hit his truck in Tal Afar, Iraq. "You have to decide if you're going to lay in bed or get up and live,"
Fran O'Brien's has been denied an extension on their property lease by the Hilton (Hotels) company and will be closing their doors on April 30. They requested a renewal on the lease 6 months ago and were repeatedly told it was being developed. Finally the company started ignoring their requests for information. Only very recently did they recieve notice that the lease will not be renewed.

The restaurant owners have been given no explanation for the non-renewal, but there seem to be liability concerns about the number of wounded and disabled people Fran O'Brien's accomodates on Friday evenings. However, Hilton refuses to do the construction necessary to alleviate those concerns, and no legal actions have developed from "inadequate" facilities.

The impact that Fran O'Brien's generous support of the wounded troops through their free meals has had on morale and recovery at Walter Reed and Bethesda cannot be overstated [see "Extended Entry" below]. Their's has been an extraordinary gift of love and support, at great financial cost to the restaurant owners. We can't let them lose their restaurant, or let this wonderful expression of support disappear.

I've seen for myself that the energy, ideas, and contacts of the milblog world are astonishing. Let's put them together and fix this problem. Greyhawk writes:

If you are so inclined I would like to ask you to call and/or email the following two officials at the Hilton and voice your support for Hal and Marty and express your concern for the reasoning behind this seemingly arbitrary decision. Please call them tomorrow or Friday and feel free to share this with anyone else who might be willing to call.

Here are the people to call:

*Dan Boyle (212) 838-1558

Brian Kellaher (202) 393-1000*
[For those of you whose blood pressure resembled mine after hearing this: we need to be sure to be polite and civil in our contacts with Hilton. The a**-chewing they deserve for their collossal lack of PR savvy would not be helpful in this case.]

For more information: Wizbang (coordinating a protest this Friday--4/14--at the Hilton attached to the restaurant), Andi's World, OPFOR (The Officer's Club).

Others blogging this: Neptunus Lex (a must-read), CPT Z, Proud Army Mom, Don Surber, Blue Crab Boulevard, The Real Ugly American.


I wanted to share with you the story I heard about one dinner at Fran O'Brien's. It was told to me second-hand during my trip to DC, but within ear-shot of the person who experienced it.

A Vietnam veteran (and fellow Purple Heart recipient) joined the Friday night dinner at Fran's last winter. He reported sitting at a table with a number of wounded soldiers waiting for their food when one of them suddenly picked up the steak knife that had been set before him. Brandishing the knife and glancing around the table he exclaimed, "What the $%^# are they doing giving us all these knives? Don't they know every single person at this table has PTSD?!" The whole place fell apart laughing.

It's things like that little vignette that make Fran O'Brien's such a special place. Where else would these severely-wounded veterans get to sit down to a first-class meal and be allowed to be themselves in the company of so many who completely understand what they've been through and what they still face?

If you haven't yet, go over to Mudville Gazette and read the news article by Lisa Hoffman that Greyhawk includes. She has more details about what an important role Fran O'Brien's has played in the recovery of wounded warriors. And then go do what you can to keep it open!

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