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The Limits of Boycotting NYC’s Big Trump-Supporting Restaurant Investor

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A huge Momofuku and Milk Bar investor is hosting a Trump fundraiser, and people are pissed — but a boycott has its shortcomings

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A bespectacled Stephen Ross and Donald Trump, both in suits and ties
Stephen Ross and Donald Trump
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis

Revered chef David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants are mobbed upon opening. Beloved pastry chef Christina Tosi, who projects a squeaky clean and earnest image, has a bonafide sweets empire in Milk Bar. Bluestone Lane’s avocado toast and lattes are proliferating around the city, right as Australian cafe culture is at the peak of cool.

What do they all have in common? Stephen Ross. Ross, the billionaire behind Hudson Yards, is under fire today for hosting a fundraiser for President Donald Trump at his Hamptons home this Friday. As such, social media is alight with people encouraging others to cancel their Equinox membership — the luxury gym that Ross owns via his company Related.

Canceling an Equinox membership seems easy enough. That’s just the beginning, though. Ross also has stake in Momofuku, Milk Bar, Bluestone Lane, SoulCycle, fast-casual chain &Pizza, and “for women, by women” tampon start-up Lola. He also outright owns the Miami Dolphins.

Sure, maybe you could look up Ross’ investment company RSE Ventures and decide to not engage with any of those brands. But Ross is just one rich guy.

Love making reservations on Resy, splurging at Gramercy Tavern, or grabbing a quick lunch from Dig? Well, their investor Danny Meyer’s company has been accused of mishandling misconduct allegations. Ever dined at charming West Village French bistro Buvette? Mario Batali had ownership there for years. A fan of the lemon ricotta pancakes at Tribeca scene spot Locanda Verde? Ken Friedman — another high-profile restaurateur accused of sexual misconduct — still has ownership in that one. Into Nathan’s hot dogs? The owner of that company is a Trump BFF and has also hosted one of his fundraisers.

And that just skims the surface for public knowledge; the list could go on. Eater NY frequently hears rumors of bad-actor investors and accusations of assault and misconduct. Then there are the restaurant investors who may not be known bad actors, but just assholes — or ones like Ross, who has donated thousands to Republican causes but also helps fund a few Democratic candidates and publicly forward-thinking companies like Lola or &Pizza, whose founder is an active supporter of $15 minimum wage. The point is: There are very few safe places to eat if you want to be a perfect progressive, and it’s not always straightforward.

Okay, so maybe rather than eat out, you should just grocery shop and cook at home instead, except for the fact that Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, which has a track record for poor worker conditions. Or that the owner of local grocery chain Gristedes is also a Trump donor — and owns a lot of real estate in Brooklyn.

I don’t really have an easy solution to all this; there’s no pat answer. At Eater, we have been grappling with it too, and the initial step has been to be thoughtful when including restaurants in maps and deciding what places to review. Rather than have knee-jerk reactions like boycotting one place, dig a little deeper. Know where your money is going, and then decide for yourself what works for you.

Or just go ahead and cancel that fancy Equinox membership. But that’s only the tip of the dirty money iceberg.

Correction: August 8, 2019, 12:08 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that RSE Ventures’s investment in Beyond Sushi fell through following the chain’s Shark Tank appearance, and Ross is not an investor in the company.

Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.