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E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s Connection to Portland Restaurants, Explained

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As the founder of Provenance Hotels, Sondland has flimsy-but-still-present ties to restaurants like Bullard, Rosa Rosa, and Headwaters

Ambassador Gordon Sondland Testifies Before House On Ukraine Investigation
Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the founder of a prolific chain of hotels, testifies before the house regarding the Ukraine investigation
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Yesterday, former Pacific Northwestern hotelier Gordon Sondland liaised with House impeachment inquiry investigators in a closed-door meeting. Sondland’s name has also been coming up frequently in Portland hospitality industry circles of late. After text messages revealed that Sondland was at the heart of Trump’s attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer proposed a boycott against the company Sondland founded, Provenance Hotels.

With six properties in the Portland area, Provenance is a behemoth in the city’s luxury hotel industry. They house several top Portland restaurants, including Bullard and its sister bar Abigail Hall. Prominent Portland restaurateur Vitaly Paley has several restaurants within Provenance hotels, including Rosa Rosa, Headwaters, the Crown, and Imperial.

Here’s Blumenauer’s call to action: “Anyone who cares about America should not do any business or stay at any of Gordon Sondland’s hotels. Not until he fulfills his duty as a citizen to testify and turn over all relevant documents to the House of Representatives.”

In response, ice cream giant Salt & Straw, which used to be available for room service, quickly cut its ties to Provenance Hotels. Picketers gathered outside the Heathman Hotel multiple times during the week in protest, urging Sondland to “tell the truth” during his testimony. Protestors on October 13th said that 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 as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union in 2018, Sondland ceased involvement in day-to-day business of the hotels. He is now a mere minority investor. Since many workers suffer as a result of boycotts like this, some Portlanders are unclear on whether or not to stop patronizing these businesses. Here’s a breakdown of what we know about Sondland, Provenance Hotels, and the associated restaurants.

Who is Gordon Sondland?

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

In August of 2016, news broke that Sondland was listed as a host for a campaign fundraising dinner. After publicly disavowing Trump, he then tried to disguise a $1 million donation to the 2017 Trump inaugural committee by doing so through various LLCs instead of in his own name. Vocal 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 upon to participate in the impeachment inquiry and testify before congress, but the Trump administration directed Sondland not to appear. He spoke to House impeachment investigators Thursday, testifying behind closed doors. In his released testimony, Sondland essentially said that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was the lead on the 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, “One Republican senator even claims Sondland told him Trump was withholding military aid from Ukraine until they agreed to do those investigations. And when a diplomat voiced concern about this, Sondland urged him not to text about the matter but rather to talk about it on the phone (which would leave no record of what was discussed).”

Does he profit off the restaurants in Provenance Hotels?

Although Gordon Sondland is a founder at Provenance, he is not currently a board member and no longer serves as CEO. According to his recently released financial statement, Sondland cut his business ties to the hotel in June of 2018; he remains a minority investor. Kate Buska, VP of brand development and communications at Provenance, says the company cannot comment on the profits of minority investors.

She did clarify that most of the restaurants within Provenance hotels are simply tenants; in that case, Provenance would only get rent money from these restaurants — theoretically, a significant amount of monthly cash.

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

Paley clarified that his restaurant group has a traditional lease agreement with Provenance Hotels, and they also provide the food for hotel guests. Even so, Paley doesn’t regret his relationship with Provenance; in general, he sees it as respectful and beneficial. “This is a longstanding relationship,” Paley says. “We’ve spent seven years with Provenance — not Gordon, I emphasize — but Provenance. When we first opened Imperial, Gordon was involved then. Since then, we’ve never seen him; we don’t negotiate with him.”

But both Quist and Paley worry for their own employees and those at the hotel. All of them have felt the influence of the boycott and the news. Paley and Lahsene say that the weight of the boycotts, combined with the clashes downtown between Antifa and various white supremacist groups, have impacted earnings, and may hurt employees down the line. Marcel Lahsene, another Paley Hospitality partner, thinks of the hotel’s valets and the restaurant’s servers, who have felt the anxiety and weight of the picketers and vocal critics. “You’re not hurting Gordon Sondland,” Lahsene says of the picketers. “It takes a long time to build a business... when something like this happens, those regulars don’t come back.”

What’s the case for boycotting those restaurants?

Because he’s a founder, Sondland is still associated with those businesses and their success. Even as a mere minority investor, he benefits if the hotels do well and their embedded restaurants are part of the business plan. The presence of those restaurants within Provenance hotels also helped Sondland develop the fortune that allowed him to donate so significantly to the Trump campaign, which quite possibly helped him get the position of ambassador to the E.U.

What’s the case against boycotting those restaurants?

Because Sondland isn’t a board member, he does not have control over the restaurant partnerships with his hotels. Bullard, Abigail Hall, Good Coffee, and Rosa Rosa all opened after Sondland left his role as CEO. Additionally, the restaurant employees — the chefs, the line cooks, the wait staff, etc. — aren’t associated with Sondland. If there are less reservations at the restaurants, it affects the wages and job stability of its employees. Another thought: Blumenauer’s original proposed boycott was supposed to last “until he fulfills his duty as a citizen to testify and turn over all relevant documents” for the impeachment probe. He appeared to testify Thursday.

Provenance Hotels [Official]
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador at the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry, explained [Vox]
Oregon’s Blumenauer Calls For Boycott Of Gordon Sondland’s Hotels. Sondland Pushes Back. [OPB]
Sondland’s Financial Picture: Private Jet, Art Collections And Much More [OPB]
Two Portland Hotel Executives Disavow Donald Trump After Being Listed Among His Event Sponsors [WWeek]
Portland hotelier concealed $1 million donation to Trump inauguration [O]
Salt & Straw severs ties with Gordon Sondland’s Provenance Hotels [O]

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