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Trump Vancouver: Where even food is political

Writing about Vancouver's newest restaurant can get you in hot water
Drai's Trump Vancouver
Trump Vancouver's poolside bar, Drai's, is not yet open. The restaurant Mott 32 is having a soft opening now.

Mijune Pak is checking her Instagram account at the dinner table.

“I’m getting a lot of hate,” said the woman behind the popular Follow Me Foodie blog. “The comments are flying in.”

That’s not the usual response Pak gets when she shares her dining experience with her thousands of followers. But tonight she’s at Mott 32, the newly opened hotel restaurant within Trump Vancouver.

“You of all people,” one follower wrote.

“I’m incredibly shocked [you’re there],” wrote another.

“Why are you there?"

Why are you there…? For many Vancouverites, the question of whether to try out Vancouver’s newest restaurant is a political debate, not a culinary one. Pak knew accepting the invitation to the media dinner would elicit a strong response. “I told my followers that I understand where they’re coming from and respect their opinion but I have a job to do. I can’t control how people feel.”

Full disclosure: the Courier was also asked to a media dinner at Mott 32, along with Pak, on Jan. 31. The restaurant paid for our entire meal, a practise that is not unique to Trump Vancouver.

Although neither the restaurant nor the hotel have officially opened, the soft opening — allowing 150 covers a day at the 120-seat restaurant — is allowing staff to work out the kinks and get accustomed to working in the new space. The much-anticipated pool bar, Drai’s, has not yet opened.

“We’re just taking it slow,” said the hotel’s general manage, Philipp Posch.

Posch knows that for many people, the Trump brand has been tarnished by the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has leased his name, at a cost, to Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver. The Vancouver Women’s March ended with people leaving their protest signs outside the hotel’s front door and there was a smaller protest after Trump announced the temporary ban on refugees and people coming into the U.S. from seven primarily Muslim countries.

“If I was French I’d say, ‘C’est la vie,’” said Posch with calm acceptance of people’s right to protest outside the hotel. “Obviously we are facing an uphill battle.”

He said he remains focused on one of the things he believes will contribute to the hotel’s success: service.

In some ways, luxury hotels compete with one another in the same way: king-sized beds with expensive linens, large-screen televisions and glam amenities. Trump Vancouver’s price point — $500 to $600 a night in high season and the mid-$300s in the off season — is on par with other luxury hotels in the city such as the Shangri-la and Four Seasons, he said.

“I don’t know how much people feel about a brand as much as how they get treated,” Posch said. “If you have money, it’s not so much about the suites. It’s how I get to individualize the service. It’s the personalized service that people care about.”

He doesn’t want to define luxury as staff who stand stiffly at attention when guests come in. “We want our associates to be more friendly and outgoing… We cater to the new five-star crowd. Our prime clientele is someone like Ivanka [Trump, Donald’s daughter] — 35, mother of three, six businesses. It’s luxury that’s a little bit hipper.”

The crowd inside Mott 32 — a sister restaurant to ones in Hong Kong, Dubai and Bangkok — on Tuesday night was primarily Asian and, international food writer Pak said, judging by their accents and the way they dress, probably not from Vancouver.

Vancouver Trump is evidently appealing to an overseas clientele. Vancouver has more mainland China airline carriers flying into Vancouver than any other city in North America. There are 19 flights a week, up from 16 last year. This June, Hong Kong Airlines will start offering direct flights between Hong Kong and Vancouver.

Trump Vancouver has made an arrangement with a Chinese travel group that will bring people from China to Trump Vancouver for two nights before they tour through Whistler, Victoria and Seattle before returning to Vancouver for the flight home.

“It’s not the super rich, but it’s serious money,” Posch said.

A Chinese hedge fund recently brought 75 people to Trump Vancouver for meetings, dinner and, of course, shopping. Luxury stores in Vancouver such as Tiffany’s and Nordstrom’s reputedly do better here than even New York City.

“It’s their buying power here,” Posch said of what’s making Vancouver such a destination for Chinese consumers.

Trump Vancouver is already at 60 per cent of room reservations for February in addition to 13 weddings that have been booked, Posch said. They’ve also signed up 49 accounts for corporate travellers.

“So far we’re extremely happy,” he said, adding that residents say they feel Trump Vancouver is home.