The emergence of Oracle (ORCL) as the top U.S. suitor for TikTok has drawn renewed attention to the relationships between business leaders and President Donald Trump, for whom Oracle chairman and co-founder Larry Ellison has voiced support and hosted a major fundraiser.
But support for Trump from real estate mogul and Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross yielded different results last year, when a fundraiser sparked a viral boycott of brands like SoulCycle, whose owners include principals of Related. The criticism even reached restaurant empire Momofuku, which receives backing from Ross through his venture capital firm RSE Ventures.
In response to Ross’s fundraiser, celebrity chef and Momofuku founder David Chang donated a day’s worth of the restaurant group’s profits to organizations that advocate for immigrant and reproductive rights, among other causes.
In a recent interview, Chang told Yahoo Finance that the uproar over the Trump fundraiser caught him by surprise, though he recognizes the food industry is inextricably tied to politics. Chang strongly opposes Trump and embraces political causes even if it upsets some of his clientele, he said.
“That whole issue of what happened is not something that I ever thought I'd have to deal with,” Chang, the host of Netflix’s (NFLX) “Ugly Delicious,” told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on Sept. 11 in an episode of the series “Yahoo Finance Presents.”
“If I have to alienate customers to believe what I think is right, then so be it,” he adds. “I respectfully disagree strongly with anyone that supports Donald Trump, and we're doing everything we can to sort of do our part.”
‘It’s something you should talk about’
As the 2020 election approaches in November, many top executives and wealthy Americans have made donations to Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. As of last month, Biden’s campaign led Trump in its number of billionaire donors and amount raised on Wall Street.
Trump’s close ties to executives in the food industry during his tenure as president go back to his first month in office, January 2017, when he nominated CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. A month later, Puzder withdrew himself from consideration amid controversy surrounding past allegations of spousal abuse.
More recently, Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue prompted boycotts in July after he praised Trump in a joint press conference.
“You can't — in this day and age — not see politics,” says Chang, the author of a new book entitled, “Eat a Peach: A Memoir.”
“It's not something you're supposed to talk about at the dinner table,” he adds. “But in the world of food, so much of what you eat literally stems from politics.”
The novel coronavirus has thrust the food and restaurant industry into political debates over how to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic, as many restaurants remain closed or operate at partial capacity.
The sector also touches on other key political issues relevant to the 2020 presidential race, including climate change and immigration. The global food system accounts for as much as 37% of greenhouse gas emissions, a United Nations report found in August 2019. Meanwhile, immigrants make up 1 in 5 workers in the sector, according a report in April from the “New American Economy,” an immigration research and advocacy group.
“It’s something you should talk about, whether it's immigration or the environment,” Chang says. “This is all really important.”
Clarification: This article initially stated that SoulCycle was owned by related but has been clarified to specify that SoulCycle is owned by principals of Related.