Former 'Top Chef' contestant sues DC restaurant landlord for racial discrimination

FOX 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Emily Miller reports.

- A renowned top chef and local restaurant owner announced on Thursday that he is suing his landlord for racial discrimination.

Timothy Dean owns TD Burger on K Street in Northeast D.C. He was a contestant on the seventh season of the Bravo cooking competition show “Top Chef.”

His D.C. restaurant, blocks from Union Station, is in an area that Dean said is being gentrified. And he claims his landlord is trying to kick him out to appease white renters who are afraid of blacks.

“We're not going to shoot you in the back for sitting here having a burger,” he said. “Come and have a burger like everyone else is doing.”

The conflict started back in 2013. Dean signed a 10-year lease for this restaurant space that allowed him to have live entertainment. He started a jazz night on Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m. and was making about $20,000 a month from it.

But Dean said in a lawsuit that the landlord told him that the building tenants, who are majority white, do not feel safe with the black clientele that the R&B jazz bands were attracting to the restaurant.

“It wasn't drawing the clientele that they were expecting,” Dean said. “But we're talking professional African Americans, lawyers, doctors, high school mates that I have, everybody professional in suits and ties listening to jazz.”

The landlord offered a deal – pay half the rent and stop the music. Dean agreed. But in November, he said the landlord claimed he was in default for that half the rent they had agreed he wouldn't pay.

Dean asserts that the landlord is using discriminatory tactics to get him to vacate the space and replace him with a non-black-owned business.

“I think there was an ulterior motive to get me out of here and I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “You just can't tell me to get out when I have an investment here and I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Daisy Okas, a spokesperson for TIAA-CREF, sent us this statement on behalf of the landlord saying:

“Eviction proceedings were filed against Mr. Dean in 2015 due to substantial non-payment of rent. The allegations in his suit are completely without merit.”

“If you lived in Iowa, Minnesota, things are a bit different in D.C. It used to be a majority African American community for many years and we're still here,” said Dean. “Don't be scared. Come down and join us and enjoy the jazz. We're not going to take your purse and sock you in the eye.”

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