Washington DC's Celebrated Moon Rabbit Closes Due To Union Struggle

A once bright star of the Washington D.C. food scene, Moon Rabbit at The Wharf InterContinental Hotel has officially closed its doors following a brief struggle for the restaurant's staff to unionize. The announcement came Monday, May 22, followed by a quick statement from a hotel spokesperson, Karen Cole, claiming that "the hotel's approach to the parting of ways was in no way impacted by the union's ongoing efforts to unionize the hotel," (via The Washington Post).

Still, this sudden closure comes barely a month after the hotel staff (who also run the restaurant) presented a petition to unionize to hotel management. According to DCist, the many reasons listed for the need to join the local union Unite Here Local 25 include safety concerns, continuing payroll issues, and tipping discrepancies ranked particularly high. 

Helmed by James Beard award-nominated chef Kevin Tien, Moon Rabbit first burst on the scene in late 2020, quickly gaining accolades for its fresh take on Vietnamese cuisine. Tien added to the official statement by saying he hopes to bring Moon Rabbit as a solo concept to D.C. soon. The Washington Post also shares that the chef will maintain the rights to all recipes and intellectual property related to Moon Rabbit, so a stand-alone endeavor will be possible.  

The continuing fight to unionize

As noted by The Counter, of the 12 million people employed in the food service industry, only 1.3% are unionized. Paul Schwalb, executive secretary and treasurer of Unite Here Local 25, told The Washington Post that management seems "desperate to keep the union out of their hotel and did whatever that took, even if it meant parting ways with a star chef." 

The timing of this dissolution of the partnership feels particularly pointed to members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community as well, as it comes on the heels of Tien's diligent work hosting several AAPI anti-hate events at Moon Rabbit and The Wharf. D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen released a statement on Twitter calling out the hotel's misstep, as did Grace Young, an award-winning cookbook author and activist. 

There's no word yet on whether the closure of the restaurant will lead to a mass exodus of the workforce, but Schwalb doubts it. As over 80% of the hotel employees have already signed a petition hoping to unionize, many will continue to stay on and fight, no matter what restaurant is in residence.