The restauranteur, photographed with Donald Trump Jr. and a leading black Republican, cast his vote for Clinton with an early ballot.
Don Studvent already knows what you’re thinking. He already knows what you’re about to ask him when you come through the door of 1917 American Bistro, which he has owned on Livernois Avenue in Detroit for years.
Brother, what were you thinking?
“I wasn’t thinking,” Studvent tells BLAC on Thursday afternoon.
Since Wednesday night, Studvent has faced a good amount of backlash after being photographed with Donald Trump Jr. – in town to pitch his father, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to Detroit’s black voters heading to polls on Tuesday – and Wayne Bradley, state director of African-American Engagement for the Michigan Republican Party. The photo – Studvent in chef’s uniform flanked by the two men – was included in a photo gallery on The Detroit News’ website, but appears to have been removed.
But not before screenshots of the photo or links to the gallery itself spread across social media, leading many customers of the longtime Avenue of Fashion eatery to express disappointment and outrage.
The caption of the photo notes that Studvent catered the breakfast. But Studvent points out that not only is he a Democrat, he voted early in this election: For Hillary Clinton.
To figure out how we got to this point, we have to go back a few years. The Michigan Republican Party opened an office a block from Studvent’s restaurant in 2013. Since then, Bradley and other staffers became regulars at the Bistro, and frequented other businesses on the Avenue of Fashion.
“They eat in here all the time,” Studvent says. “And they asked if I could cater (Trump Jr.’s visit), and I thought it would just be business. That’s as deep as I thought about it.”
Studvent has an answer for the next question you’re about to ask: Why pose for a pic with Donald Trump Jr.?
“Wayne asks me, he says ‘hey, come take a picture!’ I didn’t have a clue it was going to be in the damn Detroit News,” he says. (It should be noted that in the picture, they are not looking at the News photographer.)
One look at the outside of the Bistro confirms Studvent’s leanings. There are three Clinton-Kaine signs, plus no less than a dozen campaign signs for Democratic or Democratic-leaning candidates in local elections.
“All I know is when George Bush was in office, I was in the automotive industry working one week out the month every year. I had to sell my home – it was very hard. I was paying $4.89 in gas. Ford stock was down. The property value went down in my other home,” he says.
But after President Obama took office, “I remember gasping – I’m paying $1.98 in gas. Ford stock is over $20 a share. My property value doubled. He actually got bin Laden. The list goes on and on and on of all the great thing he’s done.”
When we’re talking, Studvent’s phone is ringing off the hook. Customers – not as many on Thursday, he admits, compared to every Thursday before this one – come in with concerns, all asking the same question.
“One thing is that I’m not a sellout. I believe in community. I love black, I live black, I love black culture, I love black heritage, and I’ll do my best not to punch anyone in the face who says otherwise,” he says.
“I do have regrets,” Studvent adds, pointing to catering Trump Jr.’s visit. “You can’t say that politics doesn’t have a place in business because it affects your business.”
It’s a hard lesson in branding, Studvent says, but he readily admits he doesn’t know much about branding to begin with. “I don’t want people to know Chef Don – I want people to know 1917 American Bistro.
“I definitely would not have done the catering, and I definitely would not have taken the picture,” he says. “I am not a Trump supporter.”