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Moon Rabbit closes suddenly at the Wharf

The acclaimed restaurant closed its doors following service on Monday. Management has denied the closure has anything to do with unionization efforts.

WASHINGTON — A popular restaurant on the Wharf in Southwest D.C. has suddenly closed its doors. Moon Rabbit, a Vietnamese restaurant headed by James Beard Award-nominated chef Kevin Tien, closed for good following dinner service on Monday. 

Michael Cruz, a server at Moon Rabbit, said he had no idea that his shift on Monday night would be his last.

"There wasn't any official announcement sent out," he explained. "People are shocked."

Local union leaders say the surprising closure was because hospitality workers were trying to unionize at the restaurant, which shares space with the InterContinental Hotel at the Wharf. 

"This move by the hotel is cynical and disgusting," said Paul Schwalb, the executive secretary treasurer of Unite Here 25, a hospitality workers' union representing over 6,500 workers in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. 

The union said it filed for a petition for a union workers election on May 1.

"Closing Moon Rabbit on the eve of a union election shows a gross disregard for the people who helped turn Moon Rabbit into a national sensation," Schwalb said in a press statement.

Petergay Abrahams, a host and server at Moon Rabbit, pointed to her Unite Here 25 button on her shift when asked why the closure happened.

"I really feel bad that this is what it all came down to because we didn't do anything," she said. "Chef didn't do anything. Management just doesn't care about us."

Moon Rabbit was recently named one of Food & Wine's top 10 restaurants in the country. Tien is a 2023 Chef of the Year finalist for a RAMMY Award, and a James Beard Best Chef finalist. Moon Rabbit has also been nominated for a Michelin star.

In addition to his accolades in the kitchen, Tien has used his platform to give to support charities and spotlight AAPI causes.

Wes Waterhouse, who is a server and bartender at Moon Rabbit, says he felt like it was a slap in the face.

"They did it during Asian American Pacific Islander Month," Waterhouse noted. "They did it with next to zero warning." 

Tien has not revealed what he plans to do now that Moon Rabbit has closed its Wharf location. He has not commented publicly on the closure beyond a joint press release sent by IHG Hotels & Resorts. 

“I ultimately wanted to offer Moon Rabbit as a standalone concept and look forward to continuing to share Moon Rabbit with diners,” Tien said in the release. 

DC Councilmember Charles Allen called the restaurant's closure a "massive mistake" by the hotel. 

"If reports are true and Moon Rabbit is being closed by the InterContinental due to its employees' unionization efforts, this is a massive mistake by management to shutter a business led by a chef who has helped lead The Wharf's success and has been a dedicated and active member of the D.C. community, including recently spear-heading a food festival at the Wharf to celebrate Asian-American and Pacific Islander cuisine," Allen said.

A spokesperson for IHG Hotels, told The Washington Post that the restaurant's closure had nothing to do with recent unionization efforts. 

“The hotel’s approach to this was in no way impacted by the union’s ongoing efforts to unionize the hotel,” spokesperson Karen Cole told the Post in an email.

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