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A Washington, D.C., restaurant that has been serving free steak dinners to disabled veterans recovering at nearby military hospitals is scheduled to be closed at the end of this month after its host hotel, the Capitol Hilton, enforces the termination of its lease.
Each Friday for three years, Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse, located just three blocks from the White House, hosts veterans and their families – and the cost is picked up by its owners, Marty O’Brien and Hal Koster, a Vietnam veteran. The service personnel come from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
E-mails circulating on the Internet indicate Hilton is ousting O’Brien’s due to liability concerns of having so many disabled people on the premises, some of whom descend the stairs to the basement restaurant, but the hotel denies that has anything to do with the ending of the lease.
“The Capitol Hilton elected to terminate the lease, but that had absolutely nothing to do with the Friday night dinners,” Lisa Cole, regional director of communications for Hilton, told WND. “It was strictly a business decision.”
The restaurant’s lease, which was extended for six months last year, is set to expire as of May 1.
Cole says the hotel’s general manager, Brian Kellaher, has “reached out” to Walter Reed, hoping to work out a way to host the dinner at another location in the hotel.
“We’re in discussion with the Walter Reed group … to see if we can’t make this work for the future,” the spokeswoman said.
Cole would not say specifically why the lease was terminated or what the hotel will do with the space after April.
“We don’t have anything that we’re definitely going to do with the space,” she said.
Koster served in Vietnam as a helicopter door-gunner in the 174th Assault Helicopter Company from 1967 to 1969.
“I have been to several of the dinners, and it is absolutely wonderful what Hal has been doing at significant effort and personal expense (every dollar he spends on our veterans could be money he puts in his pocket),” wrote Jim McDaniel, webmaster for the 174th AHC, in an e-mail soliciting help to keep the restaurant open. “You really have to be at one of these dinners to fully appreciate what this means to these soldiers.”
Writes columnist Lisa Hoffman: “Koster credits fellow Vietnam vet and longtime Fran’s patron Jim Mayer with conceiving the dinners. A double-amputee himself, Mayer is a ‘peer counselor’ at Walter Reed, where he cajoles, teases and comforts those newly limbless who think life is over. …
“Both Mayer and Koster said their purpose is a simple one: to ensure that these kids are treated better than they were when they came home from Vietnam.”
Staff Sgt. Larry Gill, 43, an Army reservist from Alabama who suffered a severe leg injury in a grenade attack, is one of the vets who has enjoyed Koster’s hospitality.
“Some of the regulars will get up and give us their chairs when we come in,” Gill told the Washington Post about his visits to the restaurants.
Those circulating e-mails about the lease termination encourage readers to contact Hilton on behalf of Koster and the restaurant.
Writes McDaniel: “Call or write to Hilton NOW. Let them know how you feel.”
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