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Alinea owner invites Clemson football team to ‘an actual celebration dinner’

Alinea restaurant in Chicago Friday, October 20, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Nick Kokonas, one of the owners of acclaimed restaurant team The Alinea Group, saw what Donald Trump treated the Clemson football team to as part of its visit to the White House after winning the national championship.

Unsurprisingly, he thinks he can do better – so he personally invited the Tigers to come to Chicago to experience “an actual celebration dinner,” instead of a smorgasbord of fast food. Now he’s just waiting to hear back.

The Tigers visited the White House earlier this week to celebrate beating Alabama in the national championship game, but the bigger story became what the president served the team: A massive platter of (presumably cold) cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza and fries from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Domino’s.

“I would think that’s their favorite food,” Trump said of the meal, which he attributed to White House staff being absent due to the ongoing government shutdown.

Kokonas, whose restaurants include Chicago’s only establishment with three Michelin stars, wants to try to provide an even better time. He told the Sun-Times via email that he hasn’t heard from anyone related to Clemson yet, but Alinea, led by awarded chef Grant Achatz, has significant experience serving large groups, including “sports teams, heads of state, companies, and, of course, private individuals of hundreds of people, all around the world.”

And what to make of whether the NCAA would approve of such a gesture? Kokonas said he hopes, if the Tigers showed interest in accepting, the governing body would see Alinea’s offer as “good for amateur athletics in America.”

“I don’t know NCAA rules around something like this,” Kokonas wrote in an email. “We are, obviously, not affiliated with any university, professional or amateur sports teams, nor do we want anything in return. Given the national championship and the unique nature of the offer, I’d hope the NCAA would look at this as something that would be good for amateur athletics in America, not bad. But I have not reached out nor will I unless Clemson wishes for us to do so.”

Kokonas, who also co-owns Next and The Aviary in Chicago, also emphasized his intentions in response to a question about his invitation on Twitter: “It’s not about football. It’s about dignity, honor, and example. I like football, but I’m not a crazy fanatic. This is about showing them how a proper celebration looks in adulthood. And fun, too.”