Culture

Chef John Besh Steps Down from His Restaurant Group

An eight-month-long investigation reveals a culture of sexual harassment at his numerous restaurants
John Besh Sexual Harassment Scandal
Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

John Besh, the once-loved celebrity chef and famed New Orleans restaurateur behind acclaimed spots including Restaurant August, Borgne and Domenica, has stepped down from his company, Besh Restaurant Group (BRG). His resignation comes shortly after Brett Anderson of The Times-Picayune published an article on Saturday, detailing how 25 employees reported their experience with sexual harassment and assault while working for the restaurant group.

Since then, there's been a cascade of reactions—from chefs, critics and the general public. Here's everything you need to know about the events that have played out so far:

• On October 21, The Times-Picayune published an eight-month-long investigation into the work culture of BRG, where current and former female employees revealed a rampant culture of sexual harassment.

• The women described instances where male coworkers and superiors "touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments about their appearance—and in a few cases—tried to leverage positions of authority for sex." Those who spoke out faced retaliation by management.

The Times-Picayune also noted that BRG, which is 12 years old, had no human resources department until earlier this month.

• Besh released a statement shortly after the report:

"Two years ago, I deeply hurt those I love by thoughtlessly engaging in a consensual relationship with one member of my team. . . . I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do." 

In a Facebook post the same day, Alon Shaya, former co-owner and chef of several BRG restaurants, claimed he was fired from the group for trying to speak out against the sexual harassment. (Though, according to one Reddit user who worked at BRG, Shaya isn't blameless. "He was fired for being a self-serving, arrogant, SOB that also just happens to treat his employees like dirt regardless of whether they're male or female," the user claimed.) 

•Backlash against Besh has been swift: The day after the piece was published, Harrah's casino in New Orleans—where Besh Steak is located—severed ties with the chef and is in the process of renaming the steakhouse. New Orleans public television station WYES announced it will no longer air Besh's cooking shows.

• A letter to BRG staff on Monday announced that Besh "has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on this family." The role of CEO is being taken over by Shannon White, the company's chief operating officer. In a letter to staff members, White outlined a number of measures to address the sexual harassment issues, including hiring an outside expert to "independently investigate whether any unreported claims exist," in addition to creating an employee advisory committee.

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Since the report's release, BRG employees have been sharing their own experiences of harassment, revealing that not only does the issue involve many more than 25 employees but the entire restaurant profession. "This cannot come as a surprise to anyone who works/worked in the industry," one commenter chimed in. "It's industry wide."

Yet others are quick to point out the slow response from others in the culinary world. New York Times critic Pete Wells has been extremely vocal ("the levee breaks," he initially stated), and José Andrés has been among the only high-profile chefs to do so.

The situation is especially telling given its context in the news climate at large, with Harvey Weinstein's appalling sexual harassment case still looming. The Weinstein situation also proved it's just as disreputable to be aware of the situation and not speak up. On October 24, Cosmo Goss, executive chef at Chicago's always-buzzing Publican restaurants, was fired after failing to take any disciplinary action after employees shared inappropriate images of a female coworker without her consent.

The Besh incidents are clearly not limited to BRG, just as workplace harassment is not isolated to the restaurant industry. As more injustices are brought to light, most recently through the #MeToo hashtag of women sharing their stories of harassment and as assault victims, let's hope it opens a broader discussion that leads to this unfortunate trend's demise.

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