Celebrity chef John Besh has left his namesake dining operation following allegations of widespread sexual harassment within Besh Restaurant Group.
The TV star and best-selling author was plunged into scandal by a story published Saturday by a local newspaper, New Orleans' The Times-Picayune. Over an eight-month investigation, more than 25 current and former employees told The Times-Picayune they were groped, propositioned or subjected to sexually explicit language by male bosses and co-workers while working for BRG. They described a culture where inappropriate behavior was commonplace and tolerated by Besh and his business partner, Octavio Mantilla.
Besh was mentioned as one of the alleged harassers, though the report cited the chef-restaurateur’s denial of wrongdoing. The story also noted that two complaints against the multiconcept group have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since December.
Another condemnation of Besh and BRG came from former partner Alon Shaya, who recently left the concern and initially surrendered rights to his namesake restaurant, the Israeli restaurant Shaya, for undisclosed reasons. In the Times-Picayune story, Shaya asserted that he was fired by BRG because he was troubled by the sexual harassment and asked Besh and Mantilla to correct the situation by hiring a human resources manager.
BRG recently hired someone for that post.
Shaya was not accused of any wrongdoing by the story’s sources. He has just been sued by BRG over use of the name Shaya.
After the story broke, Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans said it was severing ties with Besh.
Earlier today, BRG revealed to local media that Besh had surrendered his duties as CEO. He was succeeded by another BRG executive, Shannon White, who said the company had hired a third party to investigate the allegations.
Besh apparently remains a co-owner of BRG.
The Times-Picayune story said Besh had been accused by one of the story’s sources of harassing her on a business trip in 2015. In response, Besh issued a statement saying, "Two years ago, I deeply hurt those I love by thoughtlessly engaging in a consensual relationship with one member of my team. Since then I have been seeking to rebuild my marriage and come to terms with my reckless actions given the profound love I have for my wife, my boys and my Catholic faith. 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.”
BRG’s general counsel, Raymond Landry, issued a statement reading, "We have learned recently that a number of women in our company feel that we have not had a clear mechanism in place to allow them to voice concerns about receiving the respect they deserve on the job.
"While we've had a complaint procedure in place that complies with all existing laws, we now recognize that, as a practical matter, we needed to do more than what the law requires and we have revamped our training, education and procedures accordingly.”