Explainer: The Horrifying Controversy Behind LA’s Hottest Restaurant (Updated)

From the allegations of physical and verbal abuse at Chef Blaine Wetzel’s Willow’s Inn to the Spotted Pig, a Michelin Star pub that shuttered its doors over a slew of sexual assault allegations against restaurant owner Ken Friedman, the fine dining scene is no stranger to controversy. But a story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday about the super popular and trendy LA restaurant, Horses (which Freidman may or may not be secretly financing), is certainly the most disturbing restaurant controversy in some time.

The LA Times reports that one of Horses’ co-chefs, Elizabeth Johnson, has accused her husband and business partner, chef Will Aghajanian, of killing multiple family cats and… a whole bunch of other disturbing allegations. Johnson filed a request for a domestic violence restraining order in November of last year (the judge granted it in December and extended it this month) against Aghajanian, out of fear he might hurt her or someone else.

According to the LA Times, Johnson alleges that “Will and I have had cats that mysteriously ended up dying, including one in 2017 who I took to a shelter when she became seriously wounded overnight.” The shelter allegedly informed Johnson the cat had been seriously abused, but Aghajanian denied involvement, which Johnson believed until another incident with a new kitten that was put into their care.

Johnson alleges Aghajanian threatened to feed a cat to coyotes, and has witnessed Aghajanian “violently shaking the cat late at night,” the kitten ended up dying the next day, “Will put the dead cat in the trash and insisted on keeping the corpse in the house” the complaint reads, according to the LA Times.

Johnson also alleges that Aghajaninian physically abused her, pointing to an incident in 2019 in which he dragged her across the floor by her legs. In a different filing, she requested a restraining order against Aghajanian for their dogs, Pancho, Javi, and Spud.

To add another layer of “what-the-f*ck” to all of this, Aghajanian has filed his own restraining order against Johnson, alleging that she had threatened to kill him repeatedly and burned him with a metal spatula and spoon that was first heated in a fryer and has asked for custody of Pancho and Javi back (what about Spud?). In the filings, Aghajanian alleges Johnson, “falsely accuses me of things that she has done or that she threatened to do to me and my pets… my pets are like children to me and I love them dearly.”

That’s the official story via the Los Angeles Times, but according to Twitter user Nike PS5 (@PS_AF1) the story gets a whole lot weirder and these details have the internet reacting in real-time as Aghajaninan has perhaps broken the first rule of the internet: don’t fuck with cats. The Tweets are here and here if you want to read them (including some alleged text screenshots between the couple), but keep in mind that this aspect of the story is mostly anonymous allegations.

Horses has only been opened since 2021, but in just two short years it has enshrined itself as a Hollywood hot spot — garnering favorable reviews from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and becoming a favorite of celebrities including Jay-Z, Jeff Bezos, and Will Ferrell. Before opening Horses, Johnson and Aghajanian were recognized by the James Beard Foundation as nominees for co-Rising Star Chefs during their time at Nashville’s Catbird Seat, and, according to Eater, Johnson has earned a James Beard nomination for her tenure at Freedman’s in Silver Lake.

We’re not sure how this controversy will affect Horses, but in September of last year, reservations were pretty tough to get. As of now, reservations are open for today on Resy.


Last night, the official Horses Instagram account released a statement detailing Aghajaninian’s current involvement in the restaurant. The statement reads:

“Will Aghajanian has been on a leave of absence from Horses as of November 2022, and since then he has not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Under the guidance of Chef Liz, our incredible front and back of house teams are working to continuously make Horses what she had always intended it to be — a place of joy and celebration.”