John Besh joined the ranks of Fox News, Uber, and The Weinstein Company this week. Until recently Besh was best known as the humble southern chef who made friendly guest appearances on Top Chef and rode into the floodwaters of Katrina with a “gun and a bag beans” to feed the people of New Orleans. Besh spent the year after Katrina feeding law enforcement, government workers, and even oil riggers as a caterer. After the disaster, Besh and his business partner Octavio Mantilla went to work and turned their two New Orleans restaurants into a 12 restaurant empire.
Now, it seems that empire is crumbling. According to an eight-month investigation, 25 women have come forward to accuse the Besh Restaurant Group (BRG) of sexual misconduct and harassment by Besh, Mantilla, and a slew of office, kitchen, and restaurant staff. Some of them have even filed a lawsuit against Besh’s company, claiming damages for the harassment they endured.
NOLA.com reported that several of the women they spoke to had similar stories of unwanted touching and sexual advances from the male staff. The culture of harassment was so ingrained that female coworkers warned incoming female staff “to beware of ‘handsy’ male supervisors.” The filing against BRG cites that the office and restaurants were an environment where “vulgar and offensive comments, aggressive un-welcomed touching and sexual advances were condoned and sometimes even encouraged by managers and supervisors.”
Overall, that’s bad enough to get one’s blood boiling. But it continues all the way up the BRG food chain.
Lindsey Reynolds is one of two women to file complaints after leaving her post as the company’s social media manager after only six months. She claims in the filing that several women quit due to an environment of sexual misconduct around them, but also that Besh and Mantilla were part of that sexual harassment. A story from the filing claims Besh forced a female underling to “drink to excess” then demanded that the two share a hotel room where he coerced her into sex. Besh maintains that the relationship was mutual.
Mantilla — who claims complete ignorance to any misdeeds committed by BRG to NOLA.com — has been accused of excessively touching Madie Robison, who worked for two years as a graphic designer at BRG. “After being immersed in the culture of the company, I realize my morals and values do not align with the daily practices [of BRG],” Robison explained in her resignation letter. Robison reported to NOLA.com that working at BRG was “a tableau of dysfunction” with daily sexualization and even pool parties where the female staff was expected to wear bikinis. When Robison was asked why she waited so long to inform on Mantilla, she simply replied, “I didn’t want to embarrass him. He was my boss.”
Besh released a statement that was vague about his sexual relationship with employees. In it, he stated, “I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings. This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father.” Besh went to cite his failing marriage for his reckless actions and then lamented about the harm “this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group.”