“We comin’ atcha.” Those are the words splayed across the wall of the brand new New Orleans eatery Warbucks. Located on Magazine Street, the restaurant promises a mix of 90s hip-hop and skateboarding culture and an “ultra-magnetic” dining experience. But the concept is getting a little pushback, for seeming tone-deaf post-#MeToo.
Warbucks is the brainchild of Todd Pusinelli — chef and rapper (aka, you guessed it, Warbucks) — whose graphic lyrics describe acts such as dick-slapping and ejaculating on women “like some Mardi Gras beads.” In the wake of #MeToo, those lyrics are causing the new eatery some static. Especially when the restaurant industry—rife with sexual harassment, assault, and rampant sexism—is reckoning with its own ugliness. And especially when you consider who is bankrolling the operation: BRG Hospitality.
If you don’t recognize that name, you’d be forgiven: it’s the new branding of American chef John Besh’s restaurant group — from which, the chef has not yet divested. Besh became a household name thanks to his quest to preserve and promote southern (and particularly New Orleans) cuisine and hospitality and helmed the Besh Restaurant Group until last year. His mini-empire came crashing down when a months-long investigation revealed that the chef used his position to create an atmosphere of rampant sexual harassment and general misconduct. He himself allegedly coerced and even assaulted women, according to the report. The investigation led to a public apology and an announcement that Besh was stepping down from day-to-day operations.
Fast forward to today: BRG has rebranded as BRG Hospitality, and they even (gasp) hired a human resources director. Publicly, Besh has nothing to do with the group. But as NOLA.com’s Chelsea Brasted points out:
Still, though Besh may not be involved in day-to-day decisions, he has yet to divest himself of interest in the organization, and so the checks he cashes are ostensibly comprised of the money visitors spend at BRG restaurants.
Right now, the pot is simmering. On one hand, it feels telling that this company—which is ostensibly trying to learn from Besh’s atmosphere of sexual harassment—chose to bankroll a chef who mixes misogynistic lyrics into songs about the kitchen life. On the other hand, rappers have long been given the benefit of a doubt that their raps come from characters and don’t necessarily describe their actions. The connection with Besh is the only thing that makes this case any different.
At the end of the day, some food industry heads are likely to give the spot some side-eye the first time they step inside. It’ll be up to Pusinelli to pull off one of the most important acts in rap, proving the haters wrong. To do it, he’ll have to do what Besh couldn’t: Create a safe space for women.