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Report Details Power Struggle Between Mike Isabella and the Pagonis Brothers

Washingtonian reports that an attorney for the brothers says George Pagonis will replace Isabella.

A lawyer for George Pagonis, above, told Washingtonian that Mike Isabella would step aside to allow Pagonis to lead the “culinary vision” of the company.
George Pagonis/Official

The fallout from a sexual harassment settlement and an ensuing Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing could lead embattled chef Mike Isabella to step down from the reeling restaurant group he created in his name.

Washingtonian published a report today in which a representative for two of Isabella’s partners, brothers Nick and George Pagonis, says Isabella will give up his role at Mike Isabella Concepts (MIC). Demetry Pikrallidas, an attorney for the brothers, sent a statement to the magazine saying George Pagonis — the executive chef of Kapnos — will lead the company when restructuring from bankruptcy is complete.

As MIC Concepts works through its restructuring, Mike Isabella will be stepping aside to allow George Pagonis to provide the culinary vision of the organization,” says Pikrallidas in a statement. “Negotiations continue regarding the final structure of the enterprise moving forward.

MIC and Isabella spokesperson Kate Wilhelm told the magazine that bankruptcy court hasn’t approved any leadership changes “at this point.” Wilhelm did tell the publication that Isabella always envisioned giving George Pagonis control of the company “one day” and the timeline for that transition has been “accelerated.”

A day after Washingtonian’s story was published online, Isabella released a statement through a new spokesperson refuting that his exit from MIC was imminent.

“I have not made any decisions about my role with or the leadership, operations, or future of my restaurants,” Isabella says. “Anyone who says or speculates otherwise or claims to know my thinking about these important matters is wrong. I will make an announcement at the appropriate time about my decisions and plans.”

Chloe Caras, a former director of operations at food hall Isabella Eatery, named both Nick Pagonis, who is the director of MIC, and George Pagonis in a sexual harassment suit against the company. She and MIC reached a confidential settlement in May.

Washingtonian quoted a former manager for MIC who claimed that Isabella and the Pagonis brothers have had a falling out. The source spoke on condition of anonymity so they could speak freely after signing a nondisclosure agreement. Two former employees told Washingtonian that the brothers have stopped speaking to Isabella.

“They blamed Mike because Mike was the one who basically fired Chloe,” Washingtonian’s source says. “Mike blames them because they were the ones who sent all the text messages that got referenced in the lawsuit. Everyone feels like it’s everyone else’s fault.”

Isabella’s Graffiato in Chinatown closed in July, and the massive Isabella Eatery at Tysons Gallery closed in late August. Michael Rafidi, who was named Eater D.C.’s Chef of the Year in 2017, left the company in April. In March, the Washington Nationals removed Isabella concepts from their baseball stadium, and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) removed Isabella’s restaurants from consideration for its annual awards.

Because of a family-like corporate structure, MIC has no CEO or board of directors that can remove Isabella from his post. He only has to answer to his investors.

Update: November 9, 2018, 2:43 p.m.: This story was originally published on November 8, 2018. It has been updated to include Isabella’s response to Washingtonian’s first report.