Publicists and pals previously affiliated with Top Chef alum Mike Isabella — including his career-making employer, global restaurateur José Andrés — are rapidly backing away from the business mogul’s brand following former employee Chloe Caras’s lawsuit alleging a culture of sexual harassment and systemic abuse at the Mike Isabella Concepts (MIC) restaurant group. Isabella, though his attorneys, denies the allegations, calling them “completely untrue.”
In her legal complaint, Caras, a former manager at newly minted Isabella Eatery, documented instances of purported mistreatment of women she says are commonplace throughout the company, including sexually explicit comments, simulated sex acts, and inappropriate physical contact.
The celebrity chef operates restaurants spanning from Richmond, Virginia, in the south to just north of the District in College Park, Maryland. Shortly after allegations surfaced naming Isabella and MIC principals Johannes Allender, Taha Ismail, George Pagonis, and Nicholas Pagonis, the usually outspoken Isabella made his previously public-facing Twitter feed completely private and let his lawyers do all the talking.
Meanwhile, businesses once affiliated with Isabella’s burgeoning restaurant group are starting to distance themselves. Washingtonian reports that former spokeswoman Jennifer Resick Williams has removed any mention of the MIC restaurants that she represented from her firm Know PR’s website. Washingtonian also found that local online ordering service Plum Relish had scrubbed one-time “dedicated partner” Catering by Mike Isabella from its marketing materials.
Washington City Paper speculates about what other groups might sever ties with Isabella, pointing out that his empire extends from sporting events to culinary fundraisers including the Dine-N-Dash restaurant crawl organized by James Beard Foundation’s humanitarian of the year, Andrés.
THIS JUST IN: we're thrilled to welcome @MikeIsabellaDC as a featured chef for #DineNDash - @Graffiato will return to Penn Quarter w/ an EXCLUSIVE pop-up by his new Wharf restaurant, Requin! Don't miss out on this — get your tickets now @ https://t.co/u3ImYQcJQ1. pic.twitter.com/V7iI5m5A07— Dine-N-Dash (@dinendash) March 2, 2018
A spokeswoman for Andrés tells Eater that Isabella’s image has already been removed from the Dine-N-Dash website to “clarify his role in this non-profit event,” and that organizers are considering removing the flagship restaurant Graffiato from the lineup altogether.
“In light of the recently surfaced allegations, we are evaluating the restaurant’s participation to ensure that the focus is kept upon the intent of the fundraiser. Dine-N-Dash is not about any one restaurant but rather an event created to support World Central Kitchen’s humanitarian relief and empowerment projects around the world,” the Andrés aide says.
Some employees, however, are still voicing support. Gina Dakouni, director of events and catering at MIC since September 2017, tells Eater that all the accusations flying around about Isabella and the company do not reflect her experience with the celebrity chef.
“We spend a lot of time together. And, quite frankly, I haven’t witnessed or noticed any of that,” Dakouni says, adding that she hopes the chef can “get back to running his great restaurants.”