Top Chef alum Mike Isabella is speaking out about his Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and the closure of more than a quarter of the restaurants in his D.C. empire. The chef sat down with the Washington Post for a wide-ranging interview the day before his filing, and the story was published today.
Under the terms of his settlement with former employee Chloe Caras, who sued Isabella and other company leaders for sexual harassment, Isabella couldn’t discuss Caras or the allegations. But he opined on his side of the story, telling the Post that “people stopped giving me a chance,” adding, “and it hurt.” Here are some of the most interesting revelations from the interview:
Some of Isabella restaurants were struggling before the lawsuit. Kapnos Taverna’s landlord, The Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park, alleged that Kapnos Taverna had stopped paying rent in January. The landlord sued in May for back rent.
The bankruptcy spelled out just how much impact a customer boycott in response to the sexual harassment allegations had. According to the Post, weekly revenue at Chinatown’s Graffiato went from $50,000 to $5,000 after the lawsuit. Tysons Galleria’s Isabella Eatery saw monthly revenue drop from $1 million to $300,000.
Isabella rejects the idea that his empire was overextended, even though he opened four eateries in 2017 alone. “You know why I didn’t think it was too much? Because I had about 20 other f---ing deals on the table, he told the Post, referring to before the lawsuit. That includes plans for more D.C. restaurants, and outposts across the U.S. and even the Middle East. Isabella called out: “Vegas, Houston, Atlanta, Philly. Some of them, multiple projects in a city.”
On high-profile chef departures: “Sometimes you shouldn’t get into business with your friends,” Isabella said. Fellow Top Chef alum Jennifer Carroll split with Requin and Mike Isabella Concepts last fall, and chef Jonah Kim left noodle spot Yona after less than a year.
When asked about the lawsuit in which Caras alleged that Isabella and his partners called her “bitch” and “whore,” commented on the size of her buttocks, and touched her without permission, he said: “I didn’t call anybody names,” and then declined to comment further on matters related to the lawsuit.
But Isabella also told the Post that he is “taking full responsibility for everything that has happened.” The chef makes no explicit statement of wrongdoing within the profile. The settlement with Caras after the lawsuit required the chef to make changes to the restaurant’s policies to prevent sexual harassment. The specific changes in policy at the restaurants Isabella shared with WaPo, though, include strict enforcement for a no-drinking policy for staff put in place a year ago. The company is still using NDAs, but the NDAs are more limited in scope.
He’s insistent he will have a comeback. “It is going to get harder before it gets easier,” Isabella told the paper. “I’m going to put the work in and the time to get it back to where it needs to be.” When asked if he has any regrets, the story ends with this quote from Isabella: “‘I regret what happened,’ he said, his words vague for legal reasons. ‘For everybody.’”
Meanwhile, WBJ analyzes the $12,500 payment Mike Isabella Inc. made to former Isabella Eatery manager Chloe Caras in the past three months, as revealed in the bankruptcy filing.
- From ‘Top Chef’ stardom to bankruptcy: The rise and fall of Mike Isabella [WaPo]
- What does Isabella’s Ch. 11 mean for his sexual harassment suit settlement? A bankruptcy attorney explains. [WBJ]
- Mike Isabella Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy [EDC]
- Kapnos Taverna’s College Park Landlord Is Suing Mike Isabella Over Unpaid Rent [EDC]
- Isabella Eatery Has Closed [Updated] [EDC]