A former hostess at now-closed Silver Spring, Maryland, steakhouse Urban Butcher alleges in a civil lawsuit that chef-owner Raynold Mendizábal sexually harassed her by making inappropriate comments and giving her uninvited hugs and kisses on the cheek when she was 17. Those accusations are the foundation of a complaint for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress of a then-minor child filed on behalf of a Jane Doe on Thursday, March 4, in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Court documents reviewed by Eater claim that after the woman began working at Urban Butcher in February 2019, Mendizábal started subjecting her to “sexual harassment on a routine basis.” That included the chef, then 48, regularly greeting her by saying “hello, beautiful,” followed by “some sort of comment on her appearance, a hug, and a kiss on the cheek.”
“This was especially difficult for Ms. Doe, who was a minor and did not know how to respond or deflect sexual advances from an adult, 30+ years her senior, who was her supervisor,” the lawsuit says.
Mendizábal did not respond to phone calls, text messages, or emails Eater sent with requests for a comment on the harassment allegations. His attorney, Harry A. Suissa, says he has reviewed the complaint.
“We believe it is frivolous, totally baseless, without merit,” Suissa says, adding that he is considering filing a countersuit for defamation pending discovery. “We will vigorously defend him,” Suissa says.
The lawsuit claims Mendizábal employed a front-of-house staff full of women, and only hired women he deemed attractive. One anecdote from the hostess who filed the suit says a woman identified as Mendizábal’s sister told the girl to stand at the front of the restaurant and “go look pretty.” Mendizábal supposedly told the hostess he only puts attractive people at the front of the restaurant. Another story involves Mendizábal allegedly telling her about his dating life, specifically how he ended relationships with anyone who said they wanted children. Jane Doe claims that led Mendizábal to allegedly point at a baby in the restaurant and say, “I’m done spending money on things like that,” then allegedly point directly at her and say, “I only want to be spending money on things like this.”
That made the former hostess feel “like nothing other than a sexual object,” the lawsuit says, and led to a day in June 2019 when she was “extremely upset” and did not want to go to work. The lawsuit claims Mendizábal’s behavior led the complainant to suffer “severe physical and psychological damages,” including anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, lack of appetite, and insomnia. The suit also alleges the complainant suffered financial losses due to “lost career and business opportunities and advancement.”
The lawsuit seeks to award Jane Doe compensatory damages of up to $5 million, statutory damages up to a $350,000 cap for such cases, legal fees, and any further relief as awarded by a jury. Jane Doe’s lawyer has 65 days from the date of filing the suit to prove Mendizábal has been served a summons. A pretrial hearing and mandatory settlement conference has been set for December 23, 2021.
After opening Urban Butcher in 2013, Mendizábal won a Chef of the Year award from Restaurant Association Maryland (in 2016), garnered a spot on Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants (No. 75 in 2020), and received generally positive reviews from the Washington Post. Urban Butcher has been closed since August 2020, and Mendizábal has been focusing on his other Silver Spring restaurant, El Sapo Cuban Social Club, where he has run into trouble with the Montgomery County health department for failing to enforce mask rules for employees, a public health protocol he called “draconian.”
Washington City Paper reported in January 2020 that a creditor sued Mendizábal seeking a $147,408 mechanic’s lien, and the Internal Revenue Service had filed a $62,135 federal tax lien. Both of those cases are marked as closed in Maryland’s judiciary case database; the tax lien was satisfied in February 2020, and the other case settled in the summer. But there is an active case listed in which a company called Commercial Foodservice Repair Inc. seeks $9,829.13.
In a previous conversation with Eater, Mendizábal said he expected the latest financial dispute would work itself out in the courtroom. “One of the beautiful things about America is when you have a disagreement, you don’t have to shoot each other,” he said. “You go in front of the judge or you settle, you know? Obviously I have a disagreement with somebody. They had their story, I have my story.”
Lenore Adkins contributed reporting to this story