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A Maryland Restaurant Owner Goes on Trial for Allegedly Harassing an Underage Hostess [Updated]

A former employee at Urban Butcher accuses chef Raynold Mendizábal of “unwelcome” behavior when she was 17

Raynold Mendizabal, right, in the kitchen at Urban Butcher.
Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post via Getty Images
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Silver Spring chef Raynold Mendizábal is standing trial this week for allegedly sexually harassing an underage teenage girl while she worked as a hostess at his now-closed steakhouse Urban Butcher in 2019.

The jury trial started on Monday, December 19, in Rockville’s Montgomery County Circuit Court and is expected to last four days. On Wednesday, December 21, Mendizábal was found “not guilty” in the case.

The civil lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Jane Doe in March 2021 in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleged that Mendizábal made inappropriate comments and physical advances at work when she was 17. Those accusations are the basis of a complaint of alleged battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress of the then-minor employee. Attorneys originally representing the defendant and plaintiff did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Eater also contacted Mendizábal directly, via phone and email, for comment on the case.

The lawsuit seeks to award 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.

Urban Butcher has been closed since August 2020, and the Havana-born restaurateur has shifted attention to his newer Silver Spring restaurant, El Sapo Cuban Social Club.

Mendizábal subjected Doe to “sexual harassment on a routine basis” after her employment at Urban Butcher began in February 2019, according to the lawsuit. 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,” the lawsuit states.

“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, noting Mendizábal’s actions in question were “unwelcome, unprivileged, uninvited, unwarranted, and illegal.”

The lawsuit claims Mendizábal’s alleged behavior led the complainant to suffer “severe physical and psychological damages” like anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, lack of appetite, and insomnia. The suit also alleges the plaintiff endured financial losses due to “lost career and business opportunities and advancement.” A pretrial hearing and mandatory settlement conference occurred in December 2021.

When contacted by Eater last year, Mendizábal’s attorney Harry A. Suissa called the lawsuit “frivolous, totally baseless, without merit,” and said he would “vigorously defend him.”

After opening Urban Butcher in 2013, Mendizábal won the 2016 Chef of the Year award from Restaurant Association Maryland, earned a spot on Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants (No. 75 in 2020), and received overall positive reviews from the Washington Post.

Mendizábal’s legal troubles over the years also included business disputes related to unpaid suppliers and vendors. Washington City Paper reported in January 2020 that a creditor sued Mendizábal seeking a $147,408 mechanic’s lien, and the Internal Revenue Service filed a $62,135 federal tax lien. Both of those cases were marked as closed later that year in Maryland’s judiciary case database.

A separate lawsuit was tied to his place of residence: Mendizábal’s landlord sued him at the end of 2021 for not paying rent on his downtown Silver Spring apartment, but the case was marked as dismissed in the same database this summer.

The full complaint is below:

Update, Wednesday, December 21: This post has been updated to include the “not guilty” verdict of Raynold Mendizábal.