John Besh has stepped down from Besh Restaurant Group, the New Orleans Advocate reports, two days after the Times-Picayune reported that BRG fostered a culture that encouraged sexual harassment and assault. In a letter to restaurant staff, BRG executive Shannon White announced that Besh “has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on his family.” White will replace Besh as CEO of the embattled restaurant group.
According to the eight-month-long Times-Pic investigation, 25 employees reported experiencing sexual harassment while on the job, and Besh was accused of engaging in a “long-term unwelcome sexual relationship” with an employee. Besh, in a statement, claims the relationship was consensual. Until this month, the report noted, Besh Restaurant Group had no human resources department, which allowed a culture of rampant sexual harassment to go unchecked. In her announcement to staff today, White says the company has hired a third-party agency to “independently investigate whether any unreported claims exist.”
Besh retains an ownership stake in the company he founded, and there’s no word yet on what he will do with that stake or whether the group will change its name. Besh is arguably one of the most recognizable celebrity chefs in New Orleans, appearing on programs like Top Chef, The Next Iron Chef, and Iron Chef America. He’s decorated by the industry’s top awards: In 2006, Besh won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South for his work at Restaurant August, and four years later, he would win another for his cookbook My New Orleans. In 2014, he was awarded a place in the Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America, described as “a cadre of the most accomplished food and beverage professionals in the country.”
Besh Restaurant Group partner Octavio Mantilla was also named in specific allegations in the Times-Pic report, but White’s letter did not mention how he will be involved going forward.
Earlier today, Harrah’s Casino announced it was severing ties with Besh, whose restaurant Besh Steak had been open inside the New Orleans property since 2003. In a statement, a Harrah’s noted, “The Harrah’s New Orleans management team takes the harassment allegations against the Besh Restaurant Group very seriously.”
UPDATE: See below for White’s full letter to staff: