Celebrity chef Mike Isabella and his multimillion dollar restaurant empire are embroiled in the DC restaurant industry’s biggest sexual harassment scandal since the start of the #MeToo era. While it’s only been a day since the Washington Post broke news of the lawsuit filed by former Mike Isabella Concepts Director of Operations Chloe Caras, the fallout for MIC has already begun with various groups beginning to distance themselves.
The suit accuses Isabella, along with four business partners—Beverage Director Taha Ismail, Director Nick Pagonis, Kapnos Executive Chef George Pagonis and VP/CFO Yohan Allender—of creating a “bro culture” where sexual harassment flourished. Allegations include unwanted touching, sexual insults, bragging about exploits with prostitutes on company trips, and Isabella’s threatening termination of Caras.
Isabella’s legal team denies claims of creating a hostile working environment and unwanted physical contact, painting Caras as “a single disgruntled co-owner of the company.” They say she engaged in the same “banter, language, and horseplay” that she now claims created a hostile working atmosphere.
Notably absent in the early days of this story is Isabella’s longtime publicist, Jennifer Resick Williams and her company, Know PR. Nearly all mentions of Isabella and his businesses have been deleted from her website, except for a single reference in Resick Williams’ bio. Meanwhile, the PR spokeswoman been removed from MIC’s webpages.
Resick Williams has worked closely with Isabella since he opened Graffiato, his first restaurant, in Penn Quarter seven years ago. In his cookbook, Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian, Isabella thanked her first “for being an extra set of arms, legs, eyes, and ears and an integral part of the work I do.” Resick Williams did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
José Andrés and Andrew Zimmern’s Dine-N-Dash, a celebrity chef benefit for World Central Kitchen, have dropped Isabella’s photo from the headliners on its website. Still, Graffiato remains a stop in the Penn Quarter food crawl. The World Central Kitchen team issued the following statement.
“Mike Isabella’s image was removed from the Dine-N-Dash website in order to clarify his role in this non-profit event…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.”
Similarly Plum Relish, a woman-owned and operated office catering platform in DC, has scrubbed Isabella and MIC from their website and social media. Previously the tech-hospitality platform worked with “dedicated partner” Catering By Mike Isabella for a line of bento boxes, along with other remaining high-profile chefs like Edward Lee of Succotash and Chiko. Washingtonian has contacted the company for comment.
This story has been updated with additional comment from Dine-n-Dash and World Central Kitchen.
Correction: This story previously and incorrectly listed Mike Isabella as a Dine-n-Dash sponsor.