Mike Isabella’s restaurants are regularly promoted in Eater DC’s guides to the best restaurants around town. But the food news outlet has decided to remove them in light of sexual harassment allegations outlined in a new lawsuit from one the restaurant group’s former female leaders.
Eater recently adopted a policy not to include businesses owned by accused harassers and other bad actors in its reviews, guides, and maps. (You’ll still find news stories about them.) Following a slew of stories in the restaurant industry about men behaving very badly, Editor Amanda Kludt explained in February [emphasis hers]:
What constitutes “bad” behavior varies from person to person (we might all agree that harassing employees falls into the “bad actor” column and might disagree when it comes to misdemeanors like DUIs). And I don’t expect our critics to investigate every single person they cover; they shouldn’t have to be moral compasses and investigative reporters and restaurant reviewers all at once.
But honestly, I’d just rather not go there. Why, with so much talent out there, with so many compelling restaurants to cover, would you review the one veiled in controversy? If you find yourself writing soul-searching paragraphs or essays about why you’re reviewing a place before you even get into the amuse, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t be writing it.
I want to be neither puritanical nor pollyanna-ish about this, but there are a lot of fucking good restaurants out there run by decent people. Or okay people. Or people who just didn’t hit their girlfriend or pinch the nipples of their employees. So we’ll try to focus on those.
Chloe Caras, who was Director of Operations for Isabella Eatery, alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday that Isabella created a “bro culture” where the men in charge called female employees “whores” and “bitches,” bragged about exploits with prostitutes, and inappropriately touched women. Isabella denies allegations of creating a hostile work environment and unwanted physical contact. His legal team also said in a statement that Caras engaged in the same “banter, language, and horseplay” that she now claims created a hostile work environment.
Nonetheless, Eater will begin removing Isabella’s restaurants from its guides today. Isabella Eatery—Isabella’s new mega-food hall at the Tysons Galleria—as well as his French restaurant Requin at the Wharf were both included on Eater DC’s list of the “Hottest Restaurants.” None of Isabella’s restaurants were on the most recent Eater 38, a compilation of the city’s best restaurants, but his businesses will no longer show up in other guides, whether it’s a list of “DC’s essential sandwiches” or “where to eat and drink along 14th Street NW.”
Others are also distancing themselves from the chef and restaurateur. Most notably, Isabella’s longtime publicist removed his restaurants from her website, and Nationals Park is getting rid of his concession stands.
Other publications aren’t removing content like Eater, but taking into account sexual harassment allegations when it comes to future reviews. You can read Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema‘s thoughts on the matter here. Washingtonian critic Ann Limpert discussed how we’ll be handling the allegations in reviews in her online chat today:
What do you think will happen with Mike Isabella? Will you continue to review his restaurants?
Ann: Ah, the elephant in the chatroom arrives.
It’s an ugly situation—and whatever happens, especially if there is a trial, it’s bound to get even uglier. If the she in this he said/she said back-and-forth is right, there was a disgusting, misogynist culture that was accepted and encouraged. If the allegations are true, that’s on Mike, no matter who participated—or felt pressured to participate in order to succeed in the company. Is this unique to Isabella’s kitchens/restaurants? Not by a mile.
How we handle his restaurants is something we are still wrestling with. I just reviewed Isabella Eatery in the March issue—there were lots of big, splashy photos and a two-page spread. Had this news dropped before the review went to print I probably would have scrambled to write about something else for the print magazine but run the review online, while adding a lot of context about the allegations. Pulling it entirely wouldn’t have made sense—it’s an important restaurant that readers are curious about, and it would have felt like shrinking from the story.
But what about our Cheap Eats issue? Or 100 Best Restaurants? Both are places where Isabella’s restaurants have shown up in the past. We’re still figuring that out while we wait to see what happens with the legal situation. And while we wait to see who sticks around his restaurant group and who, if anyone, leaves, which will could affect the restaurants’ quality and consistency.