José Andrés Explains Why He’s No Longer CEO of His Restaurant Group

"My friend, I need a break."

Photograph by Josh Telles/Jose Andres Media.

José Andrés will no longer hold the title of CEO for the restaurant group he helped start in DC more than three decades ago. The company’s president, Sam Bakhshandehpour, will become its global chief executive. But Andrés says that “I’m stepping up!,” not stepping down, and he’ll continue to be involved with the restaurant group as its founder, executive chairman, and creative force.

“This is the right, natural move after Sam joined me in 2019 as president,” Andrés tells Washingtonian in an exclusive interview. “I’m 55. I’ve been non-stop the last 30 years, but especially the last 15 years. Take a look at the chefs from when I came [to DC] in 1993. Today, how many are still around? I’m still around, and I don’t know how, but I need some air. This is giving me air.”

Andrés says the reality is that Bakhshandehpour has been acting as CEO for a while now. After all, in addition to the restaurants, Andrés has a lot going on: “going for 60, 90 days a year to missions around the world, opening the Global Food Institute, doing TV shows, on CNN, doing podcasts, doing live theater events, doing live podcast events, giving speeches, working the thin lines of a very highly politicized Middle East event. My friend, I need a break. I’m not disappearing. I’m the executive chairman of the board. Sam still reports to me.”

Bakhshandehpour comes from a Wall Street background intersecting with the hospitality world through real estate, hotels, and casinos. After a dozen years at JP Morgan, he worked for a private equity firm that backed a hospitality company that launched the SLS Hotel in LA, where Andrés opened the original Bazaar. Bakhshandehpour, a native Washingtonian, had been going to Jaleo since its early days, when he was still a student at Georgetown University. Through the SLS Hotel, the two became “fast friends,” Bakhshandehpour says. When the private equity firm sold its stake in the Bazaar brand, he partnered with Andrés and others to buy it back. “That’s how much belief we had in the brand, and that’s how much belief, honestly, I had in José and his team,” says Bakhshandehpour. He joined José Andrés Group in-house not long before the pandemic, helping it steer through that turbulent period. 

“José is everything to this company, and his spirit is what makes this company work,” Bakhshandehpour says. “I always say that we all have 24 hours in a day—José has 25 hours in the day.”

The news comes as José Andrés Group receives an infusion of cash to fuel expansion from RockCreek, an investment firm with more than $17 billion in assets, according to Restaurant Business Magazine. Bakhshandehpour declined to share the size of the investment. José Andrés Group currently operates nearly 40 restaurants in the US and internationally, including Jaleo, Zaytinya, Minibar, Bazaar, and others in the DC area. Already this year, the restaurant group has announced a hotel deal with Hyatt in Miami Beach and its first luxury waterfront residential development project in West Palm Beach. Locations of Bazaar Mar and Bar Centro are coming this summer to Las Vegas and Palo Alto.

In general, Bakhshandehpour says much of the restaurant group’s growth going forward will focus on hotels. (He was also previously CEO of a hotel management company, SBE Entertainment.)  They’ve already done five hotel projects in the last two years, with more on the way. “The heart and soul of the hotels are the restaurants and the bars and the food and beverage experience,” Bakhshandehpour says. “Once upon a time, it used to be the rooms.” 

The company is focused on building up hubs of restaurants in cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Chicago with “spokes” in nearby markets. Internationally, there’s more to come in Dubai, where there’s already a location of Jaleo. Andrés says more is in store for the DC area too: “Today, I was having a meeting about other projects in the DC area. You will see me opening other restaurants here.”

In recent years, Andrés has increasingly turned his attention to the humanitarian work of his non-profit, World Central Kitchen. The group’s work feeding people in crisis situations has become even more high-profile in Ukraine and now Gaza, where seven aid workers were killed by an Israeli strike in April. Andrés will also continue to be involved with the media side of his company creating books, TV, newsletters, and other content. Bakhshandehpour says new TV projects are already in the works, though it’s too early to share details. 

Both Andrés and Bakhshandehpour say their own title changes are ultimately less significant that other recent promotions within the company. Chef Rick Billings, who’s been with the restaurant group for 14 years, will become chief culinary officer. And chef Carles Tejedor—who Bakhshandehpour calls a “creative force of nature, like a young José”—will be chief creative officer. “I have talented people that I don’t want them to be always under my wing,” Andrés says. “I want them to be their own bird.”

Meanwhile, Andrés’s 25-year-old daughter Carlota Andrés, senior associate of partnerships at food tech start-up Wonder in New York, is joining the board of José Andrés Group. Andrés says she’s previously done internships in his restaurants. “It gives me a lot of joy,” he says.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.