NEW ORLEANS - John Besh, the owner and operator of several well-known New Orleans area restaurants has stepped down from the group that bears his name after a blockbuster weekend investigation by NOLA.com food editor Brett Anderson that laid out allegations of sexual harassment by employees of the group and its restaurants, including its namesake.
The New Orleans Advocate broke the news of Besh's departure late Monday morning, just hours after Harrah's Casino said it was dumping the chef's name from its restaurant and aligning with another group to run the eatery.
The Advocate's report said it had obtained a copy of a letter sent to company staff saying that Besh had "decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on family."
Harrah's previously announced its move to disassociate itself from the restaurant group.
"The Harrah's New Orleans management team takes the harassment allegations against the Besh Restaurant Group very seriously and to the best of our knowledge none of those allegations pertain to Besh Steak located in the Harrah's New Orleans Casino," General Manager David Real wrote in a statement. "It is important to note that the restaurant employees work for and are managed by Harrah's New Orleans, not the Besh Restaurant Group. Harrah's New Orleans maintains a robust human resources department and processes, including a toll-free anonymous ethics and compliance hotline which allows employees to report concerns and allegations."
Along with the email John Besh's employees received informing them that he stepped down, the email also stated what the company would do to address allegations of sexual harassment.
WWL-TV spoke with a woman, who asked to remain anonymous, who worked in the service industry in New Orleans for 10 years. During that time, she said she did everything from bartending to managing. She stated that while she never worked for the Besh Restaurant Group, the sexual harassment allegations against Besh and his company did not shock her.
"No. Not at all. I wasn't surprised at all," she said.
She said what's more alarming than the allegations is the fact she believes similar situations are happening in restaurants across the city.
"It's a systemic problem," she said.
She said she was given a management role at another popular restaurant company in New Orleans. That is when her new boss began aggressively sexually harassing her by commenting on her appearance and asking for sex.
"I was stunned. I had no idea how to respond to that because that's my boss and who am I gonna report him to?" she said.
Tania Tetlow, a Tulane Law Professor, says that unfortunately that is a common situation that one in three women find themselves in.
"I think we're experiencing a culture moment of how pervasive this is," Tetlow said.
Tetlow said women often fear they'll jeopardize their career of that no one will believe them.
The former restaurant employee said as the Besh Restaurant Group examines its work place culture, others should do the same.
"I'm happy that people are coming forward because it needs to be known. That stuff happens in almost every kitchen," she said.
Besh has owned and operated a number of restaurants in the New Orleans area including:
- Restaurant August
- Pizza Domenica
- Johnny Sanchez
- Willa Jean
- Pigeon and Prince
- The Caribbean Room
- The Silver Whistle Cafe
- Bayou Bar
- Hot Tin