NOLA food writer says claims about Besh were well known in restaurant industry

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A new Orleans food writer said Monday that the allegations surrounding local celebrity chef John Besh are not new to those in the city's restaurant industry.

"Within the industry, it's very well publicly known. There's very few secrets in New Orleans in general, and there's definitely few secrets in the restaurant world," New Orleans food writer Lorin Gaudin said.

Gaudin claims she knew about the allegations against Besh for more than a decade but that the accusations fell on deaf ears.

She believes even though the allegations have an impact on the local restaurant scene, the industry will survive the scandal.

"This is still a great New Orleans restaurant scene, very robust and really delicious. I just think it will mean that people will be a little more thoughtful and careful about what they say," she said. "A little more thoughtful about their words and deeds, and I think the beat will go on."

In the latest development in the scandal, WYES said it will cease airing shows featuring Besh. Public television station WYES President and Chief Executive Officer Allan Pizzato sent the following statement:

"In view of the numerous serious allegations made against John Besh and the Besh Restaurant Group and Mr. Besh's public statements, WYES will no longer air its productions featuring Mr. Besh.  WYES would not want any viewers to think that broadcast of those programs represented condonation of actions of the type alleged."

The shows include "Chef John Besh's Family Table" and "Chef John Besh's New Orleans."

Besh is stepping down from his Besh Restaurant Group amid allegations of sexual misconduct. A letter from Shannon White, who is stepping in as CEO for the group, states, "John has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on his family." The local restaurants in the group include August, Borgne, Domenica, Pizza Domenica, Luke, Willa Jean, Shaya and Johnny Sanchez.

"It's a PR nightmare for the Besh Group. Obviously it's terrible for all of the victims so yeah, this process is going to be difficult for a lot of people," said lawyer Bobby Hjortsberg.

Besh's decision to step down comes just days after our partners at | The Times Picayune revealed the results of an eight-month long investigation where 25 current and former Besh Group employees said they were victims of sexual harassment while working for the BRG or some of its restaurants.

According to | The Times Picayune, the women described a company where several male co-workers and bosses touched female employees without consent, made suggestive comments and in some cases tried to leverage positions of authority for sex.

Hjortsberg said it could lead to much more.

"As far as the company is concerned there is certainly civil liabilities there, and depending on what the allegations are and what they're saying happened, there could be even criminal liability," he said.

Two complaints were filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One complaint by a former employee said "Besh continued to attempt to coerce here to submit to his sexual overtures." The Commission, which is the agency responsible for enforcing federal workplace discrimination laws, is investigating the claims.

"There's a lot of questions that still need to be answered, but it's certainly a very bad day for the Besh Group," Hjortsberg said.

Harrah's Casino also ended its relationship with the Besh Restaurant Group. Besh Steak restaurant opened in the casino back in 2003. The restaurant will remain, but the name will soon change.

"It's very bad for the company, and it's very difficult for John Besh," Hjortsberg said.

We should point out that Besh co-owns the restaurant group and is stepping away from the operations side only.

Chef Alon Shaya, who worked first at Domenica and then went on to create Shaya within the Besh group, blames his firing from the group on his cooperation with the reporter in the | Times-Picayune investigation.

In a Facebook post, Shaya said the following, in part:

"I made a decision to proactively engage with the reporter for the Times Picayune because I believed these stories must be told. For doing so, I was terminated as Executive Chef at Domenica, Pizza Domenica, and my name-sake restaurant, Shaya. I lost nearly all I had worked for, before I realized what I had gained. As a result of this experience, I have a renewed commitment to do everything I can in the future to prevent the powerful from taking advantage of those that depend on them."

All of this comes at the same time Shaya is also in a legal fight with the Besh Restaurant Group over the use of his name.

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