The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington has decided to disqualify Mike Isabella’s restaurants from its annual award ceremony, the RAMMYs, after a former employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the chef and restaurateur. An emailed statement from RAMW president Kathy Hollinger and the RAMMYs judges panel said the chef’s restaurants Arroz and G would be removed from eligibility in the categories of new Restaurant of the Year and Favorite Fast Bites, respectively. Arroz chef Michael Rafidi, who resigned from the restaurant last week after the suit was filed, will remain eligible to win in the category Rising Star of the Year. Isabella won the organization’s prize for Restaurateur of the Year in 2016.
Chloe Caras, a former manager at the chef’s company, Mike Isabella Concepts, alleged that Isabella and his partners called her “bitch” and “whore,” commented on the size of her buttocks and touched her without permission, The Washington Post reported last week. Separately, a sous chef told The Post that Isabella kissed her without her consent. Other allegations of misconduct include that Isabella’s company has named cocktails after its partners’ encounters with prostitutes.
The chef has denied the allegations. “Simply put, the allegations of an unwelcoming or hostile work atmosphere are false,” Isabella, his partners and his company told The Post in a statement prepared by the Bascietto & Bregman law firm. “Harassment, discrimination, bullying, abuse, or unequal treatment of any kind whatsoever are not tolerated at MIC.”
Isabella’s businesses and personal brand have begun to experience consequences in the wake of the lawsuit. His name and his restaurants were dropped from the website of José Andrés’s annual Dine ‘n’ Dash fundraiser. His longtime publicist, Jennifer Resick Williams, has scrubbed the chef’s name from her company’s website, Washingtonian reports. He lost his spot as the chef chair of the fundraiser Best Buddies Prom, where he was replaced by “The Chew’s” Carla Hall. And the Washington Nationals cut ties with the chef, who formerly had several concession stands in the stadium. They will be replaced.
Hours before RAMW’s announcement, Isabella’s new publicist circulated to local media a letter defending the chef, signed by “The Women of Mike Isabella Concepts.” “Chef Mike and his team have built a culture based on open-communication, equality, and a productive, friendly work environment,” said the letter, which was signed by 10 female employees. The publicist also emailed other letters of support from women who knew the chef. One was from Isabella’s florist, who said she had “never witnessed or been a part of sexual harassment or abuses in these work places.” Two others came from former Isabella restaurant employees who had not worked at his restaurants since 2014.
The James Beard Awards changed its criteria this year in response to revelations of alleged sexual misconduct at top restaurants, including accusations of notable chefs John Besh and Mario Batali. In January, the foundation told its awards committee to consider chefs’ character when making its selections. “If you have concerns about a chef, restaurateur or beverage professional, or about the culture around a restaurant or restaurant group, leave the person or business out of your nominations,” read a directive sent to judges, Eater reported. That meant that such restaurants as the Spotted Pig, which the New York Times reported last year as having a “rape room,” were out of the running.
In its statement, RAMW said it would reevaluate its criteria to include “good standing as a leader and or member of the community” for future awards.
The full statement from RAMW is below.
Statement from Kathy E. Hollinger, President and CEO, RAMW
In light of the serious allegations surrounding sexual harassment and workplace culture recently filed against restaurateur Mike Isabella and several members of his leadership team, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) Board of Directors requested that The RAMMYS judges panel convene to reconsider the restaurant group’s 2018 RAMMYS nominations.
Statement from the RAMMYS Judges Panel:
The panel, with support from the RAMW Board of Directors, has decided that the following reevaluations are necessary in order to maintain the high standards that are associated with the nominations:
The panel officially rescinds the finalist nominations for Arroz by Mike Isabella as New Restaurant of the Year and for G by Mike Isabella as a Favorite Fast Bites finalist. The judges will not add additional finalists to those two categories.
The panel will keep the Rising Star of the Year nomination in place for Michael Rafidi, former Executive Chef of Arroz and Requin. The judges decided that this category, based on individual talent and performance, is focused on the individual and can be evaluated separately from the restaurant(s) and or company of employment. Rafidi was not named in the lawsuit which brought these allegations to light.
The RAMMY Awards process includes set criteria for both eligibility and for judging. As this judge’s panel and The Awards move forward, criteria will be revisited to evaluate and redefine good standing as a leader and or member of the community. It is the main objective of The RAMMYS to celebrate excellence in the restaurant and foodservice industry based on both culinary talent, vision, and leadership in the Washington Metropolitan region.
The RAMMYS judges are an anonymous panel of volunteer judges, consisting of food and dining journalists, educators and foodservice industry professionals.