A celebrity chef has stepped down from the helm of his restaurant empire amid allegations of sexual harassment.
John Besh quit his post as chief executive of the Besh Restaurant Group after more than 20 women said they had been sexually harassed while working either at head office or at one of his restaurants.
A former employee said he “continued to attempt to coerce [her] to submit to his sexual overtures” during a months-long “unwelcome sexual relationship” while she worked for him.
She said Besh once “insisted [she] drink heavily” at a tasting event during a work trip to Los Angeles in 2015. She said that afterwards Besh came to her hotel room and “immediately started to kiss and fondle” her.
He “easily overwhelmed” her, she said, and he then “engaged in oral sex and fell asleep” next to her.
The allegations against the southern Louisiana chef and TV host were published on Saturday by Nola.com and The Time-Picayune.
Allegations against male management include unwanted touching, attempts to leverage power for sex, and suggestive comments.
The report in the Times-Picayune said two former employees had filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged sexual discrimination and retaliation.
The woman said when she tried to end the relationship some employees “retaliated” against her.
Company executive Shannon White said Besh “has decided to step down from all aspects of operations and to provide his full focus on his family.”
White, formerly chief operating officer, immediately becomes chief executive.
The firm says it is hiring an expert to “independently investigate whether any unreported claims exist.”
Before he quit Besh issued a statement in which he said he had “deeply hurt those I love by thoughtlessly engaging in a consensual relationship with one member of my team” two years ago.
He says he is now trying to rebuild his marriage and come to terms with his “reckless actions”.
“I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings. This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father.”
Besh won the James Beard award for Best Chef of the Southeast in 2006.
Harrah’s casino in New Orleans, which has had a Besh Steak restaurant inside the casino for more than a decade, said it was “terminating its relationship” with the group.