The Biggest Scandals To Ever Plague Celeb Chef Restaurants

The rise of the celebrity chef has brought with it the rise of celebrity chef restaurants. From television mainstays to James Beard Award winners, just about every culinary star has their own eatery these days. Unfortunately for many of these chefs (and hungry, hopeful diners), having a celebrity attached to a restaurant does not guarantee success. In fact, these businesses fail quite often.

Sometimes celeb chefs' restaurants fail because of poor execution. In other cases they're doomed by financial troubles. A few, however, have instead been rocked by scandal. The damage these public embarrassments have inflicted ranges. Some were major publicity blows, and others led to the ultimate demise of their respective restaurants.

From a number of tip-stealing allegations and an apparent Ponzi scheme to "Top Chef" alums behaving badly and an infamous review directed toward Food Network's most famous star, here are the biggest scandals to ever plague celeb chef restaurants.

Gordon Ramsay's legal troubles at The Fat Cow

As collector of multiple Michelin stars and host of a slew of international cooking shows, Gordon Ramsay has fame and acclaim that few celebrity chefs on earth can match. But not everything the English chef touches turns to gold. Such was the case at his failed Los Angeles restaurant, The Fat Cow.

Ramsay opened The Fat Cow in November 2012, and it quickly became a popular destination in The Grove shopping district. Before long, however, things started to fall apart. The first crack in the foundation came in April 2013 when Ramsay was sued by the contractor who built out the restaurant. The lawsuit claimed Ramsay still owed roughly $45,000 in unpaid bills (via TMZ). Just two months later, things went from bad to worse. Former employees of The Fat Cow filed a class action lawsuit against Ramsay. According to the Daily Mail, the employees alleged that their former boss failed to pay them minimum wage or overtime for hours they worked. They were also forced to work through their meal breaks and were not paid what they were owed at their time of resignation or termination.

The final blow came when a restaurant owner in Florida claimed legal ownership over the name "Fat Cow," the International Business Times reported. Instead of taking on another legal battle, Ramsay shuttered The Fat Cow in March 2014.

Mario Batali's sexual misconduct at his New York City restaurants

Few, if any, celebrity chefs have been harder hit by a scandal than Mario Batali. In December 2017, Eater New York published a scathing exposé of Batali and his inappropriate behavior toward women that dated back to the 1990s. At the time, Batali co-owned roughly two dozen restaurants as partner of the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. The company's portfolio included famed Michelin-starred eateries Del Posto and Babbo. 

Batali owned up to his inappropriate behavior and agreed to remove himself from the company's operations. "Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted," he said in a statement to Eater New York. "That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses ... I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed." Batali's informal departure from his restaurant empire became official just over a year later. In March 2019, he surrendered ownership of all his restaurants, agreeing to a buyout with the hospitality group that once contained his name (via The New York Times).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The New York Times' infamous review of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar

There's no shame in getting a bad review, and there's no chef who hasn't gotten such a review at some point in their careers. But there are bad reviews, and then there's what The New York Times had to say about Food Network star Guy Fieri and his New York City restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar.

In 2012, Times food critic Pete Wells journeyed to Times Square to dine at the establishment several times. To say he was not impressed would be the understatement of the century. In a review composed entirely of questions, Wells eviscerated every aspect of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar, from its food and drinks to its service. "How did nachos, one of the hardest dishes in the American canon to mess up, turn out so deeply unlovable?" Wells asked, continuing with, "By the way, would you let our server know that when we asked for chai, he brought us a cup of hot water?"

The review quickly went viral, with some calling it "the most brutal restaurant review ever," according to the Daily Beast. Fieri defended his restaurant on TV two days later. "We're trying as hard as we can to make it right, to do it right," he told Today. "Is it perfect right now? No. Are we striving for it? Yeah." In the end, it wasn't enough — Guy's American Grill closed its doors in 2017.

Top Chef winner Gabe Erales' firing at Comedor

The stage was all set for Gabe Erales and his Austin, Texas, restaurant Comedor to move into the national limelight in 2021. After all, there are few publicity bumps in the culinary world that can compare to winning "Top Chef," which is exactly what Erales did on the hit show's 18th season. Instead, he found himself in post-victory scandal that ended with his termination.

Just days after the "Top Chef" finale aired, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Erales had been fired from Comedor the previous year due to "violation of the restaurant's policies on harassment and discrimination." His exit from Comedor had previously been reported, but the circumstances were now coming to light. Here they are: Prior to filming "Top Chef," Erales had started a consensual relationship with a female colleague. The relationship ended after Erales returned to Austin, at which point the chef began cutting the woman's hours. He originally said the move was based on performance, a claim that Comedor chef-partner Philip Speer labeled false.

Erales eventually came clean to the news outlet. "After I returned from 'Top Chef,' I made some business decisions as a manager that affected this employee and were found to be discriminatory and I realized that those were bad decisions," he said. "I've spent the last six months really reflecting on these mistakes and taking the necessary steps to be a better husband, a father, a chef and a leader, through therapy, through spirituality."

The explosive allegations against John Besh at BRG restaurants

John Besh has checked off nearly every box a chef could dream of: James Beard Award winner, cookbook author, television host, and, of course, owner of a suite of acclaimed restaurants. But that reputation took a major hit several years ago in the wake of some serious allegations. In 2017, an employee of the Besh Restaurant Group, the parent company of Besh's eateries, filed a discrimination complaint against the organization (via She claimed to have been sexually harassed by Besh and other male colleagues. After an in-depth investigation, uncovered a total of 25 current and former employees of BRG and its restaurants who claimed to have been victims of sexual harassment, including inappropriate touching and suggestive comments.

On the same day published its report, Besh released a statement owning up to his mistakes. "I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do," he said. "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."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The tip-stealing lawsuit filed against Graham Elliot at his eponymous restaurant

For a time, Graham Elliot was the darling of Chicago's culinary scene. After earning three James Beard Award nominations and becoming the youngest chef to garner a four-star review from a major news outlet, Elliot opened his eponymous restaurant in 2008. The establishment was soon awarded two Michelin stars, putting Elliot in the national spotlight.

In March 2012, however, Elliot was sued by Gregory Curtis, a former waiter who claimed he was not paid minimum wage and had to pool his tips with other employees who were not entitled to tips (via Chicago Tribune). This would be a violation of federal labor laws. By the time the lawsuit was filed, Curtis' attorney said the restaurant had already revamped its tipping policy. "It appears based on our investigation that this restaurant has changed their practice, so that cooks and food runners no longer share the tip pool," the lawyer told the Chicago Tribune. "The problem is that they have not sought to reimburse everyone who was victimized by this practice, including our client."

The legal matter, which eventually reached class-action status with a total of 14 former staff members, was put to bed a few months later. According to TMZ, Elliot reached a settlement with the former employees. How much money the plaintiffs received was not disclosed. Just over a year later, Elliot announced he was closing his namesake restaurant.

Anne Burrell's feud at Phil and Anne's Good Time Lounge

In May 2017, Food Network personality Anne Burrell opened her first restaurant, Phil & Anne's Good Time Lounge, in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood. The business was a co-venture with local bar owner Phil Casaceli. "I just loved his bar!" Burrell told People. "So then a year and a half ago Phil came to me with this real estate deal, and I was just like, 'This is the universe making itself apparent to me.'" The universe had other ideas. What started as a friendship between the co-owners quickly soured before turning into a full-blown feud.

The problems began almost immediately after Phil & Anne's Good Time Lounge opened its doors, according to Eater New York. The pair reportedly argued about nearly every aspect of the business, from the restaurant's operating hours to the type of music to play. When Burrell started making changes independently, Casaceli said he was ready to walk away. However, he claimed his business partner offered only absurdly low buyout offers that he couldn't accept after pouring his life savings into the operation.

In April 2018, less than a year after opening, Burrell supposedly shut the doors of Phil & Anne's Good Time Lounge, a move she made without informing Casaceli (via Page Six). In a statement, one of Burrell's representatives summed up the situation, saying, "Unfortunately, she and Phil have had differences of opinion during their business relationship that made running a restaurant together impossible."

Cat Cora's lawsuit against her own restaurant, Fatbird

We'll see your Food Network star feuding with her business partner and raise you ... another Food Network star feuding with her business partner. In June 2017, Iron Chef Cat Cora consulted on the opening of the Southern-themed restaurant Fatbird in New York City. Unfortunately, her eatery would suffer a similar fate to that of her colleague's. 

Just a few months after Fatbird's debut, Cora found herself in a legal battle with the co-owner. According to Reuters, the celeb chef had agreed to give her name, likeness, and recipes to the restaurant in exchange for a stake in the business. But by October she claimed to have not received any payments. Furthermore, Cora alleged that the restaurant was being run in such a poor manner that it was damaging her reputation. This all led to her filing a lawsuit against her partner, seeking monetary compensation plus a revocation of the rights to her name and likeness. "Cat expended a significant amount of time, effort, energy and expense on this project," her lawyer told Reuters. "This suit seeks to recover for her what she was promised."

The feud proved too much for the restaurant to overcome. Amid the lawsuit and negative reviews, Fatbird closed its doors in December 2017. Cora didn't walk away empty-handed, though. Just over a year later, according to Page Six, Cora won her lawsuit and was awarded more than half a million dollars.

The sexual harassment claims against Johnny Iuzzini at Jean-Georges

In the early 2000s, Johnny Iuzzini quickly became the golden boy of America's pastry world. He won a James Beard Award, served as a judge on "Top Chef: Just Desserts," and, most notably, held the position head pastry chef at Jean-Georges, one of New York City's most lauded culinary establishments. It was during his time at the Michelin-starred restaurant, however, where he was alleged to have sexually harassed several female employees between 2009 and 2011, according to an investigative report by Mic. The outlet spoke to four former Jean-Georges employees who worked under Iuzzini. Just weeks after publishing its story, Mic reported that four more women had similar accusations against the celebrated chef.

Iuzzini confessed to some, but not all, of the claims. "I began working in kitchens when I was 15 years old, back in a time when it was rare to see women in the kitchen, and behavior was more bawdy than professional," Iuzzini told Mic. "There were dirty jokes and vulgar remarks, times where people would lose their tempers and it was deemed permissible since four-star kitchens are high-stress jobs. This was the behavior I learned as a boy, and for too many years participated in during my restaurant career. And it was wrong."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The lawsuit over bro culture against Mike Isabella at Isabella Eatery

Speaking of men behaving badly, let's talk about Mike Isabella. The "Top Chef" alum parlayed his television appearance into the formation of Mike Isabella Concepts, a multi-million-dollar company with more than a dozen restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. But the empire came crumbling down after the former director of operations at one restaurant, Isabella Eatery, filed suit in March 2018, accusing the celebrity chef and his business partners of sexual harassment (via The Washington Post). The complaint alleges that Isabella and others created a "bro culture" that included unwanted touching, offensive name calling, and other sexist behavior (per Washingtonian).

Isabella claimed innocence and vowed to fight the charges in court. The damage, however, was already done. Isabella Eatery closed in August 2018. The following month, the chef filed for bankruptcy, and before the year was out, he announced he was shutting down the company and nearly all of his restaurants (via FSR Magazine). In the bankruptcy filing, Isabella laid the blame on the lawsuit and ensuing scandal, stating, "Under the present circumstances, I am facing the sad realization that I no longer believe that any restaurant associated with my name can recover from the negative press that has enveloped me for nearly the entirety of 2018."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Tom Colicchio's tip-stealing lawsuit at Craftbar

By 2008, Tom Colicchio's star was on the rise. He was already a successful chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. He had became entrenched as one of the judges and hosts of the increasingly popular "Top Chef" series, which had debuted two years earlier.

That celebrated status, as well as the reputation of his growing Craft restaurant chain, was threatened when a former employee filed a lawsuit in December 2008. According to The New York Times, the former waitress, who worked at Craftbar's New York City location, claimed management broke federal and state laws by withholding overtime pay and sharing tips with employees who were not eligible to receive them. "The Craft restaurants, all upscale establishments designed by well-known architects and catered by award-winning chefs, have earned Mr. Colicchio and his partners great success," one of the plaintiff's lawyers said. "This success, however, has come at the expense of the restaurant's hourly service workers to whom the defendants have denied proper minimum wages, overtime compensation, and tips they earned from customers."

Colicchio disagreed. "It's a baseless lawsuit," he told the Times. "We're confident that a thorough investigation in the courts will find that Craftbar and Craft Worldwide Holdings have conducted themselves with the highest integrity and concern for the wellbeing of their employees." The lawsuit was reportedly settled, and Craftbar remained opened for nearly another decade before a rent hike forced it to close in 2017 (via The New York Times).

Jose Garces' alleged Ponzi scheme at Amada New York

From 2005 to 2018, "Iron Chef" and James Beard Award winner Jose Garces opened or managed an eye-popping 29 restaurants to create his own culinary empire (via The Philadelphia Inquirer). According to multiple lawsuits filed against the celebrity chef, however, he spread himself too thin and then stiffed investors and purveyors.

Over an eight-month span from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2018, Garces was hit with six different lawsuits, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Four came from food purveyors who had not been paid, one from a landlord looking for back rent, and another from a pair of investors who claimed they were owed returns.

This last lawsuit was the most damning against Garces and his business. In it, a New Jersey couple said they had invested $2.5 million in the celebrity chef's restaurants. Things were going well (and they were receiving their money) until 2016. That's when Garces opened a New York City location of his flagship Amada eatery. The investors claimed to have helped fund the move to the tune of $700,000 in exchange for a promised 20% return. Instead, the lawsuit claims Garces ceased all payments. The pair went as far as claiming Garces never had any intention of paying the money back and was essentially running a Ponzi scheme. Whether or not the lawsuit was the final blow is hard to say, but Amada New York shut its doors that very same spring.