Lawsuit Claims Chef Mike Isabella and Partners Named Kapnos Kouzina Cocktails After Sexual Exploits
Former employee alleges culture of harassment from celebrity chef and partners in restaurant group that owns Bethesda eatery
Celebrity chef Mike Isabella owns Kapnos Kouzina and other restaurants in D.C. and Virginia.
Three cocktails available at Kapnos Kouzina were allegedly named after the sexual jokes and exploits of the male partners in the restaurant group that owns the downtown Bethesda eatery, according to a lawsuit alleging a culture of sexual harassment at celebrity chef Mike Isabella’s restaurants.
Isabella, a prominent restaurateur in the D.C. area, came under scrutiny this week after The Washington Post first reported Monday that a former top manager for his restaurant group was suing him, claiming he and his business partners sexually harassed her repeatedly while she worked for the company.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in D.C. Superior Court, claims Isabella and his “all-male partners created a sexually hostile work environment and condoned a climate of contempt” at the restaurants that “stands out in an industry that is notorious for sexual harassment,” according to the filing.
Mike Isabella Concepts operates about a dozen restaurants in the area, including Kapnos Kouzina at 4900 Hampden Lane.
Chloe Caras, who filed the lawsuit, told the Post that Isabella called her a “bitch” and fired her in December after she told him to stop when he joked about a coworker sleeping with her. She also said Isabella and his partners would talk about her body, touch her without permission and casually use sexist language in the workplace.
“The women bashing, the sexism—that was always there,” Caras told the Post. “I tried to sometimes play along or ignore it. I thought if I kept doing a good job, I’d be okay.”
The suit also names four of Isabella’s business partners—Taha Ismail, Yohan Allender, George Pagonis and Nicholas Pagonis—who were allegedly involved in the harassment.
Isabella, his company and his partners denied the allegations in a statement to the Post.
“Simply put, the allegations of an unwelcoming or hostile work atmosphere are false,” the statement read. “Harassment, discrimination, bullying, abuse, or unequal treatment of any kind whatsoever are not tolerated at [Mike Isabella Concepts].”
Kapnos Kouzina, Isabella’s restaurant that opened in 2016, was only mentioned briefly in the lawsuit.
The suit suggests the partners named several cocktails at Mike Isabella Concept restaurants after “inside jokes they shared, usually involving their sexual exploits with prostitutes and other women,” according to the document. Three of the cocktails named in the lawsuit are on the menu at Kapnos Kouzina—the “Unfaithful,” “Almost There” and “Fuzzy Pear.”
The cocktail list on Kapnos Kouzina's website.
Isabella rose to fame after he appeared on the television show Top Chef a decade ago. After working as executive chef at José Andrés’ Zaytinya in Washington, he opened his own series of restaurants in the District.
Andrés, himself a celebrity chef and the owner of Jaleo in Bethesda, has dropped Isabella’s photo from the headliners and sponsors for Dine-N-Dash, a June benefit in the District for his nonprofit World Central Kitchen, Washingtonian reported Tuesday.