Groundbreaking Houston Chef Publicly Accused of Sexual Harassment on Yelp — Updated
Disgruntled comments about restaurants on Yelp are common, but usually it’s about the food or service. However, on October 7, a former worker of acclaimed restaurant Indigo used the consumer review website to voice allegations of workplace sexual harassment and retaliation.
The woman identified herself as “Alex F.” on Yelp and the accusation is her only public posting on the consumer restaurant review platform. She claims that, after working unpaid for two days, on the third owner and chef Jonny Rhodes touched her buttocks, attempted to hug or kiss her, asked her out for drinks and sent unprofessional text messages. She furthermore alleges that after rejecting his advances, he retaliated by firing her via text message.
Update, 10/9/2019, 8:28 a.m.: Both the accuser and her brother have responded to our inquiries, at least somewhat. “Alex F” has declined an interview, telling us she’d “rather not discuss details.” However, her brother, who Alex has called “her representative,” has said he’ll be in touch for an interview. Yesterday evening, he shared this article on Facebook saying that she is his sister and posted on Reddit that “she’s scared as anyone would be in her situation.” He also asserts that “she has text message[s] from the chef as well as personal experiences.”
Via a representative, Rhodes says he “unequivocally denies the accusations.” While there is no formal statement from him at this time, he may issue one tomorrow. Should that happen, this story will be updated.
A screenshot of the complaint is below; the text from it follows.
Text from Yelp post:
I worked with chef Johnny owner of Indigo for about three days. Two days which I didn’t get paid for. On my third day he began to ask me very personal questions which did not pertain to work. He then began to touch me on my buttocks. I advised him that was not ok. I asked to stop because I was uncomfortable. I asked Johnny to keep our relationship professional. Johnny continued to pursue me in multiple ways such as, trying to hug or kiss me and again grabbing my buttocks. He then asked if he could take me out on a date and buy me drinks and just see where our evening would go from there. I declined the invitation. The following day he texted my phone unprofessionally multiple time. Johnny asked me what I was doing and what have I been up too. My reply is that we need keep our relationship professional inside and outside of work. He replied by terminating me saying, he and his crew spoke that they would no longer retain me as an employee. I’m highly disappointed with the unprofessionalism Johnny the owner of Indigo displayed. I told Chef Johnny I was a single mother looking to grow and learn my culinary techniques. He was willing to teach me but the outward sexual advances were not agreed upon at the time of hire. When I tried to keep it professional he terminated me.
While the former worker says that she worked for two days that she did not get paid for, the representative for Indigo stated that the woman was staging at the restaurant and was not an employee. It is not uncommon in the restaurant industry to stage, which is like an unpaid internship with the goal of learning from a more experienced professional. The representative additionally said that Indigo’s employees are always paid, even during August when the restaurant was closed for a seasonal reset.
Someone responded to “Alex F’s” Yelp post on behalf of Indigo, although exactly who is unknown. The response publicly demanded that she remove her original post, threatens legal action and claims to have possession of “all messages between yourself and chef.” A screenshot of the response is below and full text follows.
Screenshot of Restaurant Indigo’s response to sexual harassment complaint on Yelp.
We take these accusations you’re claiming in the highest regard. Due to the sensitivity of this situation we are asking you to remove this post prior to receiving a cease and desist due to defamation. Slander, false statements and irresponsible stories will all be met with legality. We have documented your time at indigo thoroughly as well as all messages between yourself and chef, they will be turned over to the authorities as a phone record subpoena will be requested.
The accolades for both Rhodes and Indigo include a James Beard Award semifinalist nod for Rising Star Chef of the Year, landing on Food & Wine’s Best New Restaurants list and being named by Time as one of the World’s Greatest Places to experience now. Rhodes was additionally named Eater Houston’s “Chef of the Year” in 2018 and made headlines when he called out what he considered racism in online consumer reviews.
Houston Food Finder has sent messages to the former worker who posted the sexual harassment and retaliation complaint on Yelp. So far, we have not received a reply. Should that happen, we’ll update this story.
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