Chefs Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian, partners in business and marriage, have attracted nationwide attention and a celebrity following for their casual yet sophisticated cuisine at Catbird Seat in Nashville, Mimi’s in New York City, and Horseshoes in Los Angeles.
But the notice spilled into notoriety this week as sensational and intensely personal allegations culled from public documents began to circulate online. Ms Johnson accused Mr Aghajanian of assaulting her, visiting prostitutes and torturing several kittens to death. He accused her of threatening to kill him and deliberately burning him with kitchen utensils.
In November, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Ms. Johnson sought and received a temporary restraining order against her husband, ordering him to stay 10 feet away from her at work and 100 yards away from her and their three dogs at all other times.
In January, Mr Aghajanian responded with a similar request as part of his divorce filing, saying Ms Johnson had verbally and physically abused him for years, both at home and in their restaurants. In that filing, he stated that the couple no longer lived together and requested exclusive custody of the dogs. A judge denied his request for a restraining order for “insufficient evidence of good cause.”
In the documents, Ms. Johnson said the restaurant staff left in November, in protest at her husband’s presence in the kitchen; He said she instigated the withdrawal as part of a calculated plan to remove him.
Since opening in October 2021, Horses has been pulling neck and neck with celebrity LA haunts like the Polo Lounge and Jon & Vinny’s, with its retro vibe and cool kids’ clientele that included Will Ferrell, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Maya Rudolph and Paul Thomas Anderson. It has appeared on multiple lists of best new restaurants and has received rave reviews; Last year, The Times called it “that rare Los Angeles animal: a hot preserve with serious behind-the-scenes cooking.” (It later transpired that disgraced restaurateur Ken Friedman was involved in the restaurant.)
After the Los Angeles Times broke word of the court dispute on Wednesday, a statement was posted to the restaurant’s Instagram account, stating that Mr. Aghajanian had left the restaurant last November, and that Ms. Johnson was directing the restaurant “to continue to serve horses as she had always intended to be — A place for joy and celebration.”
Mr. Aghajanian denied the allegations and said in a written statement, “I did not assault animals, nor did I abuse my wife.” Ms Johnson said she stands by her accusations.
The couple met in 2011 as apprentices at Noma, an influential Copenhagen restaurant that plans to close in 2024. Since 2015, they’ve led—and abruptly left—several kitchens, including those of Mimi and Catbird Seat and Friedman’s, a modern Jewish deli in Los Angeles, Ms. Johnson was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs in 2018. (The owners of Mimi and the Catbird Seat did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.)
Last fall, Mrs. Johnson announced that she would open a new restaurant in Manhattan, in the West Village space that includes Chumley’s, one of the few Prohibition-era parties to survive into the 21st century until it closes in 2020. The future of that The project is unclear, but Thomas Carter, who was a consultant at the opening, said Thursday he was no longer involved. (Mr. Carter faced numerous allegations of abusive workplace behavior in 2018, as a partner at Estela and other Manhattan restaurants with Chef Ignacio Matos.)
Mr. Friedman did not respond to a request to confirm his involvement in the horses. He co-owned restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles until the New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, found that he had sexually harassed 11 employees of Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village. The restaurant closed in January 2020.