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Chef of Hollywood Hotspot Horses Accuses Husband and Co-Owner of Physical Assault and Animal Abuse

A Los Angeles Times report broke the news based on divorce filings amid swirling social media rumors

A maximal, colorful dining room at Horses in Los Angeles with gold gilding and lots of blue and painted horses.
The back dining room of Horses in Hollywood.
Wonho Frank Lee
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

This story mentions physical violence toward people and details violence toward animals.

Horses chef and co-owner Liz Johnson has accused her husband and co-owner Will Aghajanian of abuse, as well as killing the family’s cats, in a divorce filing, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Johnson filed for a domestic violence restraining order against Aghajanian in November 2022, where she alleged that her husband physically assaulted her and killed cats. Aghajanian denied the claims in court filings calling them “false allegations.” Over the past few days, anonymous posters as well as industry insiders and journalists have been alluding to rumors around alleged behaviors from the Horses chef-co-owners.

According to court filings, Johnson said that the family cat she took to a local shelter was seriously wounded, with the shelter alleging the cat was abused, an accusation that Aghajanian denied. Johnson also alleged that Aghajanian had attempted to feed the cat to coyotes because he didn’t like it, according to the filing. Johnson also said she caught Aghajanian “violently shaking the cat late at night,” whereupon the pet died the next day. “Will put the dead cat in the trash and insisted on keeping the corpse in the house,” said Johnson. Johnson also claims in the filings that Aghajanian’s mental and psychological abuse kept her from realizing what he was doing to the cats. It’s unclear whether Horses is open for business but as of Wednesday afternoon, there were still a few reservations available on Resy.

After the story was published on Wednesday May 17, the LA Times added comments from Aghajanian. Responding to the allegations of domestic and animal abuse, he said that he “loved cats, mice. And every other animal under gods/allah whatever each religion calls him/her and have loved all animals since I was a child.” He continued, “I have problems killing lobster, and usually try to do it in the most humane way possible.” Aghajanian also told the Times that he believed Johnson was “trying to take my businesses away from me through divorce,” and making up false narratives. He alleged Johnson, “falsely accuses me of things that she has done or that she threatened to do to me and my pets. My pets are like children to me and I love them dearly.”

On Wednesday evening, Horses posted a statement on Instagram:

Will Aghajanian has been on a leave of absence from Horses as of November 2022, and since then he has not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Under the guidance of Chef Liz, our incredible front and back of house teams are working to continuously make Horses what she had always intended it to be - a place of joy and celebration. Horses has no further comments outside of this statement.

Chef team of Horses in Hollywood, with chef-owner Will Aghajanian on the far left and his spouse/co-chef-owner Liz Johnson on the far right.
Chef team of Horses in Hollywood, with chef-owner Will Aghajanian on the far left and his spouse/co-chef-owner Liz Johnson on the far right.

Horses opened in September 2021 in the former Pikey/Ye Coach & Horses space, a nearly 90-year-old building that had operated as a legendary Hollywood restaurant and dive bar for decades. Johnson and Aghajanian brought a lengthy and celebrated resume from their time as co-chefs of Nashville’s celebrated Catbird Seat tasting menu restaurant. They were reportedly ousted from that restaurant a year later, but not before being nominated as co-Rising Star Chefs by the James Beard Award Foundation. Johnson also gained a James Beard nomination for her tenure at Freedman’s in Silver Lake.

Horses was an instant Hollywood celebrity favorite and earned positive reviews from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Though it wasn’t known when it opened, Eater LA reported in August 2022 that former Spotted Pig and Hearth & Hound owner Ken Friedman, who was accused of sexual harassment in 2017, was alleged to have been a partner in Horses. Both Johnson and Aghajanian denied that Friedman was involved in Horses.

Johnson’s restraining order was approved in December 2022 and then renewed on May 1, 2023 by a judge. Per the LA Times, Aghajanian has been ordered to stay at least 100 feet away from Johnson and her three dogs. Aghajanian filed his own restraining order alleging Johnson misled the court and requested custody of two of the dogs. He also claimed he was a victim of long-term abuse. At the time of publication, Johnson and Aghajanian were still listed as chefs and co-owners of the restaurant on Resy.

Update: Thursday, May 18, 9:15 pm: This article was updated to include an official statement from Horses.

Update: Wednesday, May 17, 3:55 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect additional comments from Aghajanian via the LA Times.


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