New information has surfaced in the divorce between Horses co-chef-owners Will Aghajanian and Liz Johnson, one day after the LA Times first broke the story. The Hollywood Reporter has published additional details from the restraining order filings, including alleged accounts of how workers at Horses were affected by the owners as they were compelled to work on the same premises.
According to the filings, which the Reporter published in their entirety late Wednesday, May 17, both Aghajanian and Johnson allege confrontational behavior that took place at the restaurant, including a staff walkout, an employee threatening to quit, and Aghajanian being eventually pushed out of the restaurant.
In Johnson’s restraining order request filed on October 31, 2022, she asked that Aghajanian stay 100 yards away from Johnson and their three dogs. However, as employees and co-owners of Horses, they were both still allowed inside the restaurant, but Aghajanian was required to stay 10 feet away from Johnson and only discuss work-related issues.
Johnson’s filing alleges that when Aghajanian appeared on the premises in November 2022, the entire staff walked out in protest. Johnson went further to describe the tension at Horses: “People at our workplace say he has become manic,” before saying one employee threatened to quit. Johnson detailed an incident in which she alleges Aghajanian cornered an employee in order to find out where Johnson was and what she had told them. She also said Aghajanian threatened to kill himself, and that she was fearful that he would hurt someone.
The published filings also detail Aghajanian’s account of events, in which he claims Johnson called him a “coward” allegedly in order to get him to violate the order. Aghajanian alleges Johnson said, “‘This is my house,’ referring to the restaurant again, trying to incite a negative response,” saying she also told staff that he was a sex addict and animal abuser. Aghajanian also alleges she told staff he was a “master manipulator,” that he “doesn’t care about the staff,” and that “he won’t be coming back to work in the restaurant.” Aghajanian said that these actions undermined any credibility he had despite Johnson’s restraining order specifically allowing him to work there. He says that these alleged statements gave Johnson firmer control of the restaurant.
Late yesterday, May 17, Horses also issued a statement on Instagram that claimed Aghajanian has been on leave from the restaurant since November 2022 and that the kitchen has been under Johnson’s direction since then. The restaurant appeared open for dinner last night and was occupied outside by a few patrons standing around. As of Thursday evening at the time of publication, there were still ample seats available at the restaurant’s Garden patio and a few 10 p.m. reservations inside the dining room.
Originally reported yesterday by the LA Times, Johnson claims in filings that Aghajanian had physically assaulted her and abused their cats, leading to the death of numerous animals. The Daily Beast report on the filings mentions multiple incidents of abusive behavior going back to 2019, including Aghanjanian allegedly grabbing and dragging Johnson across the floor, bending her fingers backward, and grabbing her hard enough that she sustained bruises.
In Aghajanian’s own restraining order request, which was subsequently denied, he alleged Johnson threatened him and burned him with hot cooking utensils on two occasions. In Aghajanian’s filing, his best friend, Samuel Burchett, who had been living with the couple in Tennessee while they were working at Catbird Seat, said he observed Johnson “belligerently” scream, stomp on Aghajanian’s feet, and hit him. Aghajanian, told the Daily Beast by phone from Thailand where he was working on a pop-up eatery that Johnson was weaponizing the #MeToo movement to gain control of their restaurants.
Since opening in September 2021, Horses, which is also co-owned by first-time restaurateur Stephen Light, had been lauded by critics and popular among the see-and-be-seen crowd in Los Angeles. Between reports that touted their kitchen’s purported “egalitarian approach” to designing dishes to a suspected connection to former Spotted Pig and Hearth & Hound owner Ken Friedman (who was credibly accused of sexual harassment in 2018), the restaurant has had ups and downs in its operation. In a statement to Eater LA last year, a rep for Horses said Friedman is not involved in any way with the restaurant.
Johnson currently resides in New Jersey ahead of the previously announced opening of New York City restaurant Froggy’s, whose debut has been delayed indefinitely due to Johnson and Aghajanian’s divorce proceedings. That restaurant was announced with news that Thomas Carter — who himself faced allegations of creating a toxic work environment rife with sexualized comments and aggressive insults at acclaimed NYC restaurants Estela and Cafe Altro Paradiso (he has since stepped away from both) — was an advisor to Froggy’s, though Carter has said he’s no longer involved in Froggy’s. On Thursday, May 18, Eater NY reported that it’s unclear whether Johnson or Aghajanian will be involved with Froggy’s.
This story is still developing.