Chef John Tesar has stepped away from his restaurant Knife Modern Steak in Orange County, just weeks after an altercation with picketers from the Unite Here Local 11 union was captured on camera and spread across social media. In a video from early August, Tesar can be seen shouting obscenities at workers protesting for wage raises and other comprehensive benefits. Tesar admitted to breaking one protestor’s drum before swearing at the group, flipping off the camera, and walking away.
At the time, the former Top Chef contestant Tesar told Eater that the altercation in Dana Point was “not my proudest moment,” adding that he believed the protestors had been harassing his children. Tesar said then that he would remain away from the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, where Knife is located, “until the strike is over.”
A representative for the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa told Eater in early August that the company has “zero tolerance for violence of any kind,” adding that Tesar was an “independent contractor providing consulting services” and that they would be “examining appropriate next steps.”
Now, Tesar is out at the restaurant entirely. The chef provided a statement to Eater that reads in part:
I want to apologize to the members of Unite Here for my behavior… I regret the situation has become a distraction and believe it is in the best interest of all parties that I end my involvement with the restaurant.
Tesar also sent the full statement to the Unite Here Local 11 account on X (formerly Twitter); Unite Here Local 11 responded with “apology accepted.” The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa issued its own statement to Eater:
The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa and John Tesar have mutually agreed to end their relationship, effective immediately. The restaurant at the hotel remains open and plans to rebrand with a new upscale concept in late 2023.
Tesar will now focus his energies on his Texas and Florida restaurants, while Unite Here Local 11 continues to protest at Laguna Cliffs for better compensation, part of a “hot labor summer” wave that has seen workers from across industries form unions and stage protests and strikes.