This story has been updated to include a link to Edouardo Jordan’s response.

IN SEATTLE, WORKING for Edouardo Jordan is the equivalent of striking restaurant gold.

Before the pandemic, a constant stream of hopeful staff flowed through the doors of Jordan’s three restaurants, hoping the experience of working for a two-time James Beard Award winner would open doors to prestigious restaurants around the world. The New York Times dubbed his JuneBaby “the hottest new Southern restaurant in the country” in 2018.

But as his profile rose, he also subjected employees and other women in the local restaurant industry to sexual misconduct or unwanted touching, according to 28 people who spoke to The Seattle Times.

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Four women said Jordan groped them at work. One recounted that Jordan put his fingers between her buttocks through her clothes during her shift and tried to kiss her on a business trip. One said he touched her crotch, and another said he slapped her on the behind. A fourth woman said he massaged her waist. A fifth woman said Jordan, her boss, subjected her to an unwanted kiss outside of work. Their accounts ranged from 2012 to 2017.

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Ten additional women said Jordan, as recently as 2019, made sexual comments, including about their breasts, or frequently touched them in unwanted ways, like hugging them from behind at work.

The women’s accounts were supported by 10 other people who worked with Jordan, by two other local chefs and by one woman’s roommate; all said they spoke to the women about the behavior at the time or witnessed similar acts by Jordan.

The country’s top chefs have faced a reckoning in recent years following food industry workers’ allegations of sexual misconduct and toxic workplaces — from Mario Batali’s restaurants to Blaine Wetzel’s Willows Inn on Lummi Island. With each new story, some workers in Seattle said they wondered if Jordan would be next. 

Jordan, 41, said the allegations of sexual comments were untrue and that he did not recall most of the accounts of inappropriate touching, noting some occurred years ago. 

“I have never been a perfect person,” Jordan said in an interview. “I’m apologetic for anything that I wasn’t perfect at or being a human, but other than that, I think there’s a misrepresentation of my work environment and who I am.”

He acknowledged trying to kiss a co-worker while on a work-related trip, which he said was “not acceptable” and a “learning moment.” Jordan said no one he’s worked with has approached him with similar concerns.

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In an industry that Jordan acknowledges has a problem with sexual harassment, he said in an email, “I have worked hard to ensure that such conduct has no place at any of my restaurants. Workplace harassment of any nature or sexualizing women is not a culture I promote or who I am or what I’m about — I stand behind that.”  

On Sunday, after The Seattle Times story published, Jordan posted a response on social media.

Thirteen who worked with him said they didn’t witness sexual misconduct from Jordan, although 11 of them said they didn’t want to invalidate the women’s allegations.

The Times did not find any record of police reports or lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by Jordan. He said his businesses — including acclaimed Seattle restaurants Salare and JuneBaby — have never entered into confidential settlements with current or former employees.

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Jordan announced last week that Salare is closing July 3, citing the pandemic’s economic toll, and he also plans to merge JuneBaby and his third restaurant, Lucinda Grain Bar.

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The people who spoke to The Times said they had long feared the repercussions of speaking out against Jordan, who has become one of the city’s most prominent chefs, with close ties to other restaurateurs and partnerships with brands like Lexus and Blue Apron. All but four requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Most of the women who accused Jordan of sexual misconduct are white. Many highlighted this in interviews, saying they worried they’d be perceived as undermining the success of a talented Black chef in an industry that has too often devalued the contributions of people of color.

“I wanted to support him as an entrepreneur, as a Black chef, as a public figure who spoke up and out about uplifting Black chefs,” said a former employee, who is white and recounted that Jordan groped her. “It put me in a very weird emotional position where I know this happened to me and I know it was very inappropriate … and I didn’t want to tear him down.”

Ahmed Suliman, who helped Jordan open his first restaurant, said he watched the chef’s rise warily.

“He’s the worst person I’ve ever worked with by a distance,” said Suliman, who has worked at eight Seattle-area restaurants over the past 13 years. “Everything you can think of about (expletive) restaurant culture, he embodies it.”

• • •

FOR ONE WOMAN who worked with Jordan as a line cook at Sitka & Spruce, it was almost immediately clear that he was bad news.

Jordan and his then-wife — they separated in 2016 — moved to Seattle in 2012, where he was hired by restaurateur Matt Dillon to be Sitka’s sous chef. Soon after Jordan was hired, the line cook said he grabbed her butt at a party.

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“That was not normal behavior for any male chef I had worked with at Sitka,” said the line cook, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “That was a solidifying moment for me that this guy was bad.”

Jordan said he does not recall the incident.

The line cook made rules for herself: Don’t hang out with Jordan outside of work. Don’t drink with him — especially not alone.

But it was difficult to avoid Jordan, then 32, who helped lead the kitchen. Before Sitka, he worked at renowned restaurants — The French Laundry in Napa Valley, The Herbfarm in Woodinville, three-Michelin-starred Per Se in New York, and Lincoln Ristorante in New York — and he was gaining recognition in Seattle.

Dillon promoted Jordan to chef de cuisine when he opened Bar Sajor in Seattle in 2013, and Jordan offered to bring the line cook from Sitka along. Despite her misgivings, she jumped at the opportunity to advance her career.

“He was my mentor. I would not be as strong of a cook without his guidance and qualified instruction,” the line cook said. “But there was this other monster you had to deal with.”

Resources on sexual harassment

Confidential resources for those facing sexual harassment are available here or at 800-656-4673.

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Women knew that if they got stuck in the walk-in fridge with Jordan, he would “accidentally cop a feel,” the line cook said. “You’re supposed to not say anything, you’re supposed to just laugh. The whole point was to stay on his good side.”

Jordan said this was false. He said he had “no clue” why former co-workers would make allegations against him that were not true. 

Other women who worked with Jordan said they had similar experiences. A server at Sitka & Spruce said Jordan frequently talked about her breasts. Another server said Jordan slapped her behind at Bar Sajor and that he made a cat growling noise when she told him to never touch her again. 

Jordan said he does not recall the incidents.

For the line cook who moved to Bar Sajor, working for Jordan became more challenging as time went on.

In early 2014, Jordan offered to bring her with him on a trip to research restaurants in Vancouver, B.C. “I was so stoked. I can’t believe I didn’t think this was weird, but I thought this was a professional thing,” she said.

They spent a day tasting food. When they got to the hotel later, they were told their room only had one bed. “That was when I started freaking out a bit,” the line cook said, adding that she didn’t have money to get her own. She said Jordan acted surprised, so she gave him the benefit of doubt.

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But she said that after she got into bed, fully clothed, Jordan tried to kiss her.

“I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ There were four more attempts. I was like, ‘No, I’m not interested in you. I don’t know how to tell you this more clearly, but this is not why I’m here,’” she said. “I fell asleep. From all my understanding, nothing happened that night.”

Jordan said he booked a room with two beds in advance and was surprised that the only room available had one bed. Jordan said he should have slept on the floor or avoided sharing a hotel room with a co-worker.

“I made an advance to kiss her once which I admit was a mistake — and after she said that she was not interested, I stopped and we both fell asleep,” he said in an email to The Seattle Times. “There was not repeated attempts, there was nothing forceful that occurred.”

But Jordan’s inappropriate behavior continued, the line cook said. She said Jordan sent her a late-night text asking her to dance naked for him, then insisted she delete it at work the next day. A co-worker said she saw the text the line cook received.

The line cook said she started communicating with Jordan only on an as-needed basis.

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Several months later, she stayed late at work to handle inventory. As she leaned over the counter, she said, Jordan walked by and put his fingers between her buttocks through her clothes. There were guests in the restaurant, she said, but she yelled at him to never touch her again.

“He just kept his head down and, like, kind of grinned and just left the restaurant,” she said.

Her roommate at the time recalls the line cook telling her about the incident, so she recommended going to Dillon, the restaurant owner.

Jordan said he does not recall the alleged incident or sending the text message. 

When the line cook spoke to Dillon, she said, he told her to confront Jordan and suggested she had not set clear boundaries with him.

Dillon said he recalls speaking to the line cook about the incident but “did not say that she was implicit or that she was responsible for him doing that.”

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Dillon said that because the line cook and Jordan appeared to have a friendly relationship, he questioned whether the incident was “that serious.” He said he asked her how she wanted the situation handled and she said she would talk to Jordan. Dillon said he checked in with her once more after that, and “it seemed fine.”

Two additional women who worked at Bar Sajor around that time also recounted uncomfortable experiences with Jordan. 

One woman said that in 2014, after a night of heavy drinking, several people ended up at her house. Sitting on the stairs with Jordan, she asked him about her job performance. Jordan responded by suddenly kissing her, the woman said.

“It was a very inappropriate moment that I feel ashamed about,” she said. “I was a 25-year-old kid who just wanted to be a part of something, be a part of that culture.” 

Another Bar Sajor employee, who lived with the woman, said he recalled her telling him about an uncomfortable situation with Jordan at the time.

Jordan said he does not recall this happening.

Suzi An, who started working with Jordan when she was 24, said she was enamored by his talent. 

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But An, who is Asian American, said Jordan also made sexualized comments about her race. And one evening after work, he asked to hang out with just An at her apartment, and followed her to her room when she tried to excuse herself to go to bed. 

An said he got on her bed, even though she said “no” and brought up his marriage. She didn’t know how to ask him to leave, so she laid as far away from Jordan as she could, until he left.

“Especially for someone you thought you had a lot of respect for, how do you tell them ‘no’?” An said.

When asked whether he got in An’s bed, Jordan said they “chatted the night away,” but that he did not recall where. He said “nothing sexual ever happened.”

When Jordan opened his first restaurant, Salare, An decided she couldn’t turn down the opportunity to go with him, although she warned Jordan that he couldn’t make fetishizing comments to her anymore, a request he honored. 

Jordan said he sometimes flirted with An but stopped by mutual agreement, adding that “sexualizing any woman or any race is not acceptable, in or out of the workplace.” 

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• • •

When Jordan left Bar Sajor to open Salare in the summer of 2015, 
some co-workers followed along. Three former staff members said Jordan’s sexual harassment escalated once he had his own restaurant. Jordan said that is “100% not true.”
(Lindsey Wasson / The Seattle Times, 2015)

JORDAN OPENED SALARE in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood the summer of 2015. Zagat and Eater listed it as one of Seattle’s most anticipated openings, and Jordan had been nominated as Food & Wine’s best new chef of 2014. Salare’s menu was inspired by Jordan’s upbringing in Florida, cooking with his grandmother in Georgia, and working in kitchens from California to Italy. 

Some of Dillon’s staff followed Jordan to Salare, including Suliman, as floor manager. For many, it was an exciting time filled with opportunities.

But three former staff members said Jordan’s behavior escalated once he had his own restaurant.

“At Salare it was the same, but times 100,” Suliman said. “He would pinch people on the butt, slap people on the butt, make comments about boobs, make comments like, ‘When is this going to happen?’ — ‘this’ meaning sex.”

A woman who worked as a server and expediter at Salare said Jordan asked her that specific question, which was witnessed by another employee. The server also said Jordan pulled her around the corner and said several times that he wanted to see her breasts.

Jordan said Suliman’s claim was “100% not true.” He said he made his employees’ safety a priority, with a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. 

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He said he does not recall the incident alleged by the server, adding, “I have never asked an employee for sex, nor have I had sex with any employee of mine.”

Women who worked at Salare said they had little recourse against Jordan, who was not only their boss, but well-connected in the industry. Jordan said Salare had a process in place for reporting harassment, and since 2019 he’s contracted with a third-party human resources service. 

A former bartender said that when she was getting ready for a shift one day, Jordan touched her crotch area through her clothes.

“It was kind of like a ‘good game’ pat on the butt, but in the front,” she said. “I remember being really taken aback, because it wasn’t like a flirtatious moment between us leading up to it, and it seemed very intentional.”

Two of the bartender’s friends, who had their own accounts of Jordan touching them inappropriately, said the bartender told them about this in the following years.

Jordan said he has no recollection of this occurring, and said “touching any co-worker in this manner is not appropriate.”

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In April 2017, Jordan opened his second restaurant, JuneBaby. The southern kitchen soon garnered a rare three-star review from New York Times food critic Pete Wells, as well as frequent coverage from The Seattle Times and other local and national outlets.

The following year, Jordan became the first Black chef to win a James Beard Award — the Oscars of the food world — in the category of Best New Restaurant for JuneBaby. He also took home a second James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northwest for Salare. 

Lines were a frequent sight outside Junebaby even before chef Edouardo Jordan won Best New Restaurant in the U.S. and Best Chef in the Northwest in the 2018 James Beard Awards. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times, 2018)

The lines to eat at JuneBaby soon stretched for blocks, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan proclaimed Nov. 28 “Edouardo Jordan Day.”

The acclaim meant Jordan was in his restaurants less, former staff said, as he did more promotional work. In recent years he has partnered with companies like Lexus, Blue Apron and Whole Foods, which carries his line of retail products from his wholesale company Food with Roots.

But when Jordan was in his restaurants, his “gray area” touching — like uninvited hugs from behind — and sexual comments continued, according to at least three former employees, including CJ Daugherty, who worked for him in 2019.

At Salare, “the culture is very much that the chef gets to do what he wants,” Daugherty said.

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Sabrina Schneider, who worked at JuneBaby from 2018-19, recalls an instance when Jordan needed to get behind her at work, and instead of asking her to move, he put his hands on her hips and moved her to the side. It wasn’t a big deal, Schneider said, but it made her tense up because she has been sexually abused in the past.

Another former employee recalls Schneider telling her about this at the time.

Jordan said he believes entering people’s personal space should be mutual. He said he has hugged his staff, but “it was never sexual or inappropriate in nature and it certainly was never forced or intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”

As Jordan’s career took off, managers at other restaurants told staff to treat him as a VIP customer when he came by. For some women, this meant it was impossible to avoid Jordan.

One woman, who managed a Seattle restaurant, recalled Jordan coming in with friends in 2018. When she bent down to adjust their wobbly table, she said, Jordan made sounds and faces implying that she was performing oral sex, then commented that she should keep going.

Jordan said the allegation was not true. Multiple employees who spent time with him outside of work said that he engaged in lewd behavior at other restaurants. One former manager of Jordan’s restaurants said he eventually stopped inviting Jordan out.

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“He would be grabbing everybody’s butt in the building,” he said. “He was a liability.”

Eleven women — two current employees, eight who worked for Jordan in the past three years and one who worked with him earlier — as well as one male manager said they hadn’t witnessed similar behavior from Jordan. But the women said they didn’t want to dismiss those who had come forward with allegations.

Another current employee, Jordan’s assistant Kelli Thoumsin, said, “As someone who has been sexually assaulted in literally every other restaurant workplace, this is the one job that has not happened.” 

• • •

Reacting to allegations of sexual harassment and groping, chef and restaurant owner Edouardo Jordan says: “Workplace harassment of any nature or sexualizing women is not a culture I promote or who I am or what I’m about — I stand behind that.” (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times, 2019)

ALONG WITH THEIR concerns about retaliation, some of Jordan’s former employees and co-workers said they didn’t speak out sooner because it was hard to separate his mentorship from his inappropriate behavior. 

“I don’t think he’s an irredeemable human being,” said the woman who recounted that Jordan kissed her after a night out. “He has accomplished amazing things, none of that excuses this.” 

But the industry has seen a shift in recent years, as prominent figures in the national and local restaurant scene — including Seattle nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert — faced allegations of sexual assault following the #MeToo movement. Critics and workers moved away from excusing chefs’ behavior as “kitchen culture.”

“I can’t think of anyone in my career who is discussed more as being inappropriate with people than Edouardo,” said the Seattle restaurant manager who recalled Jordan making inappropriate comments to her at work in 2018. “Anytime anyone gets put on blast, the first thing people say is, ‘It’s going to be Edouardo. When is it going to be him, is he ever going to get in trouble?’”

When contacted by The Times, Jordan’s former co-workers and employees said they felt compelled to speak up.

“He needs to experience some accountability, but what he’s gotten instead is this steady ascension and no repercussions,” said a former co-worker from Bar Sajor. “Our industry is sick, and so many of these things go completely unchecked … and are just protected as these things you have to grow a thick skin and deal with. But you actually don’t. You shouldn’t.”

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News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.