In 2014, Food Network star Aarón Sánchez and top New Orleans chef John Besh opened Johnny Sánchez together, blending their high-wattage names for a modern Mexican restaurant in the Central Business District.
Now Besh is out after Sánchez and a pair of new business partners completed a purchase of Johnny Sánchez, the two parties confirmed Saturday.
Sánchez has partnered with Miles Landrem, the chef at Johnny Sánchez from the start, and Drew Mire, a former manager with the restaurant's original parent company.
The three partners also are planning to develop a second restaurant in New Orleans, eyeing the Mid-City area, though the name and location have not been announced.
The new ownership for Johnny Sánchez is the latest change for Besh's New Orleans restaurant group since nola.com first reported allegations of sexual harassment against him and complaints that his company fostered a hostile work environment for women. The story came out in 2017, as the #metoo movement was gaining momentum.
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Besh stepped down from his company, Besh Restaurant Group, days after the scandal broke, and former company manager Shannon White was named CEO of what was rebranded BRG Hospitality.
Besh has kept a low profile since then, while still maintaining ownership of the company he co-founded with business partner Octavio Mantilla, who also figured in the sexual harassment allegations. Meanwhile, BRG has said it has created new human resources training, systems and oversight.
Under the new ownership for Johnny Sánchez, Landrem and Sánchez will serve as chef-owners, while Mire will be director of operations. They expect to convert human resources, payroll and other management services from BRG to their own in-house systems by March.
In the months ahead, they plan to change the name and branding for Johnny Sánchez.
Sánchez is currently filming a TV show in Los Angeles, a representative said, and was not available for an interview.
Asked about the significance of the ownership change in light of the 2017 harassment allegations, Landrem responded with a written statement.
"Drew, Aarón and I have always sought to focus on creating memorable dining experiences for guests and a safe environment for employees,” Landrem said. “While we won’t comment on allegations against BRG, we can share that we are committed to providing hospitality experiences that are both safe and professional for guests and team members alike.”
Both Sánchez’s group and BRG described the parting of ways as amicable.
“Aarón and Miles have been ideal partners and I couldn’t be more happy for them as they embark on this next step of their careers,” White, the BRG chief executive, said in a statement. “These talented chefs have put in years of hard work, and their continued success is a happy story for anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry.”
Some other restaurants once affiliated with Besh have already been spun off.
QED Hospitality, a company formed by former BRG manager Emery Whalen and chef Brian Landry, took over BRG’s hotel restaurant division by the end of 2017. QED now runs restaurants and bars in the Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans and the Thompson Nashville hotel in Tennessee.
Sánchez is known widely for his modern Latin cooking and roles on shows like “Chopped.” He and Besh also started a second Johnny Sánchez in Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino, though it closed in mid-2017.
His new partners in New Orleans each came up through BRG. Landrem was executive sous chef at Restaurant August before opening Johnny Sánchez. Mire was formerly general manager of Luke and later an operations manager for the company.
Their plans for a second New Orleans restaurant in Mid-City call for a casual neighborhood concept with a mix of dishes from each partner’s background. They expect to open later in 2019.
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