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Chef Mike Isabella: ‘I probably should have apologized earlier’

Mike Isabella's company, Mike Isabella Concepts, runs a dozen restaurants around the D.C. area, including the 41,000-square-foot Isabella Eatery food hall at Tysons Galleria. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — More than four months after settling a federal lawsuit alleging workplace sexual harassment and days after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, D.C.-area celebrity chef Mike Isabella is offering something new — an apology.

“I want people to know that I’m sorry,” Isabella told Fox 5. “I probably should have apologized earlier.”

In May, Isabella settled a suit against a former employee who alleged she was sexually harassed while working as a manager for Mike Isabella Concepts, and that he and his partners created a “sexually hostile work environment and condoned a climate of contempt for women,” at his restaurants.

Since the lawsuit, Isabella has closed several restaurants, including Graffiato in Chinatown, Isabella Eatery at Tysons Galleria. In addition, his partnership with the Washington Nationals has ended.

Even as he settled the lawsuit, Isabella and his company denied the allegations of sexual harassment, which included inappropriate texts and comments, and unwanted touching of female employees.

What took him so long to apologize?

“This has never happened to me before, so it took me some time, and I realized I made a mistake,” he told the TV station. “I apologize for things that went on that made people feel uncomfortable.”

Hoping the bankruptcy filing will “stop the bleeding” and stabilize the business, Isabella said he is trying to shift focus back to the food and entertainment experience employees and customers enjoy.

Asked if he believes he can earn back the adoration that made him a superstar, Isabella said he will try.

“I never want to let anyone down,” he said. “I never want to disappoint anyone, and I did, and I’m apologizing for it. I wanted you to hear it from my mouth.”

Isabella said his company has brought in experts to train his employees in developing a work environment free of sexual harassment.

“Everyone should feel comfortable, no matter what position you are. Whether you’re a dishwasher, host, server, bartender, manager, general manager, or chef,” said Isabella. “Everyone should feel comfortable no matter who it is, and anyone could lose their job at any point for not handling those situations.”

Isabella said the no-tolerance policy applies to everyone.

“There’s nobody who’s untouchable. Even myself. Everyone has to be held accountable for their actions,” he said.

As he tries to win back public trust and popularity, after months of denying problems in his restaurants, Isabella said “I’ve definitely had time to think about everything — I’ve definitely grown a lot.”

He offered a vow that his business is committed to moving forward without sexual harassment:

“Nothing like that will happen in my company,” he said. “Have things happened in the past? Yes, we’ve made mistakes and things have happened that we are not proud of.”

“I just want to make everything better, and do as much as I can to learn from this experience and never let it happen again in my company.”

Watch the entire Fox 5 interview:


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