Three women have accused a high-profile former staffer at a popular downtown Chicago restaurant group of physical abuse. Each woman obtained a restraining order against Joshua Schatan, a former manager at Cochon Volant Brasserie, a bustling French restaurant in the Loop. In seeking the restraining orders, the three each alleged abuse that ranges from being tackled to being thrown out of a moving vehicle.
Multiple people who have worked for Schatan — either during his tenure as the general manager of Cochon Volant or at Cubby Bear, the iconic Wrigleyville sports bar — have also described to Eater Chicago a pattern of conduct that they claim created a toxic environment across two establishments, from allegedly directing racist insults toward kitchen staff to regularly bullying staff. Further, multiple sources allege, management at both establishments did not appear to do enough to address Schatan’s misconduct in the eyes of employees — even after Schatan allegedly attacked two workers in an altercation that spilled over into a hotel that connects to Cochon Volant. Several of these people have requested that their real names be withheld due to fears of retribution from Schatan and within the close-knit Chicago dining industry.
Schatan has been a staple of the bar circuit since arriving in the mid-aughts. He began managing one of the city’s most iconic bars — the Cubby Bear, a favorite of Chicago Cubs fans across the street from Wrigley Field — in 2008. After leaving in 2013, his next high-profile gig was as the opening manager for Cochon Volant, the flagship restaurant of Well Done Hospitality. It debuted with one of Chicago’s most acclaimed French chefs, Roland Liccioni. An emerging player with a focus on tourist-centric areas of downtown, the group has grown to six restaurants, including Mixed Greens, Dough Bros., and Taureaux Tavern. Before leaving the company in recent months, Schatan shuffled between various Well Done properties, including Francois Frankie, its newest restaurant, which opened in July.
Schatan did not respond to Eater’s multiple, repeated attempts to contact him. A spokesperson for Well Done confirmed that Schatan was no longer with the company, stating, “In response to your question regarding the timing of termination of Well Done Hospitality Group’s relationship with Josh, we will only add that in August, comments were made outside of the workplace and reported to HR by team members. After HR investigated the incident, actions were taken. We are obligated to provide a safe, harassment free workplace for everyone. When an allegation of misconduct is reported, we investigate it and if we find that inappropriate conduct has occurred, we have and will take action.”
In August, Jill*, a former employee of Cochon Volant who worked in an office management role at Well Done until earlier this summer, obtained an emergency protection order against Schatan, which bars him from contacting her. She alleges that he attacked her on multiple occasions, including at Cochon Volant, and that he threatened to fire her if she reported his behavior to either senior restaurant management or the police. “I am constantly afraid he is going to come after me,” Jill wrote in the request for the order, which she filed with the Cook County circuit court.
The alleged attack that began at Cochon Volant occurred on May 11, 2018, when Jill had dinner with Schatan at the restaurant. The two first worked together at Cubby Bear, where Jill had been a server, and had dated on and off since 2011. A longtime Cochon Volant server, Linus Coy — who had also been previously romantically involved with Jill — waited on their table. Schatan asked Coy to join them for drinks following his shift, and at around midnight, after the restaurant had closed, Coy took Schatan up on the offer, along with Mandy*, another server. According to Coy, Mandy, and Jill’s accounts, after a few drinks, Schatan asked if Coy and Jill had ever been intimate. When Jill replied that they had, Schatan stood up and began yelling, screaming that she and Coy were both fired. He then threw her bag and phone across the bar.
The three left, but after departing the restaurant, Jill says that she realized that she had forgotten to pick up her phone, so she and Coy returned through a kitchen entrance. When Schatan spotted them, they allege, he tried to punch Coy and chased them into the lobby of the adjoining Hyatt Centric hotel. Coy told police that Schatan shoved Jill into the metal door separating the hotel lobby and the kitchen, knocking her to the ground, then grabbed her by the hair and dragged her back into the kitchen.
When Coy tried to force his way back into the kitchen to help Jill, hotel security intervened and the police were called. The windowless metal door was eventually opened, and police found Jill on the ground. After questioning the three, the police allowed everyone to leave, and as Schatan left the scene, according to the police report, a responding officer heard him say to Jill and Coy, “If you press charges, you are fired.”
The police report states that no physical injuries were apparent, but notes that Jill had been crying. She declined to press charges, but Coy filed for an order of protection later that week, claiming that “Schatan yelled he would kill me” and that he “took several swings at me.” (The request was denied.)
One of the reasons Jill didn’t file charges against Schatan, she said, is that he had convinced her it wouldn’t make a difference. In a text message, made in reference to the May 2018 event, Schatan said that if anyone pressed charges he would avoid serious punishment: “I’ll get community service,” the message, dated July 31, read. “I keep my job.”
Coy said he was suspended five days after the fight, pending the outcome of an investigation. The company fired him eight days later; the cause, according to a notice of termination from the company’s law firm, is that Coy consumed alcohol at the restaurant without paying for the drinks.
Multiple employees told Eater Chicago that they were unhappy with the way that the restaurant handled the incident. The day after, Jennifer*, a server who worked at Cochon Volant from May 2017 to July 2018, says that she came into work and saw Well Done’s management team, including founders/owners Jonas Falk and Justin Rolls, meeting with employees to discuss it. Jennifer was not in any of those meetings, but multiple colleagues relayed to her that management took Schatan’s side. “They said, ‘We’ve known Josh for years — he would have never done anything like this,’” Jennifer said. “‘He’s so good with our sisters. I would never feel uncomfortable with him being around her. You don’t know the full story — you weren’t there.’”
That same day, Mandy said she met separately with the restaurant’s assistant general manager Ryan Gartner and executive chef Matt Ayala to also discuss the restaurant’s response to what happened. Ayala, who left the restaurant in July, confirmed that he and Gartner met unofficially with Mandy and other employees, and characterized Gartner’s message to staffers as, “It’s too new, he won’t be removed until we hear more of the story.” Their primary concern, Ayala said, was trying to convince staff not to walk out. (Gartner, who is currently Cochon Volant’s general manager, did not respond to requests for comment.)
When it became clear that Schatan wasn’t going to be fired, Mandy says that she and another employee quit. “We said, ‘Unless he is removed from the company, we won’t be working at Cochon Volant,’” Mandy said. (Ayala confirmed that at least two employees quit as a result.)
In response to a detailed series of questions sent to Well Done and its ownership about their knowledge and handling of the altercation that spilled over into the Hyatt and other alleged misconduct by Schatan, a spokesperson initially declined to directly address the queries, issuing a broader set of statements, and characterizing the incident as occurring “outside of our premises.”
“Many, if not most, of the specific questions you’ve asked refer to events or individuals using information provided to you by some source — not issues or complaints that have been filed with Well Done Hospitality Group,” the statement reads in part. “Issues regarding team members that have not been brought to our attention and have not been the subject of any complaint filed with Well Done Hospitality are not something we’re going to respond to…” It continues, “activities by our team members outside the workplace are not something on which we will comment and are clearly private matters. In a few instances, events have occurred outside the workplace which may affect the health, safety and wellbeing of our team members. When that has occurred, we have investigated those events using outside legal counsel to determine the appropriate response and have acted accordingly.”
In a follow up statement, a spokesperson added, “the event you described from more than a year ago was of a personal nature between three people who were involved with each other in a private matter that occurred off-site, hours after the restaurant had closed. Accounts from the participants that evening have changed dramatically over time. No complaint was filed, so while other team members may have been looking for information, they would have only been passing on gossip — which would have been inappropriate.”
Jill wasn’t the first subordinate Schatan dated, nor the first to make claims in court about his behavior: During his tenure at Cubby Bear, he allegedly physically abused another employee with whom he had a personal relationship. Rachel*, a former server, started dating him shortly after she moved to Chicago in 2011, impressed by his knowledge of the city. “He’d take me to places I’d never been, I hadn’t seen in Chicago,” Rachel said.
Shortly after the relationship began, three of Rachel’s ex-coworkers claim they noticed bruises on Rachel’s arms. “There was something on her arm, and I asked her,” Laura*, a former server, said. “She told me they were from Josh.”
According to a court-filed affidavit from Rachel, Schatan physically and verbally abused her numerous times during their year-long relationship, beginning shortly after they started dating in 2012. One particularly vivid incident took place on June 17, 2012, after Schatan threatened another former colleague. That night, Schatan allegedly challenged a former Cubby Bear employee, Mary Rothfusz, to a fight at a bar in River North where she also bartended. “He said he was going to kill me in front of everyone,” Rothfusz said. Rachel, who was also there, tried to defuse the situation. “I was telling him to calm the fuck down,” she said.
After a bouncer asked Schatan to leave, he and Rachel left together in his car. Rachel alleges that he was still fuming, and that at some point during the drive, he threw her out of the car while it was in motion. Shaken but relatively unscathed, she returned to the bar where she recounted the ordeal to Rothfusz and others.
Rothfusz said that Schatan wanted to fight her because she had attempted to get Cubby Bear management to address his behavior. Earlier that year, she expressed concerns about Schatan to bar owner George Loukas and attorney George Vranas, telling them that Schatan’s demeanor terrified the staff, and that Rachel — in private — had told staff members like Laura that he was responsible for Rachel’s bruises. “I looked Loukas in the eye, and he said he would take care of it,” Rothfusz said.
After the meeting, Rothfusz says that Vranas gave her a letter echoing Cubby Bear employee handbook policy that advises workers to talk to management if they believe another employee’s behavior to be criminal or inappropriate, but also not to discuss their allegations with colleagues, as it “could create an unacceptable work environment for which you will be held responsible and for which you may be disciplined.” She stopped working at the bar that summer.
In response to questions from Eater Chicago, Loukas’s sister, Stacey, on the behalf of the bar, referred all inquiries to Vranas. Vranas confirmed he met with Rothfusz, but denies that the bar ignored her concerns, and said that it takes allegations about abuse seriously. The bar took no disciplinary action against Schatan at the time, he says, because Schatan denied any wrongdoing, describing his disagreements with Rachel as quarrels between romantic partners. Schatan was eventually let go from Cubby Bear, in 2013, but Vranas says that it was simply because Loukas’s children were becoming more involved in the business and wanted to hire their own employees.
Rachel continued to see Schatan until 2013, when she got an order of protection order against him, Cook County records show. Rachel ended her relationship with Schatan on March 8, 2013, according to an affidavit filed with the order of protection. After the break up, Rachel had to tell Schatan to stop texting her, but he sent her around 50 additional messages afterward, according to the affidavit.
On March 26, 2013, Schatan allegedly showed up outside the Old Town bar where she worked, wanting to drive her home. Before he arrived, Rachel told him via text “at least six times” that she didn’t need a ride. They argued outside and he grabbed her arm and pulled her into the car, according to the affidavit, and he drove her to his residence. On their way, he allegedly slammed her head against the door, “approximately 10 times,” according to the affidavit. When they arrived, Rachel alleges that Schatan dragged her out of the car on to the garage floor. “I pretended to pass out so he would stop,” she said. The two went into her apartment where Schatan allegedly strangled, kicked, and punched her. According to the affidavit, Rachel said “I told him that I loved him to get him to stop attacking me.”
Rachel said she tried to leave his apartment but was afraid he would become more violent if she did, so she remained throughout the night. She left at about 10 a.m. the next day, according to the affidavit.
Rachel said Schatan warned her that there was no point in reporting his actions to police, telling her “everybody already knows.” She obtained the emergency order of protection a few days later, claiming that she was afraid that “he was going to kill me or someone else.” After cutting ties with Schatan, she left the state in 2014 to get a fresh start. “I didn’t feel safe in Chicago,” she said.
After Rachel, Schatan continued dating women he met through work. Following his departure from Cubby Bear, Schatan started working at Cochon Volant when it opened in April 2015. While waiting tables one night when the restaurant was short-staffed, he met Linda* who was dining there with a friend. The two ended up dating until early 2016, when Linda secured a restraining order after Schatan allegedly attacked her in her apartment.
According to Linda’s statement in support of the order, Schatan showed up to her apartment late one night, the conversation became heated and he began throwing dishes. Fearing for her safety, she took refuge in a bedroom. She alleges that Schatan then punched through the door and tackled her, bruising her back and face, according to the order of protection application she submitted.
Linda told Eater Chicago that the building’s doorman became aware of the commotion, entered the unit, and escorted her downstairs, where they called the police. Before she left, she claims, Schatan screamed at her, “I’m going to fucking kill you. You better start to pray.” When Linda returned upstairs with police, she said, Schatan had left.
Ultimately, Linda was granted a two-year protection order against Schatan, which was served to him at the restaurant in April 2016.
In addition to allegedly physically abusing multiple women he met at or through work, Schatan created a toxic work culture at both Cochon Volant and Cubby Bear, multiple employees allege, with controlling behavior, excessive drinking, frequent insults, and a pattern of retribution against employees, such as giving them undesirable shifts. Workers said they walked on eggshells around Schatan, fearful of angering him and losing their jobs.
Mandy, one of the servers who worked with Schatan at both Cochon Volant and the Cubby Bear, was a seasoned employee who others looked to for support. Some of Schatan’s behavior was so bad, she recalled pooling together money at the Cubby Bear in 2011 for workers to buy a spa gift certificate for an employee who had been subject to a particularly brutal stream of insults from him, commenting on her appearance, telling her she worked too slowly and was costing the bar money. “I witnessed Josh yell and berate this woman to the point of tears in front of the staff,” Mandy said. “I am always going to be afraid of running into him.”
Months after the fight at the Hyatt, Jill alleges that she found explicit photos of women — including a former Cubby Bear employee — inappropriately stored on a work computer that had belonged to Schatan. After she told him about her discovery, he asked for the computer back. Schatan, a CrossFit enthusiast, then ripped the computer in half by its hinge “like the Hulk,” Jill alleges. (Eater Chicago has reviewed text messages from Schatan to Jill, and from another Cochon Volant manager to Jill sent around that time that corroborate that a computer in Jill’s possession had been severely damaged.)
Well Done did not directly comment on the allegation concerning the photos or the destruction of the computer. In its statement, it wrote that “in the many years we’ve been in operation, with the hundreds of employees we’ve been fortunate to have on our team, there have been no patterns of inappropriate behavior.”
Multiple former employees say that Schatan encouraged after-shift drinks as part of the work culture at Cochon Volant. Ayala also confirmed this, saying it wasn’t uncommon to take a shot during shifts or drink together afterward. While this kind of drinking during and after restaurants shifts isn’t uncommon, Jennifer said that she and other workers felt obliged “to sit down with him at the end of the bar to stay on his good side.” She said workers on his bad side would be insulted, informed they were costing him money, or be told they were fired.
Jennifer remembers drinking with Schatan in March 2018 at the restaurant after hours to the point that she blacked out, waking up at home with little recollection of the night’s events. “Often he would just sit at the end of the bar and drink with managers or other servers that got off early,” Jennifer said. “They would just sit and drink from 5 p.m. to close.”
According to some sources, Schatan also directed racist comments toward Latinx workers; after Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, Coy and Jill remember Schatan telling some back of the house employees that they should “start packing their bags.”
Workers felt they had little recourse except to take it. “If you said something against him, that was an immediate ‘X’ against you,” Laura, the former Cubby Bear server, said. “You were no longer going to have a job.”
Well Done did not directly address a question about this allegation beyond its broader statement, which read in part, “We’ve had a comprehensive employee manual in place since the opening of our first restaurant and we updated the handbook regularly to ensure best practices. We hold team members accountable to the articulated standards and there is a process to file complaints when those standards have been violated.” The statement also noted that the company “pride[s] ourselves on having women and minorities in managerial positions throughout our operations.”
In July of this year, a former Well Done administrator and manager, who quit earlier this summer, citing the way she was treated, emailed Rolls and Falk with a list of issues concerning Schatan. “Josh might be good at what he does but the staff agrees that he should work on his relations with the face of your restaurants,” the email to ownership read. “New staff at [Frankie Francois] told me they did not like the way [Schatan] talked to people.”
The letter also bemoaned alleged hiring practices spearheaded by Schatan: “Another issue is that he demands we hire female bartenders only and it’s really hard to find them. To tell me…that he’s firing the current staff at [Frankie Francois] because he can’t fuck them is awful,” the letter, obtained by Eater Chicago, read. Gwen declined further comment. When her grievances were aired on social media, she was allegedly sent a cease-and-desist letter by Well Done attorneys, which was obtained by Eater Chicago. A spokesperson did not directly address why it sent Gwen such a letter, but stated, “It is our practice to send cease & desist letters to former team members when inappropriate activities — such as breaking the law — have been alleged, investigated and, when determined appropriate, actions have been administered.”
In the nearly two years since the #MeToo movement has gained steam, Chicago’s restaurant industry has seen a few high-profile cases. Lawmakers have also taken notice: A new Illinois law will go into effect next year requiring restaurant workers to take anti-harassment training. Beyond that, there are many other things restaurant managers and owners can do to combat a toxic work culture, such as instilling and enforcing a prominent code of conduct.
Jill has been settling into her new job over the last two months. On Wednesday, she learned that Schatan was no longer at Well Done. She told Eater that she wished his departure had occurred before she ended up leaving the company earlier this summer. In August, she attended an industry panel on creating healthier work environments, which she says helped her realize that she’s not alone. “More and more people are coming forward and I think that is crucial for victims because it shows them that they are not alone,” Jill said. “That they are not crazy, that their feelings do matter.”
Anyone with information about alleged misconduct in the restaurant world can contact Eater Chicago at [email protected] or via these secure methods.