The chef co-owners of Hollywood hot spot Horses escalate their battle for control of the restaurant, with Will Aghajanian taking his wife Elizabeth Johnson to court.
Aghajanian alleges in a complaint filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court that Johnson is trying to evict him from their business after kicking him out of a Chinese restaurant they planned to open behind Horses, in part by lying about allegations of animal cruelty and sexual assault .
The lawsuit was filed after a Los Angeles Supreme Court judge in May extended Johnson’s temporary restraining order against Aghajanian through June. He filed for divorce from her in January, denying the allegations and saying he is a victim of Johnson’s “long term abuse that has taken place through our relationship.”
In the fall of 2022, around the time Johnson initially got a restraining order against Aghajanian, the complaint alleges she began undermining his work and authority to take full control of the restaurant and prevent him from receiving his management fees. The suit describes a dysfunctional environment at Horses.
“Defendant personally told Horses employees a number of things she knew were untrue, including that Plaintiff disliked Horses staff and many other false statements intended to incite Horses staff against Plaintiff.” reads the file. “Defendant made these statements in order to gain a tactical advantage in its efforts to get Plaintiff’s management fee paid to Defendant.”
Some of the false statements were intended to convince the other owners of Horses to evict Aghajanian from the restaurant without compensation, the complaint alleges.
The alleged plan included a “secret PR campaign to reach journalists in an attempt to get them to write stories promoting a false narrative that would aid Johnson in her Horses hijacking and create a false context through which she could try to legitimize. unlawful eviction of plaintiff” using restaurant funds. Aghajanian alleges that she lied to colleagues, reporters and leading figures in the food industry that he was no longer involved with Horses and would soon be fired, with Johnson taking control of the restaurant.
The alleged false statements were also designed to oust Aghajanian Yu Bo & Friends, a Chinese restaurant behind Horses that he and Johnson planned to open with celebrated chef Yu Bo, owner of Yu’s Family Kitchen. She claims she lied to Yu Bo that Aghajanian had deliberately killed their cat to damage his reputation “so (she) could steal Plaintiff’s interest in horses and other ventures.”
“Defendant Johnson has made it clear to Plaintiff that she wishes to prevent Plaintiff from ever opening any other restaurants and has therefore worked to create a false narrative that would prevent Plaintiff from attracting new investors to a number of other business ventures,” the complaint reads.
Aghajanian later learned that Johnson had agreed with Yu Bo to replicate the company to open another under a new name using his work, ideas and designs. According to the complaint, Horses money was allegedly used to further this effort.
In addition to physical, emotional and financial abuse, Johnson accused Aghajanian of “torturing and killing” up to 14 animals in a petition for a temporary restraining order. She said she witnessed one of their cats being “violently shaken” until it died, after which he insisted on keeping the corpse in the house. Johnson was issued a restraining order in May. Aghajanian, who similarly accused her of sexual assault and animal cruelty, filed for divorce from her in January.
On Wednesday evening, Horses posted a message on his Instagram account stating that Aghajanian had been on leave since November 2022 and had not been involved in the day-to-day running of the restaurant since then. “Under the direction of Chef Liz, our incredible front and back of house teams are constantly working to make Horses what she always intended: a place of joy and celebration. Other than this statement, Horses has no further comment.”
Aghajanian and Johnson each own a 25 percent ownership interest in Horses, with three others owning the remainder. They receive a monthly management fee of 10 percent of the restaurant’s gross revenue, which equates to approximately $22,000 to $27,000, and a quarter of all profits. Aghajanian also gets an annual salary of $180,000.
The complaint includes breach of fiduciary duty, willful interference in contractual relationships and unfair business practices. He seeks a court statement prohibiting Johnson from misusing money.
Aghajanian alleges that Johnson collaborated with unknown defendants whose identities he does not know.
A lawyer for Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After meeting in 2011, Aghajanian and Johnson began working together three years later at Mimi’s in New York. They continued to work together in various restaurants around the country for the next seven years. In 2021, they opened Horses together to critical acclaim in Hollywood, where it became a clubhouse for diners from the worlds of entertainment, fashion and art. The restaurant is located in an area frequented by Hollywood’s A-list, with the popular Harmony Gold movie theater just one block to the west.
Together they were nominated as Rising Star Chefs by the prestigious James Beard Award Foundation at their previous venture, the Catbird Seat. They were in the process of opening a New York restaurant called Froggys, according to court documents.