Acadia chef and owner Ryan McCaskey did not attend his Monday morning court hearing to dispute allegations that he spearheaded a harassment campaign against a former employee, which means the chef will not be allowed contact with the employee for at least until he appears in court again later this month.
McCaskey, according to his attorney Roger Malavia, experienced technical difficulties while connecting to Zoom for the virtual hearing. At the time of the hearing, McCaskey was also “on an island in Maine” preparing to open a restaurant, according to Malavia.
Without McCaskey present, Cook County Judge Levander Smith Jr. extended the emergency no-contact order granted to McCaskey’s former employee Cody Nason until the next court date, October 22.
In September, Nason filed a petition with the courts requesting a no-contact order, after he accused McCaskey of sending him a series of harassing messages, and of creating a website dedicated to taunting Nason and damaging his reputation. Nason said it cost him his job at Yugen, a Michelin-starred restaurant in West Loop. CodyNason.com, which was taken down last month, featured messages accusing Nason of being a sex criminal and a pedophile. Nason also says he was taunted with images of his dead brother. A message sent to Nason from an email account with the display name ”Jaccob Nason” blamed him for his brother’s death. McCaskey has denied all wrongdoing, and on Monday Malavia reiterated that his client wasn’t responsible for the website.
McCaskey’s restaurant, Acadia — a fixture of fine dining since 2011 in Chicago and an elite Michelin-starred restaurant — remains closed in the South Loop. McCaskey says the pandemic forced him to close so he could reevaluate the landscape for fine dining during COVID-19. But others says he was forced to close, as allegations mounted in August accusing him of creating toxic work environment for his employees.
Nason was present for the hearing but didn’t speak. His attorney, Daliah Saper, sought a two-year plenary order of protection to protect her client from McCaskey’s alleged behavior. The order would prevent all contact with McCaskey, and keep the chef a minimum of 1,000 feet away from Nason.
Saper said in court the timing of harassing messages sent to her and Nason came after she sent emails to media and to McCaskey and Malavia about the no-contact order. McCaskey would be the only one privy to the information disclosed in the messages, the attorney said.
The messages, included in the petition submitted to the court, included racial slurs and homophobic language. Saper also shared with Eater a photo of an erect penis that was also sent anonymously to her and Nason.
“We would object to any delay in the obtaining the relief Mr. Nason needs,” Saper said to Judge Smith. “The severity and type of messages that continue to emanate from Mr. McCaskey is concerning.”
Malavia objected to the two-year order, saying the allegations placed McCaskey “in a difficult position,” claiming his reputation had been ruined by the media reports and social media posts. Malavia also balked at Judge Smith’s suggestion that the two parties work out an out-of-court settlement. He maintained McCaskey isn’t the person behind the harassment.
“We would ask for discovery,” Malavia said. “If she can prove this is my client, we will work toward settlement.”
Malavia told the court that he needed time to gather evidence, saying they were subpoenas demanding information from “Instagram and interrogates.” Malavia wants Instagram to help his team reveal the identities behind the anonymous accounts.
He also questioned the court process in obtaining an emergency order of protection, which is designed to help domestic violence victims. Defendants like McCaskey can’t properly defend themselves against allegations included in the petition.
“The burden is on her to prove this, right?” he said of Saper. “The burden is not on Ryan [McCaskey] to disprove this. He could remain completely silent if he wanted to.”
Instagram plays a central part of the hearing, as Nason received harassing Instagram messages following posts that attacked McCaskey. Nason contributed to a slideshow posted on @The86dlist, an anonymous Instagram account that gathered unverified stories of toxicity at Chicago restaurants, claiming McCaskey created an environment where workers felt uncomfortable. The account has remained dormant since August after a busy summer with two to three posts per week spotlighting so-called bad actors in Chicago’s service industry.
Starting in August, Eater Chicago spoke with more than a dozen former Acadia employees and members of the restaurant industry who worked with McCaskey. They confirmed a number of the allegations posted by The86dlist about the chef and restaurant, speaking under the condition of anonymity because they were concerned about retaliation. Those confirmed accusations include that Acadia hosted employee parties with strippers. They also shared stories of McCaskey making staff feel uncomfortable. They said they feared retaliation if they didn’t dote on their boss by appearing as his dates at industry events or replying to late-night texts asking for updates on their dating lives.