Influential but disgraced restaurateur Julian Niccolini has been kicked out of his role at the Four Seasons Restaurant. The Post’s Steve Cuozzo reports that insiders of the legendary power lunch restaurant say Niccolini has been ousted from the Park Avenue reboot — with longtime partner Alex von Bidder forcing the decision, though the restaurant has more than 40 investors.
A public liquor license notes that von Bidder, Niccolini, and Classic Restaurant Corp. are owners. A source close to the restaurant tells Eater that Niccolini was asked to resign on Monday morning. He remains a minority investor, and terms of his financial divestment have yet to be determined.
This report comes not long after two negative reviews of the reboot, which cost those investors a whopping $30 million to build out. Earlier this month, both New York critic Adam Platt and the Times’s Pete Wells praised the food — but noted that Niccolini’s behavior with women cast a shadow over the restaurant that made it feel unsafe and dated in light of the #MeToo movement.
More than two years ago, Niccolini pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after a female family friend accused him of molesting her during a party. The guilty plea apparently did not dissuade von Bidder and the investors from keeping him on for the splashy reopening of the restaurant following its move from the historic Seagram Building.
But the source tells Eater that the reviews had nothing to do with Niccolini’s forced departure. Ownership asked Niccolini to change his behavior following the assault, noting that there were situations where “alcohol plays a large role,” but as of December, he still hadn’t made significant adjustments, the source says.
Update: The restaurant sent a statement confirming that ownership asked Niccolini to resign on Monday. “The Four Seasons recognizes its responsibility to protect their interests and the institution to which they have given so much,” the statement says. “Creating a warm and respectful environment for staff and patrons alike is central to the exceptional fine dining experience for which the Four Seasons has come to be known.” See the statement in full below.
It will be a big change for the Four Seasons, where Niccolini has been the public face since joining in 1973. He has been a driving force in its reputation as a destination for the city’s richest and most powerful people, known for working a room and courting regulars like Martha Stewart and Henry Kissinger. Even today, people like Barry Diller, Michael Douglas, and Catherine Zeta-Jones reportedly continue to dine there.
But in more recent years, his behavior has been put in a new light. He’s been accused of sexual misconduct multiple times, and his demeanor started sounding “skeezy” instead of charming. Then in 2015, he was arrested for felony sexual abuse; the woman accused him of causing scratches and bruises to her hip and thigh and trying to take off her bra and stockings. He ultimately pled guilty to misdemeanor assault in exchange for no jail time.
Though Niccolini is no longer involved in the day-to-day of the restaurant, he maintains a financial stake in the “single digits.” And as the last year of #MeToo has shown, it takes months and months to get restaurant owners to divest from businesses. Even now, Mario Batali — who’s being investigated by both the New York and Boston police for misconduct — still makes money off of restaurants like Babbo as an owner.
Here’s the Four Seasons statement:
On Monday, December 17, 2018, The Four Seasons Restaurant told Julian Niccolini to resign. His resignation is effective immediately.
It had been hoped that Mr. Niccolini would fulfill the agreement he made in 2016 to seek help and change his behavior during the Four Seasons’ two-year hiatus while the new restaurant was under construction. In the short period of time since the Restaurant had reopened, it had become clear that he had not honored that commitment.
The Four Seasons employs a world-class staff of 110 individuals who devote their talents, passion, and time to the Restaurant and its patrons. The Four Seasons recognizes its responsibility to protect their interests and the institution to which they have given so much.
Creating a warm and respectful environment for staff and patrons alike is central to the exceptional fine dining experience for which the Four Seasons has come to be known.
The Restaurant is honored to have received renewed acclaim from patrons for its efforts at reimagining the new Four Seasons. The reaction to the new space and menu has been spectacular.
The Four Seasons Restaurant is grateful to its staff, patrons, and friends for their contributions to the Restaurant’s legacy and looks forward to sharing with them its continued success in the years ahead.
This post has been updated to reflect new information, including a statement from the Four Seasons Restaurant.