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Win Son Co-Founder Trigg Brown Steps Away Following Allegations of Hostile Work Environment

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The chef and restaurateur allegedly fostered a toxic workplace culture, employees say

Trigg Brown and Josh Ku, Win Son’s founders
Win Son founders Trigg Brown and Josh Ku
Gary He/Eater
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Trigg Brown — the chef and co-owner of one of NYC’s most buzzed about restaurants, Win Son — is temporarily stepping away from day-to-day operations after employees leveled allegations that he fostered a hostile workplace.

In an email sent out to staff on July 7, co-owner Josh Ku told employees that Brown would be stepping away from Win Son for an unspecified amount of time following a series of allegations that were made public on Instagram. Brown later confirmed to Eater in an email that he was distancing himself from the restaurant.

“Josh and I have acknowledged that, like many others, we do have work to do, and are formally looking into these current claims,” Brown said in a statement. “That said, I have stepped away from the kitchen to reflect, to focus on how best to move our business forward and to spend more time with my wife and newborn daughter.”

The action comes after Rafael Joson, a veteran Win Son employee who worked as a bartender at the restaurant for three years, started posting employee allegations about Brown’s reportedly volatile behavior onto his Instagram account earlier this month.

Monique, a former staffer who identified herself as the only woman in the kitchen’s upper ranks during her employment, claimed via Joson’s posts that Brown ran a kitchen rife with verbal abuse and intimidation — including allegedly throwing a cleaver, food items, and, in one instance, a bell that narrowly missed a server’s head. Joson posted messages from other anonymous employees confirming Monique’s experiences and speaking more generally to the toxic work environment that they felt Brown cultivated at Win Son.

In a separate email on July 7, Brown listed out steps that he and Ku would be taking to make changes at the organization following the employee allegations. Brown and Ku committed to developing a separate HR department for the restaurant and going through management and sensitivity training that they would then pass on to the rest of the management team. Brown also said that he would be seeking help for anger management and both he and Ku would start therapy “so that personal growth is working in tangent to professional growth,” Brown said in the email.

Brown and Ku also set up a questionnaire last week to gather optional anonymous employee feedback on the ways in which Win Son’s workplace — and Brown and Ku’s leadership — can improve.

Win Son has had a nuclear rise in NYC’s dining scene since it opened in 2017. Bon Appetit has heaped accolades on the restaurant, the New York Times loved it, and Eater has covered it extensively as one of the city’s most exciting restaurants. Brown and Ku were highlighted on Eater New York’s 2020 list of the new guard of restaurateurs defining NYC’s next generation of dining, and heralded as “huge players” in the city’s rise of modern Taiwanese food.

After the steps towards reconciliation were announced, Joson posted a response on Instagram, saying that he and others are still looking for a more explicit confirmation and apology from Brown — especially acknowledging his actions toward Monique.

“While we think these are positive steps for Win Son’s growth as a business, Trigg still personally refuses to explicitly acknowledge his abuse, continuing to cite a failure to ‘listen,’” Joson said on Instagram. “Unless he, in his own words, openly validates the anecdote shared by a woman brave enough to put her neck out in a highly political and unforgiving industry — if Trigg continues to deny her experience — it will be our responsibility to continue offering context that eliminates doubt.”

Additional reporting by Tanay Warerkar