A chef of popular Los Angeles restaurant Horses accused her husband and business partner of killing the family's cats in a divorce filing in which she also asked for a domestic violence restraining order.
Elizabeth Johnson filed the request in November to keep Will Aghajanian away from her out of fear that he might hurt her or someone else. She alleged he assaulted her on numerous occasions.
Aghajanian strongly denied her claims in his own court filings, calling them "false allegations."
After The Times published the allegations, Horses issued a statement on Instagram stating that "Will Aghajanian has been on a leave of absence from Horses as of November 2022, and since then he has not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant." The statement went on to note that Johnson is still active and leading the restaurant.
In her court filing, Johnson wrote: "Will and I have had cats that mysteriously ended up dying, including one in 2017 who I took to a shelter when she became seriously wounded overnight. The shelter told me she had been seriously abused, but Will denied it.
"I believed him. Then, last month, we were given another kitten."
She alleged that Aghajanian joked about feeding the kitten to coyotes and said he didn't like the cat, according to the filing. Eventually, she witnessed him hurting their cat, she wrote in the filing.
"I caught Will violently shaking the cat late at night, and he died the next day," she wrote. "Will put the dead cat in the trash and insisted on keeping the corpse in the house."
Johnson alleged that Aghajanian's mental and psychological abuse kept her from realizing sooner what he was doing to the animals.
Aghajanian's mother, Amanda Weathersby, said in a declaration that the couple had a "series of kittens" that died when they lived in New York City.
"Liz talked about them and how one after the other died. She and Will believed that it was due to rat poison used in the buildings there."
Johnson alleged physical abuse at the hands of Aghajanian. In 2019, Aghajanian dragged her by the legs across the floor while she screamed and attempted to resist, according to her filing.
Aghajanian responded to the claims Wednesday. He said Johnson was "trying to take my businesses away from me through divorce" and making up false narratives.
"I love cats, mice. And every other animal under gods/allah whatever each religion calls him/her and have loved all animals since I was a child," Aghajanian wrote in a message to a reporter. "I have problems killing lobster, and usually try to do it in the most humane way possible."
A friend of Aghajanian painted a different picture from Johnson's.
Samuel Burchett filed a declaration in the case saying that he was best friends with Aghajanian and lived with the couple for a brief period while working for them in Tennessee at the restaurant Catbird Seat.
He would wake up to Johnson “belligerently screaming,” and at work he saw her kick Aghajanian and stomp on his feet and hit him, according to the declaration.
“I never saw Will react to her abuse and he just always brushed it off,” Burchett wrote.
In 2022, the couple announced a new restaurant in New York City, Froggy’s, slated to open in the West Village. On Wednesday, legal representation for Aghajanian confirmed that the restaurant’s opening has been put on pause amid the divorce proceedings.
A buzzy restaurant
Horses opened in Hollywood in October 2021 to fanfare, garnering national praise for its stylish clientele and its inventive approach to stalwart, modern-American classics. It featured a co-chef kitchen system that purported equal say each night among at least four chefs who were in charge of the menu. On Eater LA, Horses remained on the site’s “heatmap” of “hottest new restaurants” for months.
The Los Angeles Times called it “a new modern L.A. institution” and “the city’s most exhilarating new dining experience in the last year.”
In August, the restaurant found itself at the center of another controversy: When opening Horses, the restaurant’s owners had enlisted former Spotted Pig restaurateur Ken Friedman of New York to help acquire its lease, according to a report. In 2017, Friedman was accused by employees at Spotted Pig of sexual harassment and retaliation in one of the earliest bombshell cases of alleged abuse within the restaurant industry.
Horses ownership said Friedman was never a partner in the Los Angeles restaurant, and in a series of operating documents reviewed by The Times, including Horses’ lease, Friedman was not listed as an owner or operator.
"Ken Friedman has never or will ever receive compensation, or benefits of any kind, from the businesses that we are a part of,” Johnson told The Times in a statement at the time. “He is not a partner, a silent partner, an investor, a consultant, nor someone I would consider a friend..”
In their divorce case, a judge approved the domestic violence restraining order against Aghajanian in December and reissued it on May 1, according to court documents. In one of her filings, Johnson also requested that Aghajanian remain 100 yards away from their dogs, Pancho, Javi and Spud.
Both of them were allowed in Horses after the first restraining order went into effect, but Aghajanian was required to stay 10 feet from Johnson, according to Johnson’s filing.
Johnson wrote in a court declaration that when Aghajanian showed up in November, the entire staff of the restaurant staged a walkout.
In his own filing for a restraining order, Aghajanian requested custody back of Pancho and Javi, saying that Johnson "misled the Court into making orders against me."
Aghajanian alleged that he was the victim in the marriage. He said Johnson repeatedly threatened to kill him and burned him at least twice with a metal spatula and a spoon she had placed in a fryer, according to court filings.
Aghajanian also said in the filings that it was Johnson who abused their animals. “She falsely accuses me of things that she has done or that she threatened to do to me and my pets,” he wrote. “My pets are like children to me and I love them dearly.
"I am fearful of [Johnson] since I am the victim of [her] long-term abuse that has occurred throughout our relationship," he wrote.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.