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A chef at Hollywood hotspot Horses has been granted a restraining order against her husband and restaurant partner after she accused him of physical, emotional and financial abuse over the last decade, detailing incidents in which he allegedly tortured and killed up to 14 animals.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge extended Liz Johnson’s temporary restraining order against Will Aghajanian in May until June 5. He moved to divorce her in January.
Aghajanian denied the allegations in a court filing, saying he’s the victim of Johnson’s “long-term abuse that has occurred through our relationship.” In January, he was denied a temporary restraining order.
In his petition, Aghajanian accused Johnson of lying about the animal abuse allegations. He said she’s been hurting their dogs.
“I am terrified that Liz will hurt or kill our pets,” he wrote, pointing to Johnson keeping one of their dogs in a wine refrigerator at Horses for up to six hours a day while she worked. “In Liz’s DVTRO [restraining order], she falsely accuses me of things that she has done or that she has threatened to do to me and my pets.”
Critically acclaimed Horses, which opened in October 2021, has become a clubhouse for diners from the worlds of entertainment, fashion and art. The address, a block east of popular screening room Harmony Gold, was previously a Hollywood-favored pub called The Pikey. Before that, for more than seven decades, it was the home of Ye Coaches & Horses, which drew the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Burton and Quentin Tarantino (who’s said to have dreamed up dialogue for Pulp Fiction on its cocktail napkins). Since opening, the new iteration of Horses has been visited by Hollywood’s A-list.
Aghajanian’s filing noted that the couple met a decade ago and had recently married and purchased a home together. They were in the process of opening a New York restaurant called Froggys as well as an unnamed Chinese restaurant behind Horses.
On Wednesday evening, just prior to this story’s publication, Horses posted a message on its Instagram account that stated that Aghajanian had been on a leave of absence since November 2022 and had not been involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant since then. “Under the guidance of Chef Liz, our incredible front and back of house teams are working to continuously make Horses what she had always intended it to be — a place of joy and celebration. Horses has no further comments outside of this statement.”
In her petition, Johnson said she and Aghajanian have had cats that “mysteriously ended up dying,” including one in 2017 that was taken to a shelter. When she was told that it had been seriously abused, Johnson said she believed Aghajanian when he denied harming the animal.
“Then, last month, we were given another kitten that would not go near Will after a couple days,” she wrote.
After the cat suffered “huge lacerations and an abscess on its head,” which Aghajanian claimed was caused by their dog, Johnson claimed she witnessed him abusing it. “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.”
Aghajanian killed or abused up to 14 animals, Johnson alleged.
“I was the victim of psychological and mental abuse, so I believed Will when he denied killing these animals — he would insist I was crazy for questioning him and tell me to keep quiet,” she wrote. “I now realize Will was torturing and killing these animals.”
Aghajanian noted in his petition for a restraining order that Johnson texted her, “I will kill Pancho,” one of their three dogs, and make him “eat Pancho oil pills!!!!” In another, she said “Pancho is dead,” and “I killed him dead.”
In their respective petitions, each side accused the other of physical abuse.
Johnson detailed an incident in which Aghajanian “physically dragged me by the legs across the floor while I was screaming and trying to resist.”
“This general scenario has happened many times before: Will will become so enraged that I fear for my safety, so I attempt to lock myself in a secure room away from him. When this happens, he usually will not allow the argument to die down, and he comes after me, using everything within his power — including physical force if necessary — to get past the locked door and into the room so that he can continue to abuse me.”
In another instance, Johnson said Aghajanian “grabbed my hand and bent each of my fingers back toward my wrist,” injuring her for a significant period of time.
An exhibit attached to Johnson’s petition for a restraining order shows a picture of bruises on her arm.
Aghajanian, meanwhile, claimed that Johnson is attempting to use domestic violence allegations “as leverage to force me out of our businesses,” according to his petition, which notes that he no longer gets critical business updates and has been locked out of the restaurant. He said Johnson is lying and has physically abused and threatened to kill him.
“Liz has intentionally burned me multiple times over the years,” he wrote in a court declaration. “For example, at the Mimi Restaurant in July of 2016, Liz overcooked the chicken, became enraged at me as we talked about it, and put a metal spatula on the hot oily griddle, then pushed it against my forearm, severely burning it, and leaving a scar.” (Mimi is a French bistro in downtown New York City.)
On another occasion, she allegedly put a spoon in a fryer and branded him with it, which left a scar.
Aghajanian provided a declaration from his mother in which she said she witnessed Johnson “punch Will on his upper body out of anger during an argument.” Sam Burchett, his friend and mentee, also told the court that Johnson would physically and verbally abuse him when they were working at the Catbird Seat in Nashville. “l witnessed Liz kick Will’s legs or shins, stomp on Will’s feet, hit or shove Will regularly,” he wrote. “This would occur when Will would ask Liz a question or tell her how a dish could be improved, and her reaction would be getting angry and out of control, screaming and yelling at Will, followed up by a physical assault on Will.”
Court filings detail a dysfunctional environment at Horses after Johnson was granted a temporary restraining order, which stipulated that they were to stay 10 feet apart from each other and only discuss work-related issues. On one occasion, Johnson allegedly called him a “coward” in front of one of their cooks to get him to violate the order.
“Then, she said, ‘This is my house,’ referring to the restaurant, again, trying to incite a negative response,” he wrote.
Johnson allegedly told kitchen staff that Aghajanian was a sex addict, animal abuser and would not be returning to work at the restaurant. This, he said, undermined any credibility he had with the staff as she assumed full control of Horses.
Johnson said Aghajanian has been harassing her family and colleagues to “find out where I am and what I have told them about him (and find out what I know).”
“He physically cornered one of the cooks at the restaurant where we work to try and get her to tell him where I was and what I had told her,” she added. “People at our workplace say he has become manic; one employee threatened to quit because of how scary and threatening he has been in order to find me and find out what I said. He is also now threatening to kill himself; I’m afraid he will hurt someone.”
Johnson and Aghajanian had together been nominated as Rising Star Chefs by the prestigious James Beard Award Foundation at their prior venture, the Catbird Seat. Johnson had also more recently received a James Beard nomination for her work at Freedman’s in Silver Lake before launching Horses, which quickly became a sought-after reservation.
In August 2022, Horses faced a previous round of controversy when Eater reported that influential New York restaurateur Ken Friedman, who’d settled sexual harassment claims, had consulted on the project and was a minority partner. (The couple denied his ongoing involvement.)
May 17, 9:05 pm.: Correction: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Johnson filed to divorce Aghajanian. He filed to divorce her.
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