José Andrés steps down as CEO of his restaurant group

José Andrés steps down as CEO of his restaurant group

More than 30 years after José Andrés moved to Washington to run the kitchen at Jaleo, where he helped introduce diners to Spanish tapas, the celebrity chef and humanitarian has stepped down as chief executive of the company that now oversees nearly 40 restaurants across the United States and other countries.

In an announcement Thursday, Andrés said his eponymous company, formerly known as ThinkFoodGroup, has selected Sam Bakhshandehpour to serve as global chief executive. Bakhshandehpour will work with Ron Parker, president and chief operating officer, and Nestor Nova, chief financial officer, to help expand the José Andrés Group in both domestic and international markets.

“Sam understands the power of restaurants to transport us, for food to be the language of connection, and how we can be a part of communities in a meaningful way, all over the world,” Andrés said in the announcement.

Andrés will remain as founder and executive chairman of José Andrés Group, which also oversees the chef’s media company. That company, among other projects, helped produce the six-part series “José Andrés and Family in Spain” on Discovery Plus.

Andrés did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of the shake-up, the group announced the promotion of two chefs: Rick Billings will become chief culinary officer, and Carles Tejedor will be chief creative officer. The company’s board will also add two directors: Justin Heyman, managing director at the investment firm RockCreek, and Carlota Andrés, senior associate of partnerships at the food tech start-up Wonder. Carlota Andrés is also the eldest daughter of the celebrity chef.

The moves at José Andrés Group come as the company has received an influx of capital from RockCreek to assist with expansion. The announcement did not mention the size of RockCreek’s investment. EagleBank, the announcement noted, is also leading a debt refinancing for the company.

“RockCreek is excited to partner with José, Sam, and the rest of the JAG team to support this next phase of the company’s growth,” Heyman said in the announcement. “JAG is a model of how the food and hospitality industry can both be a great business and change the world for the better, and we are looking forward to working with the company to help it grow.”

Since his arrival in D.C. more than three decades ago, Andrés has been the face of a restaurant empire that has expanded well beyond Spanish cuisine. His company includes such restaurants as Zaytinya (featuring Turkish, Greek and Lebanese plates), China Chilcano (Peruvian cuisine, including influences from China and Japan), Oyamel (Mexican) and Minibar, his experimental kitchen that holds two Michelin stars.

But in recent years, Andrés has also been investing a lot of his time in World Central Kitchen, a humanitarian aid organization that came into its own after serving millions of meals to Americans left adrift on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The nonprofit has activated in countries across the globe after all kinds of disasters, whether natural or man-made. WCK is also active in two war zones, Ukraine and Gaza, though not without some controversy.

Andrés was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work with WCK. He was nominated again this year for the prize.

Some of Andrés’s peers were not surprised by Thursday’s announcement. Richard Brandenburg, the chef and co-owner of the Square in Washington, used to be the kitchen director for Andrés when the company was called ThinkFoodGroup.

“What he wants to do is probably more World Central Kitchen. That’s where his passion has been lying for a long time,” Brandenburg told The Post. “It’s great to get to a position in life where you can do exactly what you want to do all the time, whatever your passion is.”

Rubén García, partner with Brandenburg in the Square, was director of research and development at ThinkFoodGroup for 16 years, working directly with Andrés.

“As he said many, many times, he doesn’t want to feed the few,” García said of Andrés. “He wants to feed as many people as possible.”

And the best way to do that, García said, is through World Central Kitchen.

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