Chef John Gorham, one of Portland's most prominent restaurateurs, is stepping away from his restaurant group, Toro Bravo Inc., after posting a series of threatening social media posts against a transgender woman of color he accused of vandalizing company property.
Initially, Eater, which broke the news yesterday, reported Gorham would sell his stake in seven restaurants while maintaining ownership of his most well-known properties—Toro Bravo, Tasty n Alder and Tasty n Daughters. According to an update by The Oregonian on Wednesday afternoon, however, Gorham will cease his involvement with the group completely and hand over leadership to his wife, Renee Gorham.
Reached by WW on Wednesday morning, John Gorham said he was in the midst of checking into a psychiatric hospital and deferred comment to Renee Gorham.
"John's going to step out of public for a little while," Renee Gorham said. She did not offer further comment and could not be reached later in the day.
On Tuesday, in a post to its website titled "Transparency and Accountability," Toro Bravo Inc. described the situation that led to John Gorham stepping down.
On May 22, vans belonging to the company were vandalized with graffiti—part of $75,000 worth of damage allegedly sustained by the Gorhams' properties since the coronavirus forced the closure of their restaurants. (In a May 28 email to Greg Goodman, co-president of the Downtown Development Group, obtained by WW, John Gorham listed the graffiti among incidents stretching back to early March, which included break-ins, thefts and other instances of tagging.)
In the since-deleted Facebook posts, Gorham offered a $5,000 reward for information related to the tagging and suggested the formation of a "vigilante" group to keep watch over the property.
One of Gorham's followers posted screenshots from a private Facebook group of a person suggesting they had supplied the spray paint used on the vans and appearing to mock Gorham's reward offer. Other followers then found more personal information about the poster, including their vehicle's license plate number, which Gorham then shared on his Facebook page, writing, "This is his property, maybe something should accidentally happen to it," and, "Might be one of the bad guys. Send him your thoughts."
According to Toro Bravo Inc.'s statement, Gorham's followers began harassing the poster, leading Gorham to delete the posts and then his Facebook page entirely.
"What John did not know during this exchange," the statement reads, "was that this individual was a transgender person of color. John has since been characterized as racist and homophobic for inciting violence against this person."
In an interview with Eater, the person targeted in the posts, who requested anonymity, says she initially posted about the tagging and the reward because she "felt disgust that this incredibly privileged and influential individual was using his social media platform to put out a $5,000 bounty on a more-than-likely bored teenager." She described it as "a really transparent and obvious post to mock [Gorham]."
The poster sent screenshots of the exchange to Toro Bravo Inc. and allegedly asked for $5,000 to keep her from going to the press. Gorham apologized and instead donated the money to the Native American Youth and Family Center at the poster's request.
In a statement on Toro Bravo Inc.'s website, Gorham apologized publicly for the incident and said he's struggled with "depression, anxiety and anger" since a 2018 surgery to treat a brain tumor.
"While it does not excuse my behavior," he wrote, "the stress of carrying the weight of our business while trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic has become too much for me to process in a positive nature."