BUCKTOWN — A once-celebrated chef is suing his ex-wife for sharing her story of domestic abuse with the media — blaming her for $250,000 in lost business at his new Bucktown restaurant.
Jacob Bickelhaupt owned Uptown’s Michelin-starred 42 Grams restaurant with his then-wife Alexa Welsh until an explosive fight outside the business in 2017. This year, Bickelhaupt opened new fine dining spot Stone Flower at 1952 N. Damen Ave.
Around the time of its opening, Welsh spoke to Block Club Chicago and Eater about what she said was a long-abusive relationship with the chef, which a lawsuit filed Friday claims was a violation of a 2017 non-disparagement agreement. The suit was first reported Wednesday by Eater.
“He dragged me out the back door of the restaurant by my hair, threw me to the ground not once but twice, and after the second time hit me on the back of the head [with the bottle] as I was in a fetal/defensive position on the ground,” Welsh told Block Club at the time.
Bickelhaupt, who previously claimed he was acting in self defense when he struck Welsh with a bottle, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. His lawyer declined to comment.
Welsh said she’s looking for a lawyer, and was aware of the non-disparagement agreement before sharing her story, but she believed it was important to be open and honest about her experience with abuse.
“I’m a big believer in standing behind what you say and do,” she said.
Bickelhaupt, a mostly self-taught chef from rural Wisconsin, went from unknown to a star chef seemingly overnight due to the success of 42 Grams, which he opened with Welsh in 2014.
Within a year, 42 Grams nabbed a rare two-out-of-three Michelin star rating — but the restaurant closed after the 2017 attack.
Bickelhaupt pleaded guilty to simple battery and was released. He was required to take domestic violence classes and complete mandatory drug and alcohol tests.
As former business partners, Bickelhaupt and Welsh signed the non-disparagement agreement, which stated “neither party shall speak disparagingly of, make derogatory statements about, or ridicule, or defame the other.”
Welsh’s public and private comments from Feb. 2018 to June 2019., Bickelhaupt claims, are to blame for $150,000 in lost food sales and $100,000 in lost liquor sales at Stone Flower.
Stone Flower, a 12-seat, counter-style restaurant inside a two-story cottage, opened in Bucktown earlier this year.
On May 2, when Stone Flower was expected to open, more than 70 restaurant owners participated in “Industry Night,” a fundraiser for Connections for Abused Women and their Children, Chicago’s oldest domestic violence charity.
After the stories of their relationship came out, Bickelhaupt said his car was vandalized twice. During his opening weekend, he said someone left a bag of dog poop on the restaurant’s front step.
Bickelhaupt said he is a victim of a “mob mentality” that threatens his livelihood and leaves him feeling physically unsafe. Every time his name makes headlines, he said, his family calls him in tears.
“It’s been pure hell for me,” he said.
Welsh, who moved to California after the attack, recounted her experience of abuse in a series of interviews.
She described the attack that made headlines; on a Friday night, during 42 Grams dinner service, Bickelhaupt hit Welsh with a 750-milliliter Smeraldina bottle.
Bickelhaupt left 42 Grams as his ex-wife laid on the ground, blood pooling around her head. After being released from the hospital, Welsh said she returned to the restaurant to mop her blood off the floor.
It was during three months of working with a counseling group, Welsh said she realized her relationship with Bickelhaupt had been abusive long before it became physical.
Emotional, physical and psychological attacks were frequent, she said.
“I honestly didn’t realize that I was being abused until months after the restaurant closed,” she said. “I didn’t have a name for it.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call CAWC’s 24-hour hotline at 773-278-4566, Between Friends’ 24-hour hotline at 800-603-4357, the Chicago Domestic Violence Helpline at 877-863-6338 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911.
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