Former Bhavana beverage director pleads guilty to secret peeping
Posted November 19, 2020 4:30 p.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2020 2:45 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — On Friday, the former beverage director for award winning restaurants Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana pleaded guilty to four felony charges of secret peeping and learned he will have to register as a sex offender.
Jordan Hester, 38, was arrested in July and charged with four counts of felony secret peeping and installing/using a photo device in a room. Four women have alleged that Hester secretly recorded them during separate sexual encounters.
In addition to the four women who have accused Hester of secretly recording them, at least six other women who have accused Hester of sexual misconduct are expected to offer statements in support of Hester being registered as a sex offender.
Hester was let go from Brewery Bhavana and Bida Manda in June following allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct involving managers. Current and former employees went public via social media with allegations occurring at both restaurants.
Following the accusations, Madison Roberts posted on social media accusing Hester of secretly recording herself and three other women without their knowledge.
Roberts, who dated Hester in 2010 and 2011, told WRAL News that she became aware of the recordings while she was still dating Hester.
“There was a setting on his webcam that would turn the active light off so that it would appear that the webcam was not on. And then, you turn the computer screen off. It just looks like it's in sleep mode. So, that’s how he was making these videos,” Roberts said.
Roberts said Hester secretly recorded the two having sex. Not long after the recording was made, Roberts said Hester told her about it.
“He told me about it, like, ‘Look, I made this video of you. Isn’t it cool?’” Roberts said. “He pitched it as this sort of like, ’I’m so sneaky. I’m so clever.’”
Roberts said Hester also told her about secretly recording other women he had sex with.
“He told me about the circumstances around them because like, he was proud of it. Like it was a trophy,” Roberts said.
The videos, which were allegedly recorded in 2009 and 2010, would sometimes last for hours and include conversations between Hester and the women, Roberts said.
Roberts said Hester stored the videos on a hard drive the two shared.
Roberts said when she moved out after the relationship was over she took the hard drive because it belonged to her, but she didn't delete the files.
“I didn't say anything about it publicly for 10 years and I feel awful,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to make excuses but I was afraid of his retaliation if I did anything with these videos or let the other women know.”
Roberts said she decided to come forward with the information and contact the other women in the recordings after reading a social media post by former Bida Manda employee Nicole Bivins where she claimed Hester assaulted her while he was her boss.
Bivins is among 10 women WRAL spoke with who allege Hester sexually harassed or assaulted them. The allegations span a more than 20 year period. Of the women who have come forward to WRAL with allegations involving Hester, four were employed at Bida Manda or Brewery Bhavana where Hester was a manager at the time.
Hester has not been criminally charged with any sexual assaults.
WRAL has repeatedly reached out to Hester by phone for comment but has not been able to reach him.
Bhavana announces reopening plans
Hester’s court date comes as Brewery Bhavana and Bida Manda announce reopening plans. In a feature in Raleigh Magazine this week, Brewery Bhavana announced it would reopen on Dec. 1 with Bida Manda reopening Dec. 8.
In September, Brewery Bhavana co-owners Patrick Woodson and Vanvisa Nolintha announced that they would be stepping away from their current roles and hiring CEO Frederique Leonard to lead both restaurants. Jeremiah Ramos has been brought on as the General Manager, managing the operations of both restaurants.
The changes came after current and former employees went public via social media with accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct occurring at both restaurants.
WRAL spoke with 14 former and current employees of the restaurants. Staff members said it was common for then co-owner Vansana “Van” Nolintha to engage in inappropriate relationships with younger male employees.
When Van Nolintha stepped down in June, he vowed to divest his shares in both restaurants.
Restaurant spokeswoman Courtney Osgood told WRAL Thursday that Van Nolinth has divested his shares and “no longer has ownership of either restaurant.”
Osgood said Vanvisa Nolintha, Van Nolintha's sister, remains the owner of Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana. Woodson is also still a co-owner of Brewery Bhavana. Osgood said that neither are part of management nor have a say in any operational decisions of either restaurant.
Since opening in March 2017, Bhavana has received numerous awards including being named one of the 10 Coolest Places to Eat in the World in 2018 by Forbes and one of Bon Appetit's 10 Best New Restaurants in America. The restaurant was also named a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award in 2018.
Both restaurants had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurants were granted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in April. The loans were designed by the Small Business Administration as an incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.