WRAL Investigates

Ten women tell WRAL former Raleigh restaurants manager sexually assaulted or harassed them

Posted July 2, 2020 5:34 p.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2020 9:28 a.m. EDT

— Ten women have come forward to WRAL News with stories of alleged sexual assault or harassment by Jordan Hester, the former beverage director for award winning restaurants Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana.

Jordan Hester, 38, was arrested Wednesday and charged with four counts of felony secret peeping and installing/using a photo device in a room. Three women have told WRAL that Hester secretly recorded them during separate sexual encounters. Those women filed a police report last week.

Hester’s lawyer was in court Thursday and waived Hester’s first appearance. His next court date is set for July 23.

Hester was let go from Brewery Bhavana and Bida Manda in June following allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct, as current and former employees went public via social media with allegations occurring at both restaurants.

Co-owner Vansana Nolintha stepped away from the restaurants following the allegations and the remaining owners, including Nolintha’s sister, have launched a third-party investigation.

WRAL has spoken to 10 women who allege Hester sexually harassed or assaulted them. The allegations span a more than 20 year period.

‘I blamed myself’

Erica Steimetz was working at a downtown Raleigh art gallery more than 13 years ago when she first met Hester.

“The downtown Raleigh community was even smaller than it is now and pretty much everyone in the music, art, bar and restaurant scenes knew each other,” Steimetz said.

Steimetz said Hester asked her out multiple times and even left voicemails for her where he could be heard “heavily breathing.”

“I finally agreed to meet him at The Rockford for a drink one night so I could turn him down completely. This worked out well and after a bit, he finally stopped calling me,” Steimetz said.

Then in 2010, Steimetz and Hester crossed paths again.

Steimetz was working at Busy Bee Cafe (which most recently was known as Trophy Tap and Table).

“He was friendly with the owners of the Busy Bee, and many other folks in the bar industry because of the esteem provided by his leadership in the cocktail industry. I saw him around a lot and was polite because it’s a small town, but I never considered him a friend,” Steimetz said.

Hester was a rising star in the bartending scene in downtown Raleigh. Years later, he would become the beverage director for two acclaimed restaurants, Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana.

That summer, Steimetz said she was drinking with some friends on the patio of Raleigh Times when a fight broke out.

“We all started to scatter and the police were on their way, so I walked alone toward Fayetteville to find a place to call a cab. I was very, very drunk,” Steimetz said.

That’s when, Steimetz said Hester pulled up in his car offering her a ride.

“I was so grateful for the opportunity to just get home, I didn’t even think about it and got in his car,” Steimetz said.

Steimetz said she remembers being surprised when Hester passed the turn for her home and instead turned toward his.

“I don’t remember much else, other than waking up naked the next day, grabbing my clothes and running out the door,” Steimetz said. “I’d never been so ashamed of myself and even though I knew exactly what he’d done, I blamed myself and brushed it off because I was so drunk and in spite of knowing better I felt it was my fault.”

Steimetz said she didn’t tell anyone about the incident and continued to blame herself.

“I was in my 20s working in bars and restaurants I drank a lot, I made all kinds of stupid mistakes. I felt like you get what you deserve,” she said.

Then in June, Steimetz read a social media post from Madison Roberts, an ex-girlfriend of Hester’s who accused him of secretly recording herself and three other women without their knowledge.

Steimetz reached out to Roberts to share her own story concerning Hester.

"Jordan told me about that story. That specific story that there was this woman and he named her, that he picked her up cause she was sitting on the curb cause she was drunk and didn't have a ride home. So he was going to give her a ride home but he took her back to his place and he had sex with her," Roberts said.

Roberts said Hester described Steimetz as always being very put together, stylish and poised. "He made a big deal out of like, 'When I took her home and, and I had sex with her, you know, she was there in my bed with her hair disheveled covered in dog hair.'"

"He made it sound like it was a trick...that he had undermined her," Roberts said.

The accusations

Of the 10 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.

Nicole Bivins, who was a member of the opening bar staff at Bida Manda in 2012, detailed inappropriate behavior by Hester, who was her boss at the time. Bivins told WRAL that she considered Hester a mentor and close friend for years before he allegedly assaulted her.

"I can recall so many evenings bartending alongside Jordan and he would direct the conversation towards the appearance of an extremely young hostess’ body, the things he would like to do to them, or any number of other inappropriate topics. I have long wished I said something to him about it, or to these girls he would ultimately pursue," Bivins said.

Bivins said Hester assaulted her in 2016 later while hanging out with friends at his apartment.

"They went to sleep, Jordan offered me his bed. He then got into his bed and pressed his body up against me, started grinding and grabbing my breasts. Like an animal of prey I froze, stunned and helpless. In the following days I worked up the courage to text him telling him how uncomfortable it made me. He told me that I could get him fired if I wanted to, but guilted me about not being able to care for his child."

Hester soon started behaving in a hostile way toward her, she said.

"He walked into the restaurant on many occasions angry, frequently barked at me directly in front of customers, or refused to speak to me at all," Bivins said. "The owners and other managers elected to not schedule us together, rather than address his behavior - which they admitted was unwarranted, but said 'he’s not going anywhere.'"

After five years of working there, Bivins left Bida Manda.

"Due to the lack of support I received from management, and in fact the rather harsh treatment I endured for speaking up about anything I was edged out of the restaurant entirely," Bivins said.

Julia Swinn, who worked with Bivins and Hester at Bida Manda, said she was aware of the alleged sexual assault at Hester’s apartment. Swinn said that while she did not know the exact details of the alleged assault, Bivins told her that something had happened. Swinn said Hester had spoken inappropriately to her as well while working at Fox Liquor Bar, making statements involving her body.

WRAL spoke with three other women who have sexual assault allegations similar to Bivins’. Each said they stayed at Hester’s home after a night of drinking, only to wake up to Hester having sex with them. One of the women said that she said ‘no,” before passing out, while another stopped him. The women asked that their names not be published.

Patricia Heath, who worked at Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana, said Hester would often speak inappropriately about her appearance to other staff members and management while she was nearby.

“Commenting on my appearance, my movements, and my attire. I would hear these comments, ignore them, and maintain my composure to remain professional and because I didn’t feel secure and empowered by other management to confront him,” Heath said. “He boasted to me innumerable times of his past conquests with other employees, his subordinates. He would consistently sexualize other women that worked there. Calling attention to their bodies.”

Heath said she tried to confront Hester “nicely” about the extra work he was requiring of her as opposed to her male colleagues, but Hester would shut down.

“Any negative feedback and room for improvement I offered was met with hostility and sometimes erratic actions on his part,” Heath said.

Heath said that Hester also told her about an affair he had with a co-worker.

"He (Jordan Hester) related to me of an affair he had with a coworker who I believe didn’t have the ability to consent and I told him that I didn’t want to hear about that. I told him to his face I didn’t believe she could consent in her state. He continued to relate details about that sexual relationship after I made clear I objected to its existence and objected to hearing about it. To this day I can’t think of that 'relationship' without crying," Heath said.

Another former co-worker, who asked not to be named, confirmed Heath’s account of the relationship, and also expressed concerns about the woman’s medical condition at the time.

WRAL spoke with the woman mentioned by Heath. The woman noted that while she was involved with Hester she was suffering from an illness that was taking a toll on her body and mind. “There was concern from friends, family, and medical professionals that I was not going to live,” she said. “It’s still really difficult for me to accept just how vulnerable I was. I’ve never felt so broken. Looking back, I don’t think it was a coincidence that Jordan took an interest in me.”

The woman said she became involved with Hester in December 2014, she had just turned 22. She said Hester was her boss at Bida Manda and she was intimidated by him. During a night of drinking at a bar with coworkers, the woman said Hester approached her. She said he complimented her on her "sickly" appearance and then said he’d like to take her outside and be intimate and hit her.

The two went outside and the woman said Hester pushed her against a wall and began to slap her, bite her face and neck and put his hand down her pants.

Though she consented to the encounter, the woman said she immediately felt ashamed and embarrassed.

“Ultimately, I think the reason I had agreed was because he was so highly regarded and feared in our industry. I felt chosen,” the woman said.

The woman said Hester, in a moment of panic, told someone in a position of leadership at Bida Manda about the encounter later that night. She said there was no formal follow up on the encounter.

Following that night, the woman said she began a two year on-and-off relationship with Hester. She said he asked her to keep the relationship a secret because he said he was afraid he’d lose his job or custody of his son.

“The dynamics of our ‘relationship’ were based on secrecy, vulnerability and control. That was the most important thing to him – his dominance over me. Emotionally, mentally and physically.”

The woman said five months after that first encounter Hester began to initiate sex.

“By that point he was heavily involved in my life, although we had never had sex before. We were on my couch and he got on top of me and began to undress me. I remember I kept saying ‘no.’ I did not want to have sex with him. He continued anyway so eventually I just got quiet and stayed still,” the woman said.

She said after Hester was finished he realized she had been saying no. “He had such an intense emotional response. Suddenly I felt bad for the ‘misunderstanding’ and how upset he was by it. We moved on,” she said.

In spring 2017, the woman described a sexual encounter with Hester that turned violent.

“We had just gotten back from a dinner party with some of his friends. We were having sex when things started to get rougher than usual. He was beating, slapping, choking, biting, and spitting on me. I was on the floor trying to protect myself and beginning to cry when he snapped out of it. Again, he had an incredibly emotional response and tried to comfort me. That’s always what happened after he took things too far. He consoled me, put me to bed and I do not think we ever spoke of it again,” the woman said.

‘I was scared, I was helpless’

WRAL spoke with two other women who have alleged Hester assaulted them while attending Ligon Magnet Middle School.

Both women described similar incidents in 1994 while attending a movie with Hester.

One woman, who had just turned 13, said she was with Hester and a group of other young teens at the movie theater when she said Hester assaulted her in July 1994. He was 12 years old at the time and a grade ahead of her in school.

“A short time after the lights went dark, he held my hand. Then his hand moved to my knee. I brushed it away but he put it back, further up my thigh. I brushed it away again,” the woman said, noting that she tried to fight him off multiple times.

The woman said Hester then touched her inappropriately and “implying since I was his girlfriend I was supposed to let him do this.” She said he also shoved her hand down his pants. She said she took her hand back.

“I felt ashamed and embarrassed, weak and helpless, afraid I would get into trouble if anyone found out,” the woman said.

The woman said she didn’t want to make a scene because they were in the middle of a theater and she didn’t have a ride home.

The woman said the two started dating, which consisted of talking on the phone and meeting up in the hallway at school where he’d always bite her neck.

Another woman said Hester fondled her while the two were seeing “Forrest Gump” at a local theater in 1994. She was 12 years old at the time.

“I remember the cold sweat running down my back because I didn’t like it. I was not vocal about not wanting it to happen, but I vaguely remember giving physical cues that should have indicated ‘no’ - such as moving further away from him, and crossing my arms over my chest,” the woman said.

The woman said she started dating Hester later that year and in May 1995 the two had sex after she said Hester pressured her. Both of them were 13 years old.

“What I do remember is that he’s been pushing me to have sex for quite a while. Sometimes aggressively, and sometimes persistently. The persistence is what won out. You could say ‘no’ to him, but only for so long. Even back then he came across as a charismatic and smart person. And was very persuasive. And although I wasn’t ready to have sex, I was totally in love with him,” she said.

The woman said the two had sex in a drain pipe at the Fred Fletcher Park. She said she didn’t want to, so she completely disengaged during the incident. “I was laying there like a dead fish, eyes closed,” she said. “It was not fun, I was scared. I was helpless.”

Looking back, the woman said she feels that Hester raped her that day.

All of the women WRAL spoke with said they did not go to law enforcement about the assaults. Some said they were ashamed and blamed themselves, while others did not want Hester to be fired or cause him to lose custody of his son.

Accusations related to charges

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.

WRAL has repeatedly reached out to Hester by phone for comment but has not been able to reach him. Nobody answered the door at the home listed on his arrest warrant.

When WRAL spoke with Hester’s lawyer Thursday, he said he doubted they would make a statement, but would contact Hester with our questions and let us know. So far we’ve not heard back from Hester or his attorney.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told WRAL on Tuesday that the Raleigh Police Department is currently investigating allegations against Hester.

Brewery Bhavana update

WRAL has reached out to Brewery Bhavana and Bida Manda about the allegations.

"Our restaurant owners were heartbroken to learn of the alleged incidents for which Jordan Hester was arrested. They knew nothing about them. Bida Manda didn’t open until 2012 so he was not an employee at the time. When social media posts surfaced in early June of this year alleging inappropriate behavior, his employment was immediately severed," owners said in a statement released by restaurant spokesperson Joyce Fitzpatrick on Thursday.

In an email to employees on Wednesday and obtained by WRAL, Brewery Bhavana's co-owners, Patrick Woodson and Vanvisa Nolintha, told employees that its internal investigation had been completed. The owners wrote that they planned to restructure the management team and bring in Sandy Lewis, a human resources specialist. The email noted that former managers Luisa Jaramillo and Whitney Wilson had resigned.

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