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Chef charged with domestic violence fired from new restaurant as 7 women come forward

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

A Macomb County chef is facing charges of domestic violence and was fired from his job as seven women came forward with abuse allegations via social media this month. 

Chad Barrett was touted as the "celebrity chef" behind forthcoming Chesterfield Township restaurant Feast, a former Rosie O'Grady's location that is still under construction and about two months away from opening.

Chad Barrett was fired from Feast after he was charged with domestic assault in Macomb County and multiple allegations of abuse surfaced on social media.

Barrett had been laid off from the business for weeks due to the pandemic, according to restaurateur Dave Pierno, who said he made the decision not to bring Barrett back to Feast after he was accused of verbal and physical abuse by multiple women on social media. Four of those women have spoken to The Detroit News about their experiences. 

Barrett was not reachable by email or phone for comment. His lawyer, Joshua D. Nucian, declined to comment. 

The Macomb County Prosecutor's Office confirmed Barrett, 32, has been charged with domestic violence and had a pretrial hearing set for June 11, but that was delayed to July 16 due to the pandemic. The charge stems from a complaint made by his ex-wife, Kari Barrett. 

Ex-fiancee Sarah Natushko said she filed a domestic violence complaint against Chad Barrett in 2011 in Shelby Township. They met while working at Sterling's Bistro; he was a line cook and she was a server. 

"Our relationship was a whirlwind," she said in a statement to The Detroit News. "He picked up on my weaknesses and preyed on them." 

She said once engaged in June 2011, he became "controlling and would verbally abuse me." She moved out in October after learning she was pregnant in July, and filed charges the next day. 

"I realized the abuse was not OK and was not going to stop. He would threaten to hurt my family or my dog," she said. "I found out the day of my court case that it was his second formal offense and that he had been charged in 2005, but it had been expunged as a first offense." 

Natushko said she received a personal protection order valid for a year, and Barrett got probation and a deferred prison sentence. The 41A District Court confirmed that Barrett pleaded guilty and was given one year of probation for the 2011 charge. 

Seven strangers with similar stories 

Kari Barrett said there's "absolutely" patterns of manipulation, bursts of anger and physical harm from Chad Barrett among the seven women, none of which she knew until she filed for divorce from Barrett. 

"A couple of them reached out to me and asked me about my experience with Chad," she said. "I think when you're in a relationship where you're abused, you sometimes think you're the only one, and you're not."

She calls Barrett "a habitual abuser" and said she thinks she was contacted by his ex-girlfriends as a show of support to her, and as a comfort to themselves. 

"Victims are often shamed into not speaking up or telling their story and that's a problem," she said. "My hope that he is held accountable for his choices and his actions in life and for the drama that's been inflicted in so many women's lives and my hope is that with this coming to the forefront in such a public way that other women are going to be privy to his pattern and his past, which all of us were not. We didn't know." 

Makenna Bates said she started dating the chef in early 2014 when she was 21 and he was 26. Like Natushko, she also describes the relationship as one that moved fast, with abuse that started once they were engaged. Within four months, they moved in together and were quickly linked further through an engagement, a lease and, at Barrett's behest she said, joint bank accounts and joint cellphone plans.

Bates described incidents of Barrett throwing a vase toward her head and another time grabbing her by the shoulders and pushing her into a door. She said he pulled a knife on her once. When she accused him of cheating after she saw a suspicious text message, she said he got irate and broke her laptop in half. He had been using it to send in applications for chef reality competitions, she said.

Bates also said Barrett tried to push her out of a car after stopping while driving on the freeway. 

"We were coming back from the casino one night and we were arguing and he got so upset with me, he pulled over, we were about to get off the Hall Road exit ... he literally reached over me, unbuckled my seat belt, opened the door and tried to push me out of the car, on 94," she said.

Facebook user Amber Sun blew the whistle publicly on Barrett on June 3 with a widely shared post detailing his "repeated domestic violence and assault against women." 

While she said she was not a victim herself, she said she's known of his abuse of others for a decade. 

"Many, many women have been physically abused by him, even while pregnant," she wrote. "This man will finally appear in court to answer for his violent actions." 

Some of the women told The News that coming forward has been therapeutic, but revisiting the trauma has also caused anxiety to arise. 

"It's bittersweet coming forward about this matter seven years later," said Tara Box, who dated Barrett briefly in 2013. "It feels good known that our words might save someone in the future from potentially getting hurt like we did. Our stories are nearly parallel." 

"I had no idea anyone would come forward just because everyone's been silent for so long because he would threaten us. He knows where most of us live and where our parents live," said Bates. "That's one reason I never came forward."

Employer had no clue 

Pierno of Feast first hired Barrett about a year and a half ago to overhaul his riverfront restaurant Miles on the Water in Mount Clemens. Pierno and his wife, Sarah, have owned that property since 2012. It is currently closed, and it's unlikely that it will reopen this year. 

"I never even saw the man angry; to be honest, I had no clue," said Pierno of Barrett's accused behavior of an abuser. "We did a background check when we hired him and it came back completely clear." 

"We didn't know anything about it until the Facebook campaign started," he said, adding that he was "shocked" but that it isn't for him to decide if Barrett is guilty or innocent. 

The Piernos put a statement on Feast's Facebook page June 9 announcing that they would no longer be working with Barrett, saying the team at the restaurant "does not condone nor support domestic violence or violence of any kind."

They plan to move forward on Feast with a new executive chef Jared Bobkin, formerly of Monarch Club in downtown Detroit. Bobkin has also done national television, having competed on "Hell's Kitchen." 

Pierno regrets the way Feast was introduced to the area, which was as Barrett's own restaurant. 

"The problem with it was, and it was probably my mistake the way we marketed it, everyone thought this was Chad's restaurant," he said, adding that Barrett never was part owner and had no financial investment. "He had a strong social media presence, he was very well known ... nobody knows who I am. So we decided to make him the face of the company. Moving forward, we have a new face of the company." 

Formerly a sous chef at Chapman House in Rochester, Barrett had competed twice on the Food Network show "Guy's Grocery Games" hosted by Guy Fieri. He said he won $16,000 on the show in 2017 and appeared again in 2019. 

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens