- In March 2018, a server at Los Angeles celebrity hotspot Delilah was brutally beaten in an assault caught on the restaurant’s surveillance cameras.
- The server, Bennett Sipes, sued the restaurant, Drake, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and model Younes Bendjima over the incident.
- Sipes claims that Drake ordered the beating after the rapper made a “throat slash” gesture to his entourage.
- Insider started digging into Drake and his relationship with Delilah’s parent company, The H.Wood Group, which owns more than a dozen clubs, restaurants, and bars in LA.
- We discovered a close relationship between Drake and H.Wood’s owners, who have put their employees at risk to curry favor with their celebrity clientele.
In the early hours of March 24, 2018, last call had come and gone, but the party was still going strong at the West Hollywood hotspot Delilah. The opulent 1920s-themed restaurant would make Jay Gatsby feel at home with its many mirrors, palms, and Art Deco chandeliers. Celebrities regularly hold court in the pastel pink and green velvet booths, where they’re served plates of lobster gnocchi and flutes of Moët by attractive young men in white tuxedos and women in black pencil skirts. On some nights, burlesque dancers entertain patrons in lingerie, a callback to the speakeasies from which Delilah takes its inspiration.
It wasn’t until 12:52 a.m. that the biggest star showed up — Drake. The rapper came in through the back entrance, wearing a green-and-black track suit, according to video from TMZ. Drinking with him that night at the bar was NFL player Odell Beckham Jr. Fans of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” might also have recognized Younes Bendjima, the Algerian model who at the time was dating Kourtney Kardashian.
Rubbing elbows with this group was Delilah server Bennett Sipes, who was there on his night off with his girlfriend, Instagram model Sommer Ray. Sipes originally came to LA to be a model. He has the abs and jaw of a TV actor playing the high-school quarterback in a teen drama. His hair is dark and often slicked back, and he has a mole just above his lip. He could be the son of Brooke Shields or Cindy Crawford.
In Los Angeles last call is 2 a.m., but, like many nights, this rule was flouted to let the VIPs continue partying. Nonetheless, Sipes and his girlfriend had decided to leave.
According to Sipes’ account of events in a recent court filing, he and Sommer tried to enter the VIP section to say goodbye to a friend. While Sommer was allowed into the VIP section, Sipes said he was stopped by Drake and they got into an argument, though he doesn’t specify over what. After the argument, Sipes alleges that Drake made a “throat slash” gesture to his private security detail.
Before he knew it, Sipes said he was being pushed toward the back of the restaurant, which led to a back alley where the detached offices are located. Drake and his entourage followed him out back, with one witness saying that the rapper “was like, skipping, excited about what was about to happen.”
Drake looks on as a man is beaten
What happened next was caught on surveillance footage later leaked to TMZ. The footage shows Sipes walking out into an enclosed area behind the kitchen and heading straight toward the walled perimeter door that celebrities use to enter the club, if they’re avoiding the paparazzi. About a dozen people were in close pursuit. Just as Sipes opens the door to leave the area, he turns around and appears to address the group. Not a second later, he is punched in the face by Bendjima, a former professional boxer. Sipes falls to the ground, and others seem to join in on the lopsided attack, though it’s hard to tell how many and what they were doing since the opened door obscures the view.
Meanwhile, Drake and Beckham look on from the fringe of the group, neither wading in to stop the assault. Drake even starts to back away, while Beckham pulls up his hoodie over his signature bleached tips.
The video doesn’t show how the fight ended, but witnesses told Insider that the men stopped beating Sipes only when a hostess jumped on him, using her body as a shield to protect her coworker. They said no one called 911. Instead, one source close to Sipes said the manager who was on duty ordered Sipes to leave, and he and his girlfriend got a cab and went home.
Sipes was in rough shape. Bleeding from his face, he still wasn’t sure what to do, but he ended up going to get medical treatment and, eventually, went to the police.
Shortly after Sipes filed a police report, one of the partners of Delilah’s parent company, The H.Wood Group, reached out to him, sources close to Sipes said. One source said the call left him “spooked.”
“The weird part was that immediately after going to the police, Tony started calling him,” one former coworker said of H.Wood partner Tony LaPenna. “[The partners] had the whole day to call Bennett. They didn’t. No one checked on him. No one cared until he went to the police.”
Whether Sipes quit or was fired from Delilah is unclear. Multiple sources close to him said he never went back to work again. He also stopped cooperating with police. In January of this year, he sued Drake, Beckham, Bendjima, and The H.Wood Group for assault and related claims, for an amount to be determined at trial.
They ‘tried to tell me that what happened didn’t happen’
Insider started digging into The H.Wood Group after Sipes filed the lawsuit. We spoke with over a dozen past and present H.Wood employees, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. Many expressed fear of repercussions from the company or burning bridges in the industry.
Through their publicity company, The H.Wood Group declined to comment on any aspect of this story.
In H.Wood’s hunt to curry favor with their celebrity clientele, employees said they were regularly forced to keep working at the club after hours, serving alcohol to famous people. Sometimes, they said, they didn’t get tips from H.Wood’s rich and famous patrons, who often got their bills comped or walked out without paying.
More seriously, after the night Sipes was attacked at Delilah, some employees were scared to go back to work.
One employee who witnessed the fight remembered one particular conversation with LaPenna, H.Wood’s director of operations, in the days after. (Insider also tried to reach out to LaPenna for comment but he didn’t return our calls.)
“What they were trying to do was calm me down and reassure me that my safety wasn’t in jeopardy and that everything was gonna be OK, and even tried to tell me that what happened didn’t happen,” the employee said.
The employee added, “They were trying to downplay it as though I didn’t see it.”
Management did, however, in the days after the Sipes incident, put a new policy into place requiring H.Wood employees to notify them if they wanted to come to one of the clubs or restaurants on their nights off, former employees said.
This message from management, coupled with the fact that Sipes never returned to work, didn’t do much to comfort employees, especially considering that Drake, a regular, was likely to return to the club.
“It took some time for us to all get over that incident and feel literally safe at work,” the same former Delilah employee said. “It sounds kind of crazy to say, but I don’t know Drake, I don’t know him personally, I have no idea how angry or not he is, I don’t know how he feels, I don’t know who he knows. To me, Drake’s like, the f—— president of the United States. This guy is like — anything he wants, of course he gets it.
“I have no idea if he’s got some homies outside after I get off of work that he said to come f—— jump me or do whatever to my car, like I have no idea, but I thought it was possible.”
Drake’s lawyers declined to comment on the record for this story because it deals with pending litigation.
Some staff were afraid to go to work after the incident
“Right when this all went down, there were a lot of people who were scared to even come to work,” another former Delilah employee said.
And the former worker who was there the night of the Sipes incident said some staff members were nervous about Drake coming in during their shifts.
“Especially after the Bennett incident, there was a wave of, like, ‘Whoa, if he’s coming, I’m not gonna be here,'” the former employee said.
There are also former employees who said they never witnessed Drake or his entourage behaving aggressively. One former bartender at H.Wood’s Italian restaurant, The Nice Guy, said he was surprised to hear about the Sipes assault because Drake had always been “really cool” and he never saw his crew being “rowdy.”
But at Delilah, where the assault happened, the mood had been changed after the Sipes incident, according to former employees. A Delilah worker, who had left by the time of the incident, said several of her coworkers reached out to her after the assault and said multiple people were thinking about leaving because of it.
“I know a lot of people were just really disappointed in the handling of that situation,” she said.
Former H.Wood employees told us they weren’t surprised that Sipes never went back to work, while Drake remained a regular fixture at Delilah.
“It doesn’t shock me that Bennett doesn’t work there anymore,” a former bartender who knew Sipes and worked for H.Wood said. “Doesn’t shock me that nothing happened to Drake. None of that sounds surprising at all. They let those guys do whatever they want.”
This isn’t the first altercation Drake and his entourage have been accused of being involved in
One of the key arguments that Sipes’ lawyers have made in their lawsuit is that The H.Wood Group was aware that “Drake’s security team/entourage was dangerous and yet still allowed the team unfettered access and the ability to use physical force against its patrons at will.”
Drake’s reputation is rather unusual for a rapper. In a musical genre that prizes toughness, many of his songs verge on the romantic, and Drake has generally been seen as nonthreatening. Still, the people he surrounds himself with have been involved in several incidents involving claims of violence.
Just days into Drake’s first headlining tour in 2010, a fan said he was punched in the mouth by one of Drake’s bodyguards when he ran into the rapper at a Jacksonville, Florida, club and tried to compliment him. Jeremis Perez Soriano told TV station Fox 30 that Drake pushed him, and the scuffle resulted in him having to get six stitches. A friend of Soriano’s backed up the claim when contacted by Fox 30, and said that as Drake boarded his tour bus after the incident, he flipped them off and said, “F— you! You’re nothing.” Fox 30 no longer has the story on its site, but it was republished on several sites, including Billboard and Perez Hilton. (Insider tried to reach out to Soriano for comment but was unable to make contact with him.)
In June 2012, Drake and his entourage were involved in a massive brawl at a New York club involving Chris Brown and his crew. At the time, Drake had been connected to Rihanna, who had previously dated Brown. Brown had been convicted of battering Rihanna three years earlier. According to the New York Daily News, the fight broke out when Brown sent Drake a bottle of champagne as a peace offering, and Drake sent it back with a note that said, “I’m still f—— Rihanna.” Photos from the nightclub after the brawl showed the club covered in shattered glass from the bottles and glasses the two groups threw at each other.
Read more: Fans are furious with Drake for collaborating with Chris Brown again, especially given both of their histories with Rihanna
One of Drake’s collaborators, Detail, sued the rapper, claiming he lured him to his mansion in 2014 and then had his head of security, Chubbs, punch him, breaking his jaw. Detail, who is behind such hits as Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” and Ray J’s “Sexy Can I,” said Chubbs yelled at him during the assault, “Do you think Drake is soft? You think Drake’s a punk?” Detail claimed that Drake was mad at him for turning down the opportunity to be the rapper’s exclusive producer. The suit was dismissed by the court after Detail declined to pursue it.
Insider reached out to Detail’s lawyers for comment about why he stopped cooperating, but they did not return our emails. (Detail is a controversial figure. Last year, several women accused him of sexual assault.) Sources close to Drake claimed Detail was the aggressor in this case.
Drake’s security team was also caught on video in 2017 bullying drivers on a street in Toronto, forcing them to the side of the road so that the rapper’s motorcade could bypass traffic. When one driver complained, Drake’s bodyguard yelled at him, “Run me over, bro! I have the right of way, bro. I’ll take your Tesla.”
‘Drake’s security guard has me completely at his mercy’
In 2017, Drake attended a Weeknd concert where his security guard allegedly roughed up singer Shawn Mendes. Mendes, whose single “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” was in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 at the time, recalled the run-in just a few days later (which he described as a “funny story” while also admitting the encounter had him “terrified”), during an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”
Mendes said he was watching the concert on a riser with other artists. Because he had met Drake before, he decided to go up and say hi. But Drake’s bodyguard stopped him before he could do so.
“The next thing I know, I’m in the middle of the Weeknd show with my arm hooked behind my back. Drake’s security guard has me completely at his mercy,” Mendes said. Luckily he caught Drake’s eye and the rapper remembered him.
“He comes over and he grabs the bodyguard and he’s, like, ‘Don’t do that. You don’t know who that is,'” Mendes said.
An earlier allegation of violence at Delilah
Even if H.Wood’s owners were unaware of all the previous incidents, Sipes’ lawyers argue in court documents that they were definitely aware of Drake’s bodyguards’ history from another alleged assault at Delilah in 2016.
TMZ reported on the incident at the time: A man said he was punched in the face by one of Drake’s bodyguards because he wouldn’t get out of the bathroom so that Drake could come in and use it in private.
TMZ later updated the story to say a witness told them that Drake wasn’t there, and that there’s a private bathroom for celebrities. But employees we talked to said they did see Drake’s bodyguards clearing the main restroom for him on occasion, as described in the TMZ story. No one Insider spoke to, however, was aware of this alleged incident in particular.
However, police logs show a person coming into the station nearly a month later and reporting that they had been hit by a bodyguard at Delilah on that date.
A source close to Drake told Insider that the person who complained to police couldn’t identify the person who allegedly assaulted him, and that the person claimed the aggressor was wearing a security shirt — something the source said Drake’s bodyguards do not wear, as they dress in plainclothes.
A nightlife chain that revolves around celebrities
John Terzian, the more public of the two H.Wood co-owners, has often talked in interviews about the importance of taking care of his employees. In a 2012 LA Weekly profile, Terzian called bussers “the most important people in the whole room.”
But many of the current and former H.Wood workers Insider spoke with said they felt that it was the celebrities who matter most to H.Wood.
The fact that Sipes never returned to work at Delilah, while Drake has remained a fixture at H.Wood properties (he hosted a New Year’s party at Delilah this year) didn’t come as a shock to one former worker.
“It doesn’t surprise me that John would go out of his way to do anything and everything he can to protect Drake,” they said.
One thing that sets LA apart from other cities is the number of celebrities who call it home, thanks to the film and music industries based there. Getting a famous actor or musician to frequent your club or restaurant is built-in marketing.
Terzian and Brian Toll, H.Wood’s other co-founder, realized that celebrities can do more than just drum up business. They can be the business in and of itself, if you offer them the one thing they crave more than anything: privacy.
‘We take them in the back door, no one knows they’re in there … we protect them’
In an interview with The Founder Hour podcast last year, Toll explained that H.Wood has a unique approach to hosting famous guests.
“A lot of clubs or restaurants, when they know a certain celeb is coming, they call the paparazzi and make sure that they’re seen coming in the front door, and when they’re leaving they call the tabloids … we don’t do any of that. We take them in the back door, no one knows they’re in there … we protect them,” he said.
Delilah and H.Wood’s other exclusive restaurant, The Nice Guy, was designed to cater to VIPs with its strict door and no-camera policy.
The Yelp page for Delilah is filled with diners’ accounts of staffers yanking phones out of their hands. And then there’s the near-blackout lighting, which makes it practically impossible to read the menu, let alone gawk at Justin Bieber. The Nice Guy has an accordion-like tent attached to their back door, allowing celebrities to go straight from their cars and into the restaurant without being photographed. Former workers at both restaurants say that in the first few months they were open, you couldn’t even get in if you weren’t in Terzian and Toll’s contacts.
What happens in Delilah, stays in Delilah
Because of Terzian and Toll’s celebrity-focused business model, former employees said celebrities and friends of the partners are essentially allowed to run wild in H.Wood properties.
Former Delilah employees said ex-Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jordan Payton, who has been described as a friend of Terzian who got “VIP treatment” at Delilah, got drunk at the restaurant one night and a server had to cut him off. In response, Payton grabbed the server by his collar with one hand and balled up the other as if he was going to punch him. The situation apparently de-escalated before coming to blows.
Not long after, Payton was back to eating at the restaurant. Employees said that anytime Payton came in, the server in question was moved to a different section or taken off the floor.
“Instead of telling him, ‘Hey, you can’t come in anymore, you’re trying to fight our employees,’ they flipped it, which is crazy,” one former employee said.
Payton denied it the story, saying “I’ve never touched anyone at H.Wood.”
A hazy incident involving Conor McGregor
And in another example of the kind of chaos that H.Wood appears to tolerate from its VIP clientele, there was a persistent rumor that MMA fighter Conor McGregor and his entourage tried to take a bottle-service girl with them when they left Delilah one night in 2016.
The details of the night are hazy, but two eyewitnesses who were working that night told us that McGregor came in with a group of friends and got rowdy. One of the eyewitnesses told us that at one point the woman ended up over McGregor’s shoulder, and she witnessed the woman being carried toward the door. The witness said she was then passed to another member of McGregor’s entourage and carried to an SUV outside.
A second witness said he noticed the group move outside and decided to follow, thinking something might be wrong. When he got outside, he said he noticed the woman in the back of the SUV, trying to roll down the window and “freaking out.”
Read more: Dana White says McGregor told him the sexual assault he has been accused of was ‘somebody else’
That witness said that a manager then came out and threatened to call the police. It’s unclear whether any call was made.
The woman did eventually exit the car and return to the restaurant. The first witness said she looked “rattled.”
When we reached out to McGregor’s representatives for comment, they got us in touch with fellow MMA fighter Charlie Ward, who is a friend of McGregor’s and was there that night. He told us it was he — and not McGregor — who went out to the SUV with the woman. He said they were making out in the back when a male manager peeked his head into the car and asked if the woman was being held against her will. Ward said he thought the manager was making a joke. But then, he said, the manager started yelling and threatening to call the police. Ward said that the woman indicated that she was there consensually but got out of the vehicle, and he didn’t see her for the rest of the night.
There’s one aspect of Ward’s story that differs from what sources close to McGregor initially told us about the incident, but they refused to put this account on the record.
Both sources at Delilah who witnessed the incident said McGregor was barred from the restaurant afterward, but it seems like the barring wasn’t taken very seriously. One of the witnesses said he returned to the restaurant about a month and a half later and left without paying his bill.
Read more: A video appears to show McGregor punching an elderly man in the face after he declines a shot of the UFC fighter’s Proper No. Twelve whiskey
Again, H.Wood refused to comment on the matter. We also reached out to the woman at the center of this story back in March and asked her about the alleged incident. She declined to comment. At the time, she was still employed by the company.
‘It’s just an entire nightlife company that caters to him’
When speaking to current and former H.Wood employees, no celebrity’s name came up more often than Drake’s.
Many described him as being close friends with Terzian, and some even wondered if Drake was invested in the business given how frequently he patronizes H.Wood properties like Delilah and The Nice Guy.
Though Drake does not appear to be invested in the company, he is treated like royalty any time he goes to an H.Wood location. For example, when he celebrated his 31st birthday at Poppy, H.Wood’s surrealist nightclub, in 2017, they changed the club’s light-up sign for the night to read “Papi” — a reference to the rapper’s Instagram handle, @champagnepapi.
Several drinks are also named after Drake at H.Wood properties, including the “Nice for What” at The Nice Guy (after one of his hit songs), the “Degrassy” at H.Wood’s new sports bar 40 Love (a reference to the teen soap he acted on, “Degrassi”), and the “Drake’s Spritzer” at Delilah.
“It’s just an entire nightlife company that caters to him,” an H.Wood Group bartender said.
A former bartender at the Peppermint Club, H.Wood’s live-music venue, said that whenever they knew Drake was stopping by the club, they were instructed to move bottles of Virginia Black whiskey, of which Drake is a co-owner, to the top shelf. (Drake also shot a commercial for the whiskey at Delilah.)
“It was always on the bottom shelf because nobody f—— drank it,” he said.
Drake has returned the favor by referencing H.Wood properties in his music.
In one of Drake’s recent songs with rapper French Montana, called “No Stylist,” Drake raps: I’ve been here / I’ve been back / In Delilah, word to Zack / I need action, that’s a fact. (“Zack” likely refers to Zack Bia —real name Bialobos — a promoter who works with Delilah.)
And the video for Drake’s new song with rapper Rick Ross, called “Money in the Grave,” features Terzian himself. In one shot he appears in a tux, surreptitiously opening what looks to be a back entrance to the restaurant. Scenes for the video were shot inside The Nice Guy, at a table in the kitchen where former employees said VIPs sometimes sit. Other frames show the “No Photos Please” sign before the camera accelerates through the doors to the kitchen.
Drake reprimands a Delilah manager
H.Wood employees said Drake’s bills often got comped as well. This is perhaps understandable given that Drake brings in business, filling H.Wood’s venues with fans eager to catch a glimpse of him.
But it also puts employees in an awkward position. Sometimes, it meant staying hours after the restaurant was supposed to close to cater to Drake and his crew, with little to no reward.
“It sucked,” one former Nice Guy worker told us. “If you didn’t want to be there, you had to stay there until those people were done, because you were still serving them.”
Former employees at Delilah complained about having to work several hours after closing time, only to see Drake walk out on his bill, or get it comped and not tip.
“At first it was cool because we were glad that the hype was going to be there and we thought we would all make more money, until we started seeing ‘Oh cool, it’s just a big fat comped bill,'” one former Delilah worker said.
Two employees recalled an awkward incident one night when a manager brought Drake his check to settle up.
The employees said Drake got angry and refused to take the bill.
“Our manager goes up to him, because he’s in there all the time, and goes, ‘Hey, man, sorry to bother you, but who’s taking care of the tab this evening?'” one former employee recalled. “And he looks, and he goes, ‘Do I look like f—— Angelo to you?’ And he drives away.” (Angelo is a member of Drake’s crew who former employees said often handled the check at the end of the night.)
After that incident, the former employee said he was told that Drake called Terzian and threatened not to come into the restaurant for a month.
“All we wanted him to do was to pay his tab,” the former Delilah server recalled. “And [Terzian’s] like, ‘Well you just deal with me next time. Don’t come up to him.'”
People close to Drake said this allegation was “100% false.” (And some former H.Wood employees said that Drake tipped generously. A former Nice Guy employee said Drake “was never known for being stingy” at the restaurant.)
Read more: McDonald’s says Drake gave 2 of its employees $100 tips, not $10,000 as was previously reported
One employee shared a photo with Insider, which he believes is from the night in question. It shows a bill for more than $5,000 in alcohol and food, which was closed out just before 5 a.m. — hours after restaurants are allowed to sell liquor to patrons.
Multiple former workers said in the early days of Delilah, they would often pressure guests to leave or cancel reservations when Drake wanted to swing by at the last minute. Sometimes, after clearing space for him, he simply wouldn’t show.
“We just got screwed,” one former worker said.
Drake doesn’t always pay when he visits H.Wood venues
When a VIP visits without paying, the staff don’t receive tips that otherwise could amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars per night. Multiple former Delilah workers said Drake’s checks were often comped and he didn’t tip on the service he received. Whether he ever settled up later is unclear.
“That’s not something that’s shocking at all. It’s client-based — clients first, employees last,” one employee said.
Some sources said Drake may have been unaware that this was happening, since he appeared to have someone who paid his bills, like many celebrities.
Read more: Drake has been named the No. 5 richest rapper in the world with a $150 million net worth — here’s a look at how he got there
One former Delilah server said, “I can’t say that it’s directly [Drake’s fault].”
“Drake literally never pays. He does not handle paying what expenses are incurred. There’s an assistant or his manager that would always handle that,” he said.
A source close to Drake told Insider that they “confirmed with all of the people involved in Drake’s payment of bills that he pays all of his bills.”
‘The owners would comp everything and we wouldn’t get paid’
At least one former Nice Guy employee said the same thing happened at that restaurant.
“The owners would comp everything and then we wouldn’t get paid,” she said. “So that would happen a lot of the times because the owners are friends with these celebrities and they wanted them to come back in and so they would just be like, ‘OK, you guys are fine, whatever.'”
The employee referenced an instance in which a major reality-TV star walked out on a large bill.
“She left a $2,500 bill [and management said] it’s not that big a deal,'” the employee said. “But we’re like, ‘Yeah it is.'”
‘I basically built my whole business mentality and framework around catering to the people I grew up with’
Terzian and Toll have credited their success to the rich and famous friends they made growing up in LA.
“I basically built my whole business mentality and framework around catering to the people I grew up with,” Terzian told LA Weekly in 2017.
Terzian went to the prestigious private school Harvard-Westlake, attending high school with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Segel. Toll went to Beverly Hills High School, which has a tony reputation as well, counting Angelina Jolie and Nicolas Cage among its alumni.
While Terzian and Toll knew each other in high school, it wasn’t until they attended the University of Southern California that they really became friends and laid the foundations of their future business relationship.
112 complaints to the LAPD
Both Terzian and Toll said they took their first jab at being nightlife impresarios in school, when they started promoting for LA clubs and throwing private house parties for their friends.
But hospitality wasn’t a first-choice career for either of them. Toll initially got a job at a music label, but hated it, while Terzian went to law school at Pepperdine University, but failed to pass the bar. So the two reconnected.
They opened one of their first clubs, H.Wood, in a spot that previously was home to a Burger King near the TCL Chinese Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. It became an instant success, but also attracted trouble. In 2009 alone, the club was the source of 112 complaints made to the LAPD, many more than other clubs in Hollywood.
Neighbors complained about the noise, and especially the partiers who lingered outside after closing time, waiting for their valeted cars. The city investigated and also found that the club wasn’t serving food, as its liquor license stipulated, and had an illegal dance floor.
Toll has said the club was forced to shut down altogether because it had been declared a public nuisance. Toll told The Founder Hour that he blames this decision on the LAPD, whose officers he said had grown tired of responding to complaints at the club.
And then Cher showed up
Before H.Wood closed, it provided the staging ground for Terzian and Toll’s most important lesson.
In the club’s early days, Cher was a regular and would order tea at the bar. The drink request inspired Terzian and Toll to turn what had been H.Wood’s storage room into a smaller bar within the club, called tea.room, which served prohibition-style alcoholic tea.
The Los Angeles Times described tea.room as an “exclusive one-room club within an already exclusive nightclub” where “very few” waiting in line ever got to enter. But that didn’t apply to celebrities like Paris Hilton, Rose McGowan, and James Van Der Beek, who all partied there.
Terzian and Toll’s tea.room had a double function. On the one hand, more people came to H.Wood in hopes of gaining entrance to the elusive bar-within-a-bar. And on the other, celebrities were allowed to party away from the masses, and let loose in a way that wasn’t possible in other Hollywood clubs.
Katy Perry and David Arquette helped the chain make its name
After H.Wood closed down, Terzian and Toll quickly rebounded. Soon after they found their next location, a run-down bar in Santa Monica which they bought and turned into SHOREbar, a restaurant and bar inspired by New England beach clubs. Like with tea.room, they built inside SHOREbar a special “members only” area for elite clientele.
Once again, Terzian and Toll used their famous connections to their advantage. Katy Perry, who is reportedly close friends with their business partner, Markus Moilnari, was a frequent patron in SHOREbar’s early days, helping it become a hotspot. Toll said they made their investment in the bar back in six months. Then they opened Bootsy Bellows, the West Hollywood club they opened with actor David Arquette, which has become H.Wood’s flagship of sorts.
Since then, The H.Wood Group has grown its properties at a rapid pace. In 2018 alone, they opened eight new venues, including three locations in LA: 40 Love (a sports bar), Slab (a casual BBQ restaurant), and Harriet’s (a rooftop bar). They also branched out to Scottsdale, Arizona, where they opened a satellite of the karaoke bar, Blind Dragon. And in Chicago, H.Wood partnered with Hawkins Way Capital to open the FOUND Hotel, where they set up a Blind Dragon in the hotel. In 2016, Terzian claimed to Forbes that the company’s annual revenues were $35 million.
West Hollywood police officers are regulars
Their early bouts with the LAPD over their first club seems to have inspired Terzian and Toll to create more friendly relations with the police when their careers rebounded.
Several current and former employees told us unprompted that they believed H.Wood has a special relationship with the local police.
Multiple former employees said officers would often come into H.Wood properties, to eat or just to chat with management, especially with partner Tony LaPenna.
One former Bootsy Bellows employee recalls an incident in which the club was briefly closed down because of some suspicious activity on the street outside. While they were waiting for cops to respond to the situation, LaPenna reportedly addressed employees, and in an attempt to calm everyone down, said they have a “rapport” with the West Hollywood police. (H.Wood’s properties in LA fall under the jurisdictions of either the LAPD or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is contracted to police the West Hollywood neighborhood.)
Two other former H.Wood employees recalled LaPenna bragging about this relationship, instructing them to call him or drop his name if they ever got pulled over for a traffic stop in the area.
Insider reached out to both the LAPD and the LASD for comment on their relationship with The H.Wood Group. A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department issued the following statement: “As far as a relationship with The H.Wood Group, I am not aware of it being anything but amicable, as it would with any other business in the West Hollywood area.”
A spokesman for the LAPD told Insider that they were unaware of “any special relationship between the LAPD and these establishments” but are “committed to accountability and will investigate thoroughly any allegation of misconduct or violation of department policy.”
The statement added: “The Los Angeles Police Department believes in relationship-based policing and building meaningful engagements with our residents and businesses. We encourage our officers to get to know the people and places they are protecting and serving.”
A case is dropped, even when the fight is captured on video
It perhaps makes sense for clubs — which can be hotbeds for drunken behavior — to have a good relationship with the local police, and some former H.Wood employees said they did not think this relationship was nefarious. But sources close to Sipes said he found that closeness troubling when an H.Wood partner contacted him so soon after he went to police to report the assault that happened at Delilah.
Multiple sources close to Sipes told us he received a call from LaPenna shortly after he went to the station to file a report about the assault. (A spokeswoman for the LASD said they were not aware of any such call being made.)
The sources said LaPenna called so soon after Sipes went to the police station that they feared the cops went straight to H.Wood and told them about it.
“[Tony] was, like, ‘Hey, man, let’s talk. I want to talk to you about the fight — don’t do anything crazy, give me a call please, we can work this out, you’re not fired, you know. I thought we were friends,'” one of the sources recalled LaPenna saying.
We reached out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which said the case was closed because Sipes stopped cooperating with detectives.
Sipes’ attorney, Michael Hernandez, of HHJ Trial Attorneys, told us that he stopped talking to the police at the behest of the first lawyers he hired to help him with the case. Hernandez declined to comment on most other aspects of this story.
‘We are all in the trenches together dealing with this bulls—‘
Many former H.Wood employees told us they remained close friends with the coworkers they met working there to this day. It was the difficult experience of working at H.Wood that bonded them, like soldiers in the trenches, they said.
“Everybody who worked there was a family, but only out of necessity,” an ex-Peppermint Club bartender said. “We were only a family because we were all treated the same sh—- way, so we all kind of bonded together and [we’re] like ‘We work for this s— company so we’re all cool because we are all in the trenches together dealing with this bulls—.'”
“The employees that made that place run, they share something with you. It’s kinda stupid, but we all get it and we were all there for each other,” a former Delilah bartender said.
Of the former employees who spoke with us, about half quit and half had been fired.
Both Drake and Beckham have been fighting Sipes’ lawsuit, each highlighting that they don’t take part in the assault depicted in the TMZ video. But Sipes’ legal team has argued that both are responsible: Beckham because he “encouraged” the attack and Drake because he “directed his agents … to commit the assault.” (Bendjima hasn’t responded to the suit yet because he hasn’t been served. Sipes’ attorney told Insider that they’ve tried multiple times to serve him at his LA address to no avail and are now going to serve him by publication.)
Sipes’ lawyer has also claimed in court filings that there’s footage from inside the club that they have yet to obtain.
Drake’s lawyers have denied in court filings that the rapper directed “anyone to engage in any attack upon” Sipes and said that no member of Drake’s security team took place in the assault.
Beckham’s attorney, Andrew Jablon, issued this statement when reached for comment by Insider: “The video of the incident confirms that Mr. Beckham had nothing to do with what transpired and the allegations regarding Mr. Beckham’s supposed actions and statements are entirely false.”
In court papers, Beckham’s attorney stated that the wide receiver, who is “one of the highest-paid and best-known athletes,” was included in the suit because of Sipes’ “hopes of garnering media coverage” and belief that Beckham would “simply acquiesce to a ‘shake down.'”
But a source close to Sipes said he believes the lawsuit has a deeper purpose. He said he thinks Sipes wants Drake and the others to know “you can’t just do whatever you want to people and think you can get away with it because you have money.”
As for H.Wood, its lawyers have responded to the complaint, suggesting the incident was Sipes’ own fault.
The lawyers write that he failed “to conduct himself in the manner ordinarily expected of reasonably prudent persons in the conduct of their own affairs.”
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