In an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, culinary guru Darius “Cooks” Williams addresses the blistering allegations leveled against him that range from stealing money, illegal credit repair practices, bullying Black women, ripping off business partners, and reportedly scamming so many people that it garnered the hashtag “DariusCrooks.”
Williams, a popular former restauranteur, rose to fame as a Chicago-based food blogger. He appeared on Food Network as a guest, and he’s a prolific cookbook author who started with a cupcake shop and parlayed it into several multimillion-dollar businesses and restaurants from Chicago to Atlanta.
While Williams has flourished online as evidenced by his 3+million followers across Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, coupled with his lively cooking demos and mail-order Carolina Pound Cakes, lately he’s been under fire and with damning accusations of engaging in deceptive business practices and running scams that have left people high and dry.
There are varying degrees of allegations leveled against him that also include claims of harassment and credit card fraud. And there is momentum kicking up online from people like celebrity Food Network star Sunny Anderson and popular food aficionado Angela “The Kitchenista” Davis, who have been scooping stories, cracking open dozens of cases, and whipping up witnesses who say that they too have been bamboozled in one way or another by the popular chef.
Last year Williams’s businesses Soul Crab Atlanta and Soul Crab Chicago, as well as Greens and Gravy in Atlanta abruptly closed. Williams was also involved in an illegal credit repair business and the State of Georgia ordered him to pay $145,750 as a settlement agreement.
To that claim, Williams says simply: “I paid the 140, it’s over, everything is cool,” he told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
He continued: “I think they’re pulling from that saying oh, he’s a scammer. But it’s like no, the people who were on the roster, their credit scores increased,” he contends.
However, things ignited online after Southern Grit Magazine ran a damaging story recently that outlined a number of claims from former employees, Anderson and “The Kitchenista” who all allege that Williams is a charismatic “con artist” who capitalized off them and shook up their lives and ruined the lives of many others.
Anderson said angry people who had their credit cards overcharged confronted her thinking she was entangled with a FreshGo delivery business with Williams—which he denies he ever owned. The Kitchenista said Williams has resorted to bullying and she said he used her trademarked name for profit—which he confirms he did out of spite.
Also, a growing consensus of people online allege that they have been retaliated against by Williams for speaking out about his “deceptive practices.” Even in this article, several people spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that if they revealed their name, they would risk being doxed or harassed by Williams or his faithful followers.
In fact, the Editor in Chief of Southern Grit Magazine, Joshua Fitzwater, went live this past Saturday to address the percolating bloodlust from Williams’s online community who have reportedly issued threats against veteran reporter Deb Freeman after she broke the initial story about Williams that picked up traction by other news outlets online, including Black Enterprise.
Despite their concerns, Williams says, “I am not a bully.”
He defends his character and his businesses against the barrage of what he considers to be “untruthful” claims.
“I think what’s happening is, it’s the people who may not be familiar with my brand, because some of the hate mail I’m getting… you know, stop abusing Black women, keep your hands off Black women…and I’m openly gay but I don’t come across as gay,” he explains.
“So, my speech, my mannerisms look to be that of a straight man,” he said. “So, if you’re not familiar with me, and you just see my content, you would automatically assume, Black man hitting (on) a Black woman. In reality, I’m openly gay. I talk about sex and a lot of stuff on my Instagram. I talk about dating. I talk about things women want to discuss. I’m like their best friend.”
And it’s that intoxicating personality that has earned the Chicago native his large following with Black women who consider him to be the boyfriend-bae next door. Williams, wrapped in chocolatey-smooth, sun-kissed skin, has an infectious, Cheshire cat grin. He has made a name for himself in a competitive foodie space of online chefs, having been self-taught to burn in the kitchen by hanging close to his grandmother’s hip.
But Sunny Anderson who is saddled with remorse for introducing Williams to her international Food Network audience on her show, Cooking For Real, says don’t be fooled by the “snake oil” salesman.
Former Employees Claim Williams Left Them High and Dry
During the lengthy interview, Williams addressed one particular accusation that he “abused” a former employee by the name of Kiara Ross, who worked at his now-shuttered Soul Crab Atlanta restaurant as a server. Ross took to social media to share her story after Angela, “The Kitchenista” posted a laundry list of claims about Williams after the two had beef online.
Ross wrote that Williams abused her and tried to drag her from the restaurant after she confronted him about her paycheck. The cops were called and a police report was filed.
Williams said he didn’t know Ross when she confronted him about her coins.
“I didn’t know her. My first time ever meeting her or seeing her in life was that particular Friday when I walked into the restaurant and when I walked in, she was very irate and she said, where’s my m*****f****** check,’” he said.
Williams said he had three restaurants, 110 employees and was unaware of any personnel issues with Ross.
“I am not running the day-to-day of the restaurant. I’m doing more strategy, more CEO work so I had managers who would hire all of the employees. And so we have an electronic payroll system called Gusto and Kiara never completed her onboarding,” he explained as the reason why she didn’t receive her paycheck.
Williams said he was the one who called the police.
Once the officer arrived, Williams said the confrontation escalated, and he alleged even after Ross was warned by officers not to go back inside his restaurant she did and, “They put her in handcuffs, put her in a car and took her away.”
“What she said to the officer was, ‘he put his m*****f******* hands on me. So he (the officer) was like, did you? And I was like I actually don’t know because it all happened so fast so let’s go look at the camera, let’s see what I did.”
Williams said he reviewed the video footage with the officer and admits, “So I did put my hands on her but I put both hands on her shoulders to kinda turn her so we could go discuss this outside. So the extent of the quote-on-quote abuse is basically me putting two hands on her shoulders so that we could go outside,” Williams admits.
He said although there is a picture circulating showing him walking alongside an officer, Williams says he was never formally arrested and charged.
Although Williams dismissed the dust-up with Ross as an isolated incident, a former employee explained that Soul Crab Atlanta was dysfunctional in more ways than one.
A former employee, who was the kitchen manager at Soul Crab Atlanta who spoke to BLACK ENTERPRISE on the condition of anonymity, said she ran Soul Crab Atlanta for Williams and experienced “hell” and even had to take money out of her “own pocket” to keep up operations.
The employee explained that Soul Crab Atlanta was so dirty and rat-infested that it couldn’t pass several state inspections. The employee said she worked hard with her crew to keep things above-board for inspectors while Williams was away on vacation but still couldn’t get it up to code because he cut corners.
“I’m patching stuff up. I got my whole crew in there on a Monday, cleaning and doing everything and Darius is on vacation in Dubai and literally, I’m in charge of a whole damn restaurant with 30 friggin’ employees and you in Dubai and we’ve got a major inspection tomorrow and you are overseas,” the anguished former employee said.
“He was so focused on getting Soul Crab Chicago going, not realizing that Soul Crab Atlanta was failing,” she said. “We serve people and we have a rat problem,” she admits.
The employee explained that as a storm was brewing inside the restaurant with the state on the case and angling to shut the grimy food spot down, her only option was to talk to Williams through Skype and video messages.
“And so when the people (health inspectors) came in, they failed it!” she said. “His license wasn’t up to par. He owed almost $25,000 to the light department. So when they handed me the letter saying that lights was getting ready to get cut-off, $25K or we’re cutting off the lights, I told my crew go home. Cut em’ off.”
She continues: “He’s done so many people wrong that karma is biting his a** right now. He’s left so many people on stuck, not just Soul Crab Atlanta, you left Soul Crab Chicago stuck. You left Greens and Gravy stuck. Three restaurants. You left them people with no paychecks for months. It took them threatening to sue you before you even gave them an allowance because it wasn’t their full paycheck. So you just gave them whatever the hell you wanted to give them. To hell with my payroll, hell with everything.”
Another former employee, who was a line cook at Soul Crab Atlanta who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she has two children, who were five and 17-years-old at the time and was left nearly homeless after Williams shuttered Soul Crab Atlanta suddenly.
“I literally had to move out of my place and go stay with somebody,” she said. “I went from being a line cook to a shift leader making good money to having nothing.”
The former employee asked: “How he didn’t do wrong when he just closed his business at five o’clock in the morning when I was literally getting ready for work?”
Another former employee of Williams took to social media and complained saying she used to bake his Carolina Pound Cakes and ship them, and worked in poor conditions while earning mere pennies.
More employees have taken to social media to air out their grievances and sour experiences with Williams.
Williams cited in an online statement that he was dealing with “mental health issues,” and other health factors that contributed to the closing of his restaurant. But the former Soul Crab kitchen manager determined that was a “lie.”
“It wasn’t none of that,” the former kitchen manager said.
Better Business Bureau and Above 701 Credit Repair Complaints
However, some people have lodged Better Business Bureau complaints against Williams and say those grievances have fallen flat because he refuses to provide a physical address to the BBB and won’t verify his account and therefore the bureau can’t address concerns.
Williams admits that he doesn’t answer BBB complaints and explains that he’s unwilling to do so for a number of reasons.
“So I typically don’t respond to BBB’s only because there’s so much more that goes along with it, right,” Williams begins.
People say, “I didn’t get my refund and I refund to the credit card that’s on file. That credit card or debit card that was on file belongs to a bank that either they are no longer with, or they owed the bank money and the bank is recouping their funds. That’s happened quite a few times where people maybe have overdrawn an account and they’re like ‘I never got the refund.’ So those are some of the issues. You gotta call the manufacturer or whoever the card issuer is to deal with that. That’s typically what it’s been,” he says.
“This is what happens when you run a multi-million dollar organization. You just get all this sh*t that just comes man.”
When asked why would people would make widespread allegations of fraud if there is none, Williams responded: “What I would like to know is the first and last name of the people making these claims. When I go on live I say if you’ve been scammed what is your first and last name so we can deal with how you’ve been scammed. Nobody comes forward,” he said.
“If you go on my platform, nobody is complaining that they didn’t get their book. Nobody is complaining that they didn’t get their cake. Nobody is complaining that their credit score didn’t increase,” he said. “To be honest with you, the Kitchenista and Sunny Anderson are looking at public records. They are looking at the consent judgment for Above 701, misinterpreting that and saying that ‘he scammed people.’ And the consent judgment doesn’t say ‘he’ scammed anybody. ‘He’ did the work. Their credit score definitely increased. ‘He’ just shouldn’t have been doing it in the state of Georgia. So as a settlement, this is the amount we are going to charge him.”
Contrary to Williams’ claim that he did not “scam” people, the State of Georgia concluded that he did and not only reprimanded Williams for running an illegal credit repair business called Above 701, but in the complaint cited that Williams’s company further violated Georgia law by:
• requesting and accepting payment from consumers for its credit repair services before those services were provided; and
• making misleading claims that it could get bankruptcies and debts permanently deleted from consumers’ credit reports, without adequately disclosing that negative credit information cannot be erased from a consumer’s credit report if the information is accurate.
Sunny Anderson and Williams FreshGo Controversy
Anderson claims that Williams had a FreshGo business where it promised to deliver fresh vegetables on the doorstep of customers but people bombarded her with angry messages, claiming they were ripped off and overcharged on their credit cards. They hit up Anderson because she had him on her show years ago.
Anderson said she gave Williams the benefit of the doubt but says he refused to answer her inquiries.
“The bottom line is before me, no one on TV knew of him and he didn’t have a platform to build what he built. Just imagine if you could do it the right way with the talent and the ability to galvanize people. Why wouldn’t you want to do it the right way?” she asked.
Anderson said she took part in a Zoom meeting, organized by The Kitchenista, with other Black women chefs and was floored by what she heard.
“A lot of Black women who are eager to get their careers started are being taken advantage of. One person on that call had direct dealings with him and we were all just crying,” she shared.
Last year, Anderson said when she posted that people should beware when dealing with Williams because of his “scams,” she said he and his attorneys sent a cease and desist letter that she countered with a letter from her attorney stating that since the attorney general found that he was engaged in illegal credit repair activities, Anderson had a right to call him a scammer on her platform to describe him.
In retaliation, Williams sold his cookbooks with the discount codes “Sunny” and “Bad Wig,” she said.
Even though Anderson says people approached her about his FreshGo business, Williams proclaims that he has no ties to FreshGo, doesn’t know what it is, and never had any affiliation with it.
“I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Williams said about FreshGo which is also referred to as Fresh2Go and FreshGoNow. “I had a cupcake shop and I had a pie shop,” he said. Williams said he believes Anderson is “jealous” of him after he claims producers wanted him to do more shows.
Anderson denies that and says she is the one who put him on and only wanted to see him succeed but had to cut ties when people associated her with his “fraudulent” companies. Anderson said nobody got food with FreshGo and instead people complained of small incremental, unauthorized charges.
BLACK ENTERPRISE followed up and asked Williams directly, “Do you know anything about this (FreshGo) being associated with you?”
“Nothing,” Williams replied.
He continued: “Really, that’s what I’m saying. That’s why I would love to know from Sunny what I ever did to her.”
After further investigation, The Kitchenista provided a 2012 screenshot of Darius Williams promoting FreshGo, saying, “It’s a great day to #ShopFreshGo” back in 2012.
Another person complained that they too got caught up in the FreshGo whirlwind and lost money dealing with Darius.
“She blocked me,” he said about Anderson.
“I never to this day blocked Sunny Anderson. I follow people like Sunny Anderson and still do look up to her to a degree. But look up to people like Sunny Anderson because these are the people who are blazing the trails for people like me to come behind so I looked up to her. I followed her on Instagram and on Twitter at first. She got on Instagram later and I was able to see all her posts with no problem,” Williams explained. “Then one day I go look at her Instagram, and we hadn’t talked. We had no conversation, and she has me blocked.”
The Beef with the Kitchenista
Angela Davis, aka, The Kitchenista has a long history of online beef with Williams that she says has culminated with her receiving threats from his supporters just because she had a difference of opinion about his food.
Although the two have never met, Davis has led the charge in amplifying the voices of people who she believes have been conned by Williams. She has shared a flood of reports from people who have stories to share about their experiences with Williams.
The Kitchenista said Williams profited off her too and admitted he made $100,000 after their online beef, something Williams admits happened too.
People not only follow Williams for food recipes but for entrepreneur and business advice. So he made a 20-minute video on how to profit off of a public beef that he was having with the Kitchenista, sharing tidbits about ad revenue and brand revenue. He talked about how the Kitchenista is looking up his old videos and how to profit off of it.
“And then I used her name as a discount code for people to buy my cookbooks sort of a retaliation for her coming for me.” Williams admits that he made upwards of $110,000 from it.
The Kitchenista says that is the exact type of bullying behavior that Williams is accustomed to and comfortable and cavalier about. She says her brand is trademarked and he had no right to profit off her intellectual property.
Dining With Darius
Williams said he gave, “$64,000 in refunds happened in 2021. When people say ‘you don’t give refunds,’ I don’t know where the rumors are coming from because all my people who I’m live with every day on Instagram say yeah he took care of me and I’m straight.’ ”
There are a number of claims from business partners like Lavelle Baker, Williams’ ex and former friend who says he lost money going into a food truck partnership with him.
Baker has now started a hotline for Darius Williams “survivors.”
Still, Williams stands by his beliefs that he has never wronged anyone.
“All I want to do is fry chicken and make macaroni and cheese, that’s it.”