This piece ran as a sidebar to a longer piece, “How Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana Harbored a Culture of Abuse Behind a Progressive Facade,” in the August 12 print issue of the INDY.
The restaurant industry can make stars of people.
Jordan Hester, who had worked at Ashley Christensen’s Fox Liquor Bar before joining Nolintha’s team, has been one of those stars. A quietly charismatic figure with a gift for crafting surprising flavor profiles, Hester was just getting his start in the downtown Raleigh restaurant industry when he met Nolintha, shortly before the opening of Bida Manda. The two developed what appeared to others to be a deep friendship.
One Bida Manda regular contacted the INDY to describe attitudes in Hester she found troubling, even from across the bar. She says that she heard Hester routinely make sexual comments about female guests and hosts, confiding to her, once, that he hired female bartenders because they “followed directions better than men.” She added: “He said women have this sort of natural desire to please and he likes being able to leverage that in the people he hires.”
In a June 7 Instagram post, Nicole Bivins, a longtime bartender at Bida Manda, recalls Hester saying he wanted to “dominate” female bartenders. In that post, Bivins also detailed unwanted sexual overtures from Hester—who was her boss, and who she said she considered a close friend and mentor—including an incident where he aggressively groped her. When she texted him a few days later to say that the encounter had made her uncomfortable, Hester responded by saying that, if he were fired, he might be unable to care for his child. Bivins wrote in her post that she feared that if she made a big deal out of the incident, “no other bar or restaurant worth mentioning in Raleigh would want to hire me.” She kept quiet but wrote that Hester soon became so hostile toward her that she was eventually “edged out” of the restaurant entirely.
Another former employee, who didn’t want to be identified but whom we’ll call “Lindsay,” had a distressing encounter with Hester that led to an abusive relationship with him that lasted nearly three years. When she was 22, Hester approached her, while a group of staff was out partying. He asked her to meet him outside and, once there, pushed her against a wall. He began slapping her, biting her, and shoving his hand down her pants.
The next day, Hester met Lindsay in the parking lot of a coffee shop and began pleading: If she told anyone what had happened, he said, his career could be ruined, and his child taken away. But also, he wanted her, he said. He wanted to help her.
They would go on to have a semi-secret relationship that included more sexual violence and physical abuse, which often resulted in bruise and bite marks on her body that became difficult to hide at work. Hester also liked to dominate her while she was on the clock, and Lindsay says that he would push, trip, and pour water on her when no one was watching.
“I feel very consumed,” Lindsay now says, “by wanting to rewind time.”
Another anonymous former employee, whom we’ll call “Jessica,” was 21 when she met Hester while working as a server and hostess at both restaurants. The two started out as friends, Jessica says. Jordan lent her books. He seemed interested in her as a person. Sometimes, after a night of drinking with coworkers, she went over to his apartment to have tea and sober up.
All this changed one evening when the Nolintha siblings hosted a housewarming potluck at their home in downtown Raleigh. It was an especially wild night and, as revelers peeled off into quiet corners, Jessica recalls being drunk to the point that she was considering sleeping in her car. This was where Hester found her and peered in the window. He invited her to come sober up at his house—a routine enough invitation.
She does not remember the walk back to his house, or having tea with him, or being put to bed. What she does remember is waking up in the middle of the night to find him having sex with her.
It was confusing and distressing, Jessica says. She told herself a common story: that she was drunk and hooking up with him—so drunk, in fact, that she had only imagined passing out. Jessica continued to sleep with Hester. She says management was aware of the situation. Hester, her boss, was 36—a decade and a half older than she was.
But Jordan Hester held a prominent position at the restaurants. And he was everywhere, including in the drink menu, where one rotating drink was named WWJD: What Would Jordan Drink?
“After I was gone for a while,” Jessica says, “I realized I was having nightmares, waking up with the exact same feeling in my stomach as the moment I woke up and it happened.”
On July 1, Raleigh police arrested Hester for secretly recording sexual videos of three women—Madison Roberts, Lauren C. Phillips, and Helen Flowers. Making such recordings is a Class 1 Felony in North Carolina. Roberts, who dated Hester, learned he had videos of her and other women on his computer and took his hard drive after they broke up.
All three women, who’d had sexual relationships with Hester, spoke on the record to the INDY and detailed patterns of abusive, emotionally coercive behavior.
Flowers met Hester around 2007, when, at the age of 18, she drove up from Florida and began waitressing at a Raleigh restaurant. Hester, who was several years older, wrote a Craigslist Missed Connections about her. New to town and to the burgeoning downtown restaurant scene, Flowers considered Hester her only friend for a while; eventually, her circle grew. They fell out of touch.
Later, during a period of uncertainty in her life, he reached out to recommend her for a job at Bida Manda. Until social media posts began circulating in June—and Roberts contacted Flowers to let her know videos of her existed—Flowers says she never knew Hester had filmed their sexual encounters.
Phillips, too, says she was unaware of the videos until Roberts contacted her. Upon watching, she says, she realized just how calculated the films were. Once, when she had come over to Hester’s house, he’d left a computer camera running for 8 hours. After she left in the morning, the camera captured him walking over to switch it off.
Another woman, Erica Steimetz, contacted the INDY in June with details about an encounter she’d had with Hester. Steimetz knew Hester socially and got a drink with him, once, after he’d repeatedly asked her out. She told him she wasn’t interested in anything romantic and considered the issue settled.
One night in 2010, a few years after meeting Hester, Steimetz was walking home from the Raleigh Times Bar. Hester spotted her and offered to give her a ride home. She was blackout drunk, she says, but remembers being confused when the car passed her house and continued onward.
The next thing she remembers, Steimetz says, is waking up naked in Hester’s bed. She grabbed her clothes, quickly left, and found her way home. She hasn’t spoken about the assault until this summer.
“At this point in my life I am so much stronger and smarter and capable of caring for myself and able to be justifiably enraged by it,” Steimetz said over Zoom, her voice breaking. “But [back then], I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to care about myself enough to care about what he’d done to me.”
Roberts corroborates Steinmetz’s account. She recalls Hester boasting to her about how disheveled Steimetz had looked while in his bed.
“There are definitely people that have gone to Van about Jordan,” former host Taylor Quinn says. “His response was like, ‘It’s just Jordan being Jordan. He’s not going anywhere.’ Jordan was on board when they first started, and there’s this magical thing that they talk about, with the first staff being the best staff in the world. They protect those people with their entire lives.”
Accusations against Hester’s brother, Casey, also surfaced in the reporting of this article.
Jenna Calderone started as a host at Bida Manda in 2016, her senior year of college. She noticed the heightened social hierarchy right away, she says, but felt flattered when manager Casey Hester began paying attention to her. Out with staff at a bar one night, she and Casey were kissing when, she says, he pinned her against a wall and began choking her. It was terrifying, Calderone said, and for a moment she wondered if she would pass out. She told another staff member—who remembers hearing about the interaction—but says she was intimidated by how much weight the Hester name carried.
“The Hester brothers were founding members of Bida Manda,” Calderone says. “[They] have the keys to the history and are liked by Van and Vanvisa so much.”
Two other women, who wish to remain anonymous, also recount distressing encounters with Casey, who did not respond to the INDY’s requests for comment. One woman recalls a company retreat where he lay down beside her as she was falling asleep and began to grope her as she repeatedly struggled to fight him off, an encounter that she shared with another employee, who corroborates her account.
Jessica, the pseudonymous woman who’d also had a physical relationship with Jordan Hester, recalls a consensual encounter that began while staff members were out drinking, and turned violent when Casey aggressively pushed her to perform oral sex on him, causing her to throw up. Two employees confirm hearing about the encounter.
On August 9, in response to INDY queries, a spokesperson for the restaurant stated that Casey Hester had resigned the week before.
Jane Porter contributed additional reporting to this story.
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