Despite being a Vanderpump Rules fan who’s never set foot on the West Coast, I’m fully aware that the Bravo show’s featured restaurants are basically West Hollywood landmarks. Since at least 2013, when the show premiered, fans and other celebrities have flocked to Lisa Vanderpump’s various dining establishments, most notably its home base SUR. The hope is that they’ll bump into Vanderpump, her husband/business partner Ken Todd, and/or the show’s famously messy cast.
Now an Earth-shattering cheating scandal involving original cast member Tom Sandoval is threatening to change that for at least two establishments associated with the reality series: Tom Tom Restaurant and Bar and the newly opened Schwartz & Sandy’s Lounge, both of which the 39-year-old co-owns with close friend and fellow castmate Tom Schwartz.
Following the shocking revelation last week that Sandoval had cheated on his longtime partner (and castmate) Ariana Madix with newer cast member Raquel Leviss, fans flooded the restaurants’ Yelp pages and social media accounts with angry comments. Things got so bad, apparently, that Schwartz & Sandy’s posted a statement on its Instagram on Sunday, asking fans to consider the restaurant’s other staff. In his first public response to the affair—before he released a formal apology to Madix—Sandoval shared a letter on his Instagram urging aggrieved commenters to leave his businesses alone. (This did not go over well.)
Fans haven’t stopped at spamming, though. If there’s one thing Bravoholics are good at doing, it’s demonstrating their political power as an extremely vocal, Very Online community, whether it’s demanding that a Real Housewife be fired for offensive remarks or making Andy Cohen apologize for mishandling a topic at a reunion. Likewise, in another act of virtual mobilization, fans have been announcing their own boycotts of Sandoval’s restaurants, in solidarity with Madix (and against cheaters), and urging others to follow.
This particular backlash is, indeed, fascinating and rather unique. Rarely do controversies on Bravo prompt fans to leverage their purchasing power—usually just their eyeballs or social-media follows. At first glance, many of these calls for a Sandoval boycott on Twitter can read like hyperbole or just wishful thinking. Upon further inspection, I discovered that many of the users disavowing all things Sandoval aren’t even located in Los Angeles, according to their bios. However, The Daily Beast’s Obsessed managed to get in touch with several Tom Tom and Schwartz & Sandy’s customers, who say they’re officially withdrawing their support in the wake of the cheating scandal.
“People boycott brands all the time for being immoral,” Katie Mackenbrock said about her decision to boycott Sandoval’s restaurants. “People didn’t want to deal with Balenciaga after the kid thing or Adidas with Kanye. I think, after 2020, that reckoning has become a lot more common with our age group.”
Mackenbrock, a Vanderpump Rules fan since Season 1, lives right up the street from Tom Tom in West Hollywood and would visit the spot regularly. She also recently started patronizing Schwartz & Sandy’s, which opened this past November in Franklin Village.
“I definitely went there for the ambiance and potential cast sightings there,” Mackenbrock said. “You definitely don’t go to those restaurants for the high-quality cuisine and amazing cocktails.”
Mackenbrock can personally relate to the scandal, she said. She recently left a nine-and-a-half-year relationship, nearly the same amount of time as Sandoval and Madix’s, in an “unfortunate and humiliating” way. Understandably, Sandoval’s indiscretions have put a bad taste in her mouth. Yet she claims she had qualms with him before the most recent news of his infidelity with Leviss.
“I’ve always been horrified at the way Tom Sandoval thinks it’s OK to speak to other women, like how he screamed in Katie [Maloney]’s face for all these years,” Mackenbrock said. “But I mean, everyone’s kind of saying his main redeeming quality was Ariana.”
Still, Mackenbrock understands that, for many customers, Sandoval—in addition to Schwartz—was the main, if not only, draw.
“We’re literally only going there for the personality of the Toms,” she said. “Lisa Vanderpump said their personalities are why [she] partnered with them, not their business skills.”
“When I went, we were all so excited,” said fellow fan Aimee Perez, who would frequently visit Tom Tom and Schwartz & Sandy’s with her friends. “We were like, ‘This is what we came for.’ We had a reservation for like a month. And Sandoval was the whole reason we [were] here. Now all that is gone.”
For those unfamiliar with Tom Tom’s origins, Vanderpump approached Sandoval and Schwartz in Season 5 of the show to partner with her and Todd on a new restaurant that would be built around the pair’s likeness. It’s become something of a joke—and a point of contention on the show—that despite the use of their names on the marquee, they each only own a 5 percent stake in the restaurant. Schwartz & Sandy’s, which the Toms opened with Greg Morris instead of Vanderpump, is seen more as the pair’s own individual venture; it’s unclear what percentage of that eatery they own.
Maria Steinberg, another former Tom Tom patron, agreed that visiting the restaurants was primarily about an overall fan experience. She even admits that she was more attracted to the restaurant for its Vanderpump lineage than Sandoval’s involvement.
“I didn’t really care to see Sandoval at Tom Tom,” said Steinberg. “He was never my cast member. The reason I was drawn to Tom Tom is because it’s like the baby brother to SUR.”
“Now that image is tainted because both Toms look extremely sneaky, deceiving, and disingenuous,” Steinberg continued. “I refuse to support a business that is built around an image and brand of two men that exemplify those qualities on a huge platform.”
It goes without saying that this is far from the first incident of cheating to occur among the Vanderpump Rules cast. The specifics of this scandal make it a lot more surprising, however, including the way Sandoval was positioned as one of the show’s rare heroes. In previous seasons, Schwartz has also been accused of cheating multiple times during his marriage to cast member Katie Maloney.
And for the past year, Schwartz has been criticized by fans for making out with Leviss fresh off his divorce, which we’ll see play out in this current season. Sandoval was also accused of sleeping with another woman while he was with Madix during a trip to Miami in Season 3, a claim he vehemently denied.
Now that Sandoval’s confirmed his latest misdeeds, the duo’s combined reputation as capital-A adulterers has become too much for certain customers to swallow.
“I don’t support cheaters,” said Jasmine Flores, another Tom Tom customer who plans to boycott. “They’re both cheaters. Schwartz would cheat on Katie all the time, too.”
One Reddit user, who announced they were boycotting Sandoval’s businesses in r/vanderpumprules, had a more political argument, claiming that the reality star’s behavior conflicts with their ideals as a “feminist.”
“That is straight up the most brutal kind of mental abuse, and I would never support that,” they wrote of Sandoval’s infidelity, in a direct message.
The user told me that they were mainly a regular at Vanderpump’s restaurants Pump and SUR, but they were planning on visiting Schwartz & Sandy’s eventually. That plan has changed.
“I assume I support businesses that I would not if I knew more about the owners, which is something I’ve pondered previously,” they continued. “If I know someone is abusive in their actions and/or beliefs, I’m just not going to do it.”
“Abuse” is an arguably dicey term to describe the unfolding controversy. While we can assume Madix was hurt once she discovered the news, we don’t know how Sandoval’s deception manifested in their relationship over the six months that he was allegedly sneaking around with Leviss. For the most part, we’ve been taught to consider most cases of infidelity involving consenting adults as acts of dishonesty and betrayal, rather than someone misusing their power—although, these aren’t always mutually exclusive behaviors.
“Would you support a bar that had the name ‘Harvey Weinstein?’ That’s how I look at it. ”
When explaining why she plans on staying away from Sandoval’s restaurants, Steinberg made a similarly controversial comparison.
“A man that can deceit the person he sleeps next every night is capable of much worse,” said Steinberg. “Would you support a bar that had the name ‘Harvey Weinstein?’ That’s how I look at it. Men who use their power to deceit and manipulate should not be given any remorse.”
Cheating is not an automatic gateway to the sort of abusive behaviors displayed by convicted sex criminals like Weinstein. But Steinberg and the Reddit user’s remarks lead to a relevant question about the level of severity with which fans are treating this scandal and the language used to discuss the matter.
Consumers obviously have the right to spend and withhold their dollars wherever they want. But should a typically private matter be treated as an ethical issue on par with sexual misconduct or the comparisons Mackenbrock made to Adidas and Balenciaga’s various scandals? (That said, folks have deemed the latter as overblown, right-wing panic at this point.) Or does our decade-long—and, you could argue, parasocial–relationship with Sandoval through a reality show complicate that?
The patrons I talked to gave various answers to these questions. But they all reiterated that it’s impossible to separate Sandoval’s charming, “nice guy” persona from the experience of dining in one of his restaurants. Overall, it seems that Sandoval’s primary offense is pulling a bait-and-switch, forever tainting customers’ once-joyful experiences with his businesses.
It’s unclear whether or not the ongoing controversy will materially affect Sandoval’s restaurants in a substantial way. As much as customers seemed repelled by Sandoval’s actions, it could also lure a lot of fans who simply want to gawk at the chaos—if and when he is willing to show his face at his restaurants again.
For fans who have decided to boycott though, Sandoval’s pleas to consider the other staff don’t really seem to be working.
“It’s really unfortunate for the rest of the staff,” Mackenbrock said. “But unfortunately, that’s what happens when you go into a partnership with a celebrity. A celebrity is your brand. When the celebrity messes up, people don’t want to support that celebrity anymore.”
“I understand that there are staff and people that have nothing to do with it,” Perez said. “I feel bad. But what’s the point of me going there? If I see Tom Sandoval there, I’m going to throw my shoe at him.”
It’ll be interesting to see how long this feeling lasts, based on how Sandoval proceeds in the coming months and whether fans will ever be able to forgive him. We’ll also have to wait to see how the scandal unfolds on Vanderpump Rules itself.