For more than a decade, Jeffrey Epstein’s status as a Level 3 sex offender didn’t preclude him from wining and dining an array of billionaires, heads of state, princes and princesses, entrepreneurs, and celebrities at his glitzy Manhattan townhouse and mansions around the world.
After his prison stint in Florida, Epstein also courted another kind of royalty: Tim and Nina Zagat, the powerhouse New York couple behind the eponymous restaurant-ratings guidebook.
The creators of the iconic burgundy paperback attended at least one 2014 dinner planned by the well-connected sex-trafficker—an event that apparently included around a dozen elite guests, according to emails obtained through a public records request.
Among them were Epstein’s girlfriend Karyna Shuliak, director Woody Allen and wife Soon-Yi Previn, former Hyatt hotels CEO Nick Pritzker and his buddy Miami developer Craig Robins, magician David Blaine, comedian Bobby Slayton, JPMorgan executive Jes Staley, Harvard professor Martin Nowak, and Bard College President Leon Botstein.
But it wasn’t the only time Tim Zagat rubbed elbows with Epstein, who in 2008 pleaded guilty to soliciting an underage girl in Palm Beach, Florida, and who had confronted a slew of headline-grabbing lawsuits from his victims ever since. He died by suicide in his Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting charges on child sex trafficking.
Aside from hitching a ride to the 2002 TED conference on Epstein’s private jet, Zagat also associated with the perverted financier between at least 2012 and 2014.
“Would you like to try to schedule in Tim Zagat for this week or weekend?” Epstein’s longtime assistant Lesley Groff wrote to her boss in February 2012. “Perhaps Friday lunch out with him?” Epstein replied in the affirmative.
Three months later, emails reveal, Epstein and Zagat were planning to treat “the Sultan” to a meal in New York. That visitor was likely Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, a Dubai businessman who is mentioned multiple times in Epstein’s packed calendar and whose name Epstein reportedly used to purchase a private island. (Sulayem didn’t return messages left by The Daily Beast.)
“I’m told Dubai has made contact ?? True??” Epstein wrote to Zagat on May 16, 2012. The documents, which The Daily Beast obtained from the U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general, show Zagat then emailed an employee to ask, “Where does this stand?”
Epstein followed up with Zagat 10 days later, writing, “Sultan will be back next week I suggest we take him for food.” An assistant to Zagat also messaged Epstein’s then-scheduler and alleged co-conspirator Sarah Kellen, “Hi! Can we set up a time for Tim and Jeffrey to take the Sultan to eat? Thanks!”
Later that month, Groff noted in an email listing Epstein’s schedule that “Tim Zagat will try to come” to a dinner for Shuliak’s birthday at the now-shuttered Del Posto.
Reached by a Daily Beast reporter last week, Zagat declined to comment on his meetings with Epstein. “He’s radioactive,” Zagat said. “So, good luck to you and your story.”
Pressed again, Zagat answered, “No, I don’t want to hear any of your questions,” before adding, “No comment at all.”
He did say, however, that Epstein was never an investor in his company.
Zagat and his wife rose to fame in the 1980s after a survey among friends grew into an empire of annual field guides of the city’s restaurant scene.
In 2000, one critical food scribe, Steven Shaw, wrote that the power couple’s alleged “habit of appearing unannounced at the most exclusive establishments and demanding to be seated ahead of ordinary, reservation-holding citizens” or “charging into the kitchen without permission in order to talk to the chef” earned them a formidable reputation.
Former Zagat Survey employees told The Daily Beast they hadn’t heard of Epstein’s ties to their old boss, but added that he was known to pal around with famous faces including former President Donald Trump, whose friendship with Epstein reportedly soured. (A 2019 Financial Times story refers to Trump as Tim and Nina’s “former acquaintance.”)
It’s unclear when and how Zagat and Epstein became acquainted, but in 2000, Zagat Survey sold a $31 million equity stake to a group of investors that included two men who were friends of the sex trafficker. Former Microsoft executive and cooking author Nathan Myhrvold and Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, invested in Zagat to fund the publication’s online expansion.
A source with knowledge told The Daily Beast that Myhrvold did not introduce Epstein to the Zagats. Negroponte didn’t return messages.
In 2002, flight records show, the Zagats flew on Epstein’s plane with cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and TV executives Geraldine and Kit Laybourne. The group was headed to a TED conference in Monterey and photographed at the Edge foundation “billionaires’ dinner.”
Participants at the dinner that year included Myhrvold, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos (photographed next to former model and Epstein employee Kelly Bovino), Rupert Murdoch, and the journalist Michael Wolff.
Geraldine Laybourne told The Daily Beast that she and her husband and the Zagats were only getting a free ride from Epstein, which had been organized by someone at TED.
“The head of the TED conference called and asked if we’d like a ride on a private jet directly from NY to Monterey for the TED conference,” she said in an email. “We said yes. We did not know whose plane it was or who Jeffrey Epstein was.”
Negroponte, a friend of Tim Zagat, also flocked to TED that year.
After Epstein’s death, MIT released a report examining his $850,000 in donations to the school and quoted Negroponte’s 2013 emails encouraging then Media Lab director Joi Ito to accept Epstein’s funding. “I know him quite well,” Negroponte wrote. “The person who is his closest friend is Marvin Minsky, who even visited him in jail. I would take [former Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi’s money, so why not Jeff.”
When Minsky died in 2016, Negroponte urged Ito to invite Epstein to a memorial event despite accusations in the press that Epstein forced a teen girl to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew. “Of course he can come and would be welcome,” Negroponte wrote, adding, “I would make absolutely no fuss over his coming and welcome home [sic] 100%.”
Long after the free lift to TED, Tim Zagat was still socializing with Epstein.
The records obtained by The Daily Beast show that in November 2012, Groff wrote that Epstein had tentative plans to see a screening of one of Allen’s movies and that she had “Invited Tim Zagat to go with JE” and was “awaiting [his] response.”
Almost a year later, Groff logged two separate calendar entries related to Zagat, writing, “Reminder: Tim Zagat” with his phone number and “Tim Zagat (maybe Tim, you and Joel Klein could have some food).” The Klein mentioned in Groff’s message is the former NYC schools chancellor who in the 1990s served as deputy White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, another friend of Epstein who flew on his plane.
In January of 2014, Groff wrote, “DINNER OUT(?) w/ Tim Zagat (he needs you to confirm you want to go out and if so, how many for dinner?)
The group dinner with Zagat and Allen was at Ristorante Morini, a now-shuttered upscale Italian restaurant on Madison Avenue.
Slayton, the stand-up comic who attended the event, told The Daily Beast that he remembers Epstein telling him that he was friends with Zagat but that, ironically, the creepy money-manager “was not a fan of going out to dinner.”
“Once he said, ‘You and Tim always talk about food. What is it with you guys and food?’ He said that about a few people. He didn’t understand why people like to eat good food,” Slayton said, adding, “I could never get him to go out. He had me over to his house a few times for dinner with a bunch of comedians.” (Lewis Black confirmed he was among those guests.)
“When I asked him about restaurants one time, he goes, ‘Call Zagat, he knows about food. What do I know?’” said Slayton, who met Epstein in the 2000s after Epstein’s then-girlfriend and now-convicted accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell asked him to perform for Epstein’s birthday—albeit unpaid. At the time, Slayton didn’t know who Epstein was, but Maxwell said he’d fly the comedian in and put him up somewhere. The event, however, was called off.
Slayton recalled that during later visits with Epstein, the financier ate “like a sixth-grader,” eating burgers or peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches while lavishing guests with magnificent meals. “He wouldn’t even really eat much of the food,” the comedian said.
“Every time I would go to his house, all he would talk to me about was comedy,” Slayton added. “He would never talk about girls, I never saw any of the girls.”
On one occasion, Epstein showed him photos of his private island and suggested he visit. “Maybe I’ll come down with my wife for a weekend,” Slayton told Epstein, who responded, “No wives.” Slayton declined the invitation.
Slayton said Epstein would allow him and his wife to stay in one of his Upper East Side apartments whenever they visited New York, so he felt he had to “pay respect” for the free lodging by dropping in to Epstein’s home for coffee or a quick lunch. “And he just asked me the same questions about comedy. It was kind of weird. It’s kind of a little Rain Man-ish, you know?”
“He had a wide range of friends,” Slayton said, “so probably talked to them about what they did.”