Ken Friedman, the restaurateur behind New York City restaurants the Spotted Pig, the Breslin, and others, has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, the New York Times reports. Ten women have come forward to say Friedman subjected them to unwanted sexual advances, including public groping, lewd text messages, and daily unwanted touching. Some of the women also say they endured catcalls and gropes from Friedman’s friends while working at the Spotted Pig, the West Village gastropub known for its V.I.P. clientele.
According to the women, Friedman and chef-partner April Bloomfield created an environment at their restaurants that was permissive of sexual misconduct. Friedman had consensual sexual relationships with employees (his wife is a former host at the Spotted Pig), in addition to subjecting employees to unwanted sexual attention at work and via text-message requests for nude photos and sex. (Some of these text messages were provided to the Times.) He was known for promoting women based on appearance. He also had a well-known temper, and female employees feared retaliation for speaking up.
Natalie Saibel, a server, says she was groped by Friedman in the Spotted Pig dining room. After filing a formal complaint, she says she and her husband, who also worked at the restaurant, were fired for minor infractions. According to another Spotted Pig server, Trish Nelson, Friedman “grabbed her head and pulled it toward his crotch in front of Amy Poehler in 2007” and, in a separate incident, pushed his tongue into her mouth. According to Nelson, Bloomfield was dismissive of complaints. “Her response was always the same,” she said to the Times. “‘That’s who he is. Get used to it. Or go work for someone else.’”
In a statement provided to the Times, Friedman says, “Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today’s discussion. I apologize now publicly for my actions.”
Kelly Berg, the director of human resources for the restaurant company Friedfield Breslin LLC, was hired in May, and said that no employees were fired for filing a complaint. “All employees are encouraged to report any concerns about the workplace,” she said in a statement, “and I am saddened to learn some hesitated or chose to not do so.”
In a statement of her own, Bloomfield asserts that the kitchen and front of house were separate domains at the Spotted Pig, and denied that she declined to get involved with complaints about Friedman, as some staff members allege.
“In the two matters involving uninvited approaches that were brought to my attention over the years, I immediately referred both to our outside labor counsel and they were addressed internally,” she said in the statement. “I have spoken to Ken about professional boundaries and relied on him to uphold our policies. Nonetheless I feel we have let down our employees and for that I sincerely apologize.”
The Spotted Pig, which opened in 2004, is credited with ushering in a desire for specific style of dining: the chef-driven gastropub, boisterous and fun, but with high-quality food. From there, Bloomfield and Friedman would go on to expand their empire, with the Breslin, John Dory Oyster Bar, and most recently in New York City, White Gold. Their San Francisco restaurant Tosca Cafe opened in 2013, while their first LA project, the Hearth and Hound, just debuted last week.
Separately from his and Bloomfield’s empire, Friedman is also a partner in NYC restaurant Locanda Verde, and appears to be a partner in an upcoming project with the LA-based team behind Gjelina; he has also invested in NYC bar the Rusty Knot. In 2016, the James Beard Foundation bestowed Friedman with its Outstanding Restaurateur award.
The NYT story comes just one day after accusations against Spotted Pig investor Mario Batali became public and the chef stepped away from his own restaurant group. (Staff members in the Times report say they regularly witnessed and experienced abuse from Batali at the Spotted Pig.) And in October, New Orleans chef John Besh stepped down from his restaurant group following similar accusations. But, there’s no word yet on whether Friedman plans to leave his restaurant empire in light of these latest sexual harassment allegations.
Update 2:40 p.m.: As of Tuesday afternoon, Friedman is taking an indefinite leave from managing his restaurants.
• Ken Friedman, Power Restaurateur, Is Accused of Sexual Harassment [NYT]
• Mario Batali Steps Away From Restaurant Empire Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations [ENY]
• The Food World Reacts to Mario Batali News With Anger — and a Lack of Surprise [E]