As chefs and restaurateurs “step away from day-to-day operations” following sexual misconduct allegations, their restaurant groups are left to figure out how to recover. There isn’t a single path forward, according to a new report from the New York Times, and the groups once led by Mario Batali, Ken Friedman, John Besh, and Charlie Hallowell are all struggling to repair damaged reputations and toxic cultures — oftentimes, while the bad actors still have financial ties to the group.
After Eater NY broke news of multiple sexual misconduct allegations against Batali, the chef announced he would “step away” from Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group and its restaurants. In a letter sent to staff a few days later, the group announced that it would change its name and that its female partners, Nancy Silverton and Lidia Bastianich, would be taking on greater leadership roles in an effort to improve the culture at B&B restaurants.
However, Batali remains financially linked to some of the group’s high-profile restaurants, like Babbo and Del Posto, and according to Joe Bastianich, it’s unclear whether or not that tie will be severed. “Divorces are never easy,” he said to the Times. “Do we buy out? Do we split restaurants? We may have intentions. He has intentions. Really, the decision is his. He’s going through a process. We’re going through a process. We’ll see.”
Following sexual harassment accusations from 25 current and former employees, BRG Hospitality (formerly Besh Restaurant Group) is taking a similar tack. Besh officially “stepped down” from his role as CEO two days after reports of misconduct surfaced; the group has since changed its name and handed over control to a woman — Shannon White, who is now BRG’s chief executive. Kelly Fields, chef at BRG restaurant Willa Jean, has also taken on an active role in changing the culture.
Besh, who was allegedly responsible for fostering an environment that encouraged harassment and assault, is still an owner of the business and has final approval on major decisions. “We are trying to figure out what, if any, role he may have in the future,” White said in the Times.
The way forward is even less clear for the restaurant group led by Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield. In December, multiple women accused Friedman of sexual misconduct, much of it taking place at iconic New York restaurant the Spotted Pig. At the time, Friedman took an indefinite leave from managing his restaurants.
A month later, neither Friedman or Bloomfield has released a public statement about the state of the restaurants, although Bloomfield did apologize and has taken over restaurant operations. According to the Times, Friedman has spent time at a Connecticut rehabilitation center. The group’s human resources manager Kelly Berg issued a statement saying the company was “rolling out a forceful action plan to elevate and empower our managers and enact our standards throughout the organization.”
Meanwhile, chef Charlie Hallowell, who left Oakland restaurants Pizzaiolo, Penrose, and Boot and Shoe Service after former employees accused him of sexual harassment, has been vocal about his role following the allegations. “I have stepped aside and indefinitely left the day-to-day operations of the restaurant,” he wrote in response to questions from the Times. “I have stopped taking my salary and stopped taking any owner distributions.”
He added that he is looking to hire a new chief executive and has hired the group’s first human resources consultant. He is also working with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, an organization that brings victims and perpetrators together to facilitate reconciliation. But despite this, Boot and Shoe Service’s management team is threatening to resign if Hallowell doesn’t divest from the restaurant by the end of the week.
A letter signed by seven employees and shared with the San Francisco Chronicle explained their reasoning: “Actively working to keep the business open while you are still a profit owner implicitly condones your behavior, trivializes the allegations brought against you and betrays our obligation to protect the financial and psychic well-being of our staff.”
The staff want Hallowell to suffer financial consequences. But, managers can’t bear sole responsibility for rehabilitating these restaurants — customers also have a hand in shaping service culture. And as business continues as usual in most places, time will tell whether the dining public actually wants change.