As a part of its issue on women and power, New York Magazine published an in-depth look at Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman’s decision to partner with accused Spotted Pig restaurateur Ken Friedman. The piece, by Maggie Bullock, examines the reasoning behind the proposed partnership, the subsequent restaurant industry blowback, and the ultimate dissolution of the deal.
Throughout the piece, the chefs remain adamant that their intentions were wholly misunderstood. Hamilton views herself as taking action in response to the #MeToo movement — others in the industry are merely participating in “pass the talking stick” meetings, she said. And while those who have been following along are likely familiar with this refrain, the article divulges some new details about what went on between Hamilton, Merriman, Friedman, and the Spotted Pig. Here’s the tl;dr.
Running the Spotted Pig without Ken Friedman was never the goal.
In December, the New York Times reported that Friedman had been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, including subjecting employees to unwanted sexual advances and lewd text messages. But Hamilton tells New York that she and Merriman were fine with Friedman earning money as the restaurant’s lead investor if the restaurant became profitable. The point was to start working toward #MeToo cleanup as soon as possible, and the Spotted Pig made sense — “Because that’s the money shot. That is where we can do the most substantial work,” Hamilton explains.
Merriman reiterates that the Spotted Pig offered the duo the opportunity to work on a lot: “Every single issue this industry is talking about right now — sexual harassment, pay parity, immigrant-documentation status, upstairs-downstairs — exists at this place,” she says.
The couple wanted to bring Prune’s culture to the Spotted Pig — and there’s an actual manual for that.
In the “Pruniverse,” employees are expected to incorporate five core values into every interaction. The New York Magazine piece only lists a few: disarming honesty; servant leadership (i.e., Hamilton prefers to be called “G.H.” not “chef,” and does things to reverse the traditional restaurant hierarchy, like take out the trash and make coffee for staff); and never asking rhetorical questions, the idea being that only real questions are productive.
Hamilton and Merriman were planning some cosmetic changes, too: They were going to repaint the Spotted Pig’s dark walls in Prune’s pale yellow.
Prune wasn’t making the chefs rich.
According to New York, Hamilton’s single restaurant didn’t launch her to Mario Batali levels of wealth, despite her position of perceived power in the industry. She makes $1,112 per week from Prune after taxes. Other income comes from her 2011 book, Blood, Bones & Butter, for which she still receives the occasional royalty check — a recent one was for $2,500. She gets $3 a word for her contributions to the New York Times’s “Eat” column, and earned $50,000 for starring in Mind of a Chef’s fourth season.
Hamilton and Merriman live in a rent-stabilized, one-bedroom apartment in the East Village with Hamilton’s two sons and a dog. It’s the same apartment Hamilton has had for 30 years.
Money may or may not have been the reason behind the Prune chefs’ proposed Spotted Pig takeover, but it was the crux of the deal’s demise.
Friedman offered Hamilton and Merriman the equivalent of Bloomfield’s executive-chef salary (“$130,000 or $140,000,” according to Hamilton) plus her ownership stake, to be shared between them. They started working without a deal officially in place, and by the time they pulled out of the Spotted Pig entirely, they had each earned two paychecks for their portion of the annual chef’s salary.
During the time Hamilton and Merriman were working at the Spotted Pig, Friedman was collecting a salary of his own, despite not doing any work at the restaurant. Friedman’s team called it a “management fee” for overseeing the restaurant from afar, but Hamilton and Merriman couldn’t “ethically, financially” abide keeping him on the payroll. “We can’t have the guy in the building, because we don’t want him there. No one wants him there,” Hamilton says in the piece.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what will happen to the Spotted Pig. Eater NY reported today that the Ace Hotel is suing Ken Friedman for allegedly misrepresenting how much money the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar were making. The hotel is seeking at least $5 million in damages.
• What the Prune Chefs Hope to Do with the Spotted Pig [New York Magazine]
• ‘It’s Not My Job to Clean Up Ken’s Mess’ [E]
• Chefs React to Gabrielle Hamilton Taking Over the Spotted Pig [E]
• Gabrielle Hamilton Defends Her Decision to Partner With Ken Friedman [E]