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Bay Area Chef Accused of Sexual Harassment Apologizes After Tone-Deaf First Apology

Charlie Hallowell’s joke about submitting to a dunk tank as penance did not sit well with the Oakland community

Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Bay Area chef and restaurateur Charlie Hallowell is having a deservedly rocky start to his attempted comeback, which he’s kicked into gear after more than 30 employees accused him of sexual harassment in December 2017. Hallowell, who stepped down from his restaurants last December, had issued an an apology email addressed to the Oakland community last week in which he detailed the 12 steps he would take to reenter the industry — including setting up a monthly dunk tank as a form of atonement. “Once a month a dunk tank will be set up in the backyard at Pizzaiolo,” the email read. “Charlie will be in the dunk seat and anyone who wants to put him in the tank can come and give it a shot!”

The dunk tank comment, unsurprisingly, didn’t sit well with many observers, and now Hallowell is trying to distance himself from the earlier apology with a fresh attempt at a mea culpa. As Berkleyside reports, Hallowell’s second email seeks to “clarify a few things” from the initial 12-point plan. In particular, the chef is trying to backpedal on his much maligned dunk tank idea:

The dunk tank comment was clearly a mistake. It was not meant to make light of the situation. I can see now that it was misguided and insensitive.

Hallowell goes on to dispute what some media, including Eater, had characterized as his comeback plan — calling it instead as a description of how his restaurant group’s new managing partner Donna Insalaco “rebuilds a restaurant group to have a great work culture.” But much of the criticism also focused on how Hallowell placed himself, not the victims, at the center of the apology; as Alisa Bierria and Katie McDonough recently discussed in a Jezebel interview, that recurring narrative often “leave[s] out the people they hurt, and what that harm has meant for their victims’ personal and professional lives.”

Hallowell is among a crop of chefs and restaurateurs, including Mario Batali, Ken Friedman, John Besh, Mike Isabella, and Four Barrel founder Jeremy Tooker, who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the last year. Hallowell’s dunk tank idea is just one bad attempt at an apology in a long line of haphazard and offensive attempts to apologize. Batali, who stepped away from his restaurant empire following allegations of sexual misconduct last December, drew additional ire for apologizing with a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls. Friedman issued a brief statement apologizing for his “abrasive, rude, and frankly wrong” behavior, but continues to operate the Spotted Pig; he’s now under investigation for misconduct allegations and has lost his partnership with Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman. Some of the men who’ve been accused of sexual harassment, including Batali, have agreed to divest from their businesses while simultaneously angling for a comeback.

Hallowell, it seems, hopes to continue to operate his business under the supervision of Insalaco, who controls his salary. It’s a step in the right direction, though if his first attempt at an apology is any indication he still has a long way to go — maybe just divest?

After Sexual Harassment Accusations, Charlie Hallowell Apologizes for His Apology [Berkeleyside]
Charlie Hallowell Announces 12 Point Plan to Return to Restaurants [E]
Oakland Chef Accused of Sexual Harassment Plans Return to Restaurants [ESF]
When Your Comeback After Scandal Involves a Dunk Tank [E]