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Gabrielle Hamilton Defends Her Decision to Partner With Ken Friedman

“Everyone is a better spouse their second time around”

American Express Celebrates The Gold Card Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for American Express

Earlier today, Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef and owner of New York’s iconic Prune restaurant, announced she and her wife, the chef Ashley Merriman, who is currently running the kitchen at Prune, would partner with disgraced restaurateur Ken Friedman to take over the Spotted Pig. According to the New York Times, Hamilton intends to bring her and Merriman’s management style to the restaurant, which has been at the center of the restaurant industry’s #MeToo reckoning after a New York Times investigation alleged a culture of sexual misconduct centered around Friedman.

The Spotted Pig’s reputation as a boundary-busting New York gastropub was built under the chef April Bloomfield, who announced her split from Friedman and departure from the restaurant last week. In her statement at the time, Bloomfield said of the split: “This has been a painful time for many people, my past and present staff especially, and I will have more to say at some point in the near future. For now, I look forward to forging ahead.”

Hamilton‘s announcement earlier today — which noted that a final deal had yet to be signed, but was in the works — came as a surprise to many in the restaurant industry. When asked for further comment about her intentions for the Spotted Pig and her decision about the partnership, Hamilton provided the following statement to Eater:

We’ve been talking to Ken Friedman a lot and we are going to partner with him at the Spotted Pig.

We haven’t signed our deal yet, but for sure it’ll be sound.

We’re pretty excited about it on so many levels:

Ashley and I are excited for the work for both of us. It’s a little bigger and a little tougher, and obviously interesting for two people like us: We love to cook and clean and teach and lead.

We love to throw a party.

We are excited and deeply invested in being at the leading edge of the much-needed paradigm shift in the industry. (For us, it is not a shift at all because we have been living it, modeling it, and shepherding it for 19 years at Prune, and we are eager to have the larger field, the bigger pool, the greater influence — not only for the 96 employees of the Pig at this time, but also for its owner Ken Friedman, and as a way to set the paradigm in the wider industry). Jesus, wish us luck!

We are not working with any PR team, and have no spin, no crisis PR team, no lawyered-up responses: If anyone has any worries or questions or fears, I am glad to answer as best as I am able.

If anyone can get their head up to also look at the rest of the picture and who might be worried about the burger and its future, they can ask me that as well!

You have your heroic José Andrés going into the eye of the natural disaster, and in us, I think you have two highly qualified and capable women going into the ground zero of the man-made disaster to start to help out.

There is a population of women who have been craving a more nuanced conversation regarding the #MeToo movement. A population of women (and men) who have been having their conversations sotto voce, privately, and [who are] frankly, super jumpy. It would be better for everyone if we could get that out in the open and start that rolling, too.

The metaphor of divorce has been used a lot lately regarding Ken and April, and we can follow that metaphor for a single beat further and say we are going to be the second marriage. As everyone knows, it is a bittersweet truth — everyone is a better spouse their second time around.

That said, I’ve been running Prune for 19 years, with Ashley for the past three. I have four James Beard Awards. Ashley ran the Waverly Inn for four years, was the chef of Butter before that — about the biggest celebrity hangs in NYC as one can imagine. In some ways we’ve been throwing the same parties that Ken’s been throwing: booze, drugs, celebrities, money, after-hours super fun shit, sexual innuendo, jokes, camaraderie, fraternity, etc.

But we didn’t sexually harass our waitresses, and we didn’t blacklist employees who betrayed us. We weren’t abusive to our kitchen crews, we didn’t manage our restaurants through fear or intimidation, and we didn’t pretend that the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was up to.

We can tell you assuredly and confidently that we are not coming to partner with Ken to be his “fence.” We are not about to sell on the street some shitty knock-off handbag of “redemption” and “I’m a new clean man with a wife and child and I don’t do any drugs or any drinking and it was all a misunderstanding and April is the real Bad Wolf and Mario is the Bigger Badder Wolf” crock of shit.

We see ourselves helping the Spotted Pig, helping the industry at large, helping April, helping our longtime friend Ken, and helping ourselves.

We feel exceptionally poised to be the leading edge of the paradigm shift, to make the Spotted Pig the best it has ever been; to protect, honor, and respect April’s magnificent work; and to be one of the luckier things that ever happened to Ken Friedman — to be women in the business of increasing power and to get paid for our impeccable work.

Gabrielle Hamilton Partners With Ken Friedman, Will Take Reins at the Spotted Pig [E]