In December 2017, the chef April Bloomfield and her business partner Ken Friedman began the monthslong process of dividing their bicoastal restaurant empire following multiple, detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against Friedman. On Wednesday, the process concluded: Bloomfield will own and take full control of the group’s West Coast restaurants, Tosca Cafe in San Francisco, and the six-month-old Hearth & Hound in Los Angeles. She also remains the chef at the two restaurants in New York City’s Ace Hotel, the Breslin Bar & Dining Room and the John Dory Oyster Bar.
It means that Bloomfield is leaving behind the iconic New York restaurant where she first rose to fame as one of the most groundbreaking chefs of her generation — and where Friedman and investor Mario Batali allegedly engaged in serial sexual misconduct — the Spotted Pig.
“Today, I am announcing the end of my partnership with Ken Friedman,” Bloomfield said in a statement. “There is much hard work ahead, and it begins with taking full leadership of the Hearth & Hound in Los Angeles and Tosca Cafe in San Francisco. In New York, I remain chef at the Breslin and will begin work on re-concepting the John Dory Oyster Bar. My complete focus now is on the welfare of and opportunity for my staff and building a company I can be proud of. 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.”
In the dismantling of their restaurant group, both Bloomfield and Friedman had already left Salvation Taco, a restaurant they opened in New York’s Pod Hotel in 2012. And Bloomfield is also no longer involved in, or has any ownership of, butcher shop and restaurant White Gold, which opened in 2016 and also recently lost its founding star butchers, Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest.
Eater has reached out to Ken Friedman for comment about the future of the Spotted Pig and White Gold, but did not receive a reply before publication. (This piece will be updated as more information becomes available.)
In a comment provided to Eater shortly after publication, Brad Wilson, the president of Ace Hotel Group, says, “Ken Friedman is no longer involved in the Breslin and the John Dory. April remains at the helm of culinary operations, and we look forward to working with her in this role.”
The allegations that Friedman engaged in serial sexual misconduct, both during service and after hours at his New York restaurants, especially the Spotted Pig, were among the most shocking #MeToo moments in the restaurant world. At least 10 women accused him of sexual harassment in a New York Times expose, with employees alleging a coercive, sexualized atmosphere, spearheaded by Friedman; they claimed that he engaged in public groping, texted to demand nude photographs, and scheduled servers for all-night shifts at parties featuring public nudity and sex. The Spotted Pig’s private third floor, intended to host VIPs, was allegedly the site of so much afterhours misconduct that it was notoriously nicknamed “the rape room” by staffers. Celebrity chef Mario Batali was a frequent visitor to the third floor, and allegations in the Times include that he was seen groping and kissing an unconscious woman there.
The Times piece also quotes several women who say they brought Friedman’s behavior to Bloomfield’s attention and were ignored or dismissed by the chef, which she denies. In a public apology posted to Twitter last December, she said she referred all reports to outside labor council and, “In meetings with my partner, I lectured, and I demanded, but now I know that it wasn’t enough.” Bloomfield declined to comment further on the allegations.
More recently, a 60 Minutes investigation included a new allegation by a woman who says Mario Batali assaulted her at an afterparty at the Spotted Pig in 2005. (At least 18 women have now accused Batali of sexual misconduct, beginning with an Eater investigation; he is also in the process of stepping away from his restaurant empire. Batali’s high-profile business partner, Joe Bastianich, has also been accused of turning a blind eye to the chef’s behavior.)
Opened in 2004, the Spotted Pig is one of the stars of an iconic generation of New York restaurants: Momofuku Noodle Bar and Blue Hill at Stone Barns also opened that year. At the Spotted Pig, their first restaurant together, Friedman, whose background was in the music business, built buzz with celebrity investors like Jay Z and Michael Stipe, while Bloomfield’s cooking earned raves and launched the gastropub trend across America. Equal success followed with two restaurants in New York’s Ace Hotel: the Breslin, a steakhouse that opened in 2009, and John Dory, a seafood restaurant that followed in 2010. In 2016, Friedman won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur for the Spotted Pig, the Breslin, and Tosca; Bloomfield won the Beard for Best Chef: New York City for her work at the Spotted Pig in 2014.
Alongside chef Tom Adams, Bloomfield also owns Coombeshead Farm in the U.K., a restaurant and bakery which has always been independent of Friedman. The California restaurants Bloomfield now takes full control of, Tosca Cafe and the Hearth & Hound, represent a different strain of the restaurant group’s projects, both due to their location and their history. Founded in 1919, Tosca Cafe was an iconic, storied bar in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, beloved by the Beats and, later, celebrities. Bloomfield and Friedman helped save the bar from eviction, and their reimagining of the historic space, which included reopening the kitchen for the first time in decades, was praised as a spot-on, thoughtful, and skillful restoration when it debuted in 2013. In the wake of the Times expose, Tosca’s founding executive chef, Josh Even, and business manager Dana Katzakian left after a failed bid to buy the restaurant from Friedman and Bloomfield.
The Hearth & Hound is a revival of an equally storied restaurant space, one dating back to the 1920s but best known as the Cat & Fiddle, an English pub opened there in 1985 that was a hub of the Los Angeles music scene until it closed in 2015. A week after Hearth & Hound opened, the Times expose on Friedman was published, so the restaurant’s critical reception has been one of the first to contend with #MeToo. In a Los Angeles Times review published seven weeks after the restaurant’s opening, Jonathan Gold heaped praise on Bloomfield as a brilliant and ambitious chef, and asked, in a blistering paragraph, if she should be punished for Friedman’s behavior. (He leaves these questions open, and says either conclusion could make you “queasy.”) The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner reported that the review, nausea and all, is credited by staff as having saved the restaurant, though there has still been a great deal of turnover.
One of the key challenges of addressing harassment by powerful restaurateurs and chefs is the complex ownership agreements which keep them tied to their properties. While it could be a simple process for a willing owner to divest, so far, the bad men of the restaurant world — no matter how sorry they are — have instead required monthslong negotiations to be bought out.
Meghan McCarron is Eater’s special correspondent.
Editor: Erin DeJesus
Photo illustration by Eater; Bloomfield photo by David Howells/Corbis via Getty Images; Friedman photo by JP Pullos/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images