This story was originally published on September 11, 2018 and has been updated to reflect new information.
The Spotted Pig is closed. After more than 15 years, the New York City gastropub shut its doors for good over the weekend, Eater NY reports. After days of rumors alluding to an impending closure, multiple staffers, including the restaurant’s chef, posted about the closure on social media. And on Monday, January 27, owner and restaurateur Ken Friedman confirmed the news to the New York Times, saying in a statement:
“I love the Spotted Pig and all the staff who helped make it such an iconic place. I’m sorry I did not create a sustainable work environment. Its closing is the saddest thing I’ve had to face in my professional life. I want to thank our loyal employees and devoted patrons, who have been like family.”
The closure comes weeks after Friedman reached a settlement on the New York attorney general investigation into sexual harassment and workplace discrimination claims at the restaurant. As a part of the settlement, Friedman agreed to pay $240,000 as well as 20 percent of his profits from the restaurant over 10 years, including profits from a sale of the business, to 11 former employees who accused him of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, the New York Times reported. But in his latest statement to the Times, Friedman says that the Spotted Pig has been “running in the red for a long time.” He reveals that attempts to raise money to cover the restaurant’s rent and other expenses fell short, as did attempts to sell the business, which suffered in the two years since the restaurant became a part of the restaurant industry’s #MeToo movement.
In late 2017, the New York Times broke the news that the influential restaurant, open since 2004 and credited with popularizing the gastropub in America, was the setting for multiple sexual misconduct allegations against its owner Friedman. Friedman’s partner, chef April Bloomfield, distanced herself from the accusations, although she was perceived as being complicit and eventually admitted her efforts to curb Friedman’s behavior weren’t “enough.” The two dissolved their business arrangement.
The accusations were among several levied against prominent food world figures at the height of the #MeToo movement, including former Spotted Pig minority investor Mario Batali. According to Eater NY, Friedman asked Batali to return those shares last year following the news of the chef’s alleged sexual misconduct. (Friedman redistributed those to restaurant employees.) And yet, Friedman long seemed wedded to maintaining control of the Spotted Pig, even entertaining a partnership with prominent chefs and voices for feminism in the industry Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman.
Here, a comprehensive timeline of all that’s happened since Friedman was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple former staff members at the Spotted Pig, updated with news as it happens:
December 12, 2017
The New York Times publishes a report about Friedman’s serial sexual harassment of employees, who say he subjected them to unwanted touching, sexual advances, and requests for nude photos. In addition to accusations lobbed against Friedman specifically, the report frames the Spotted Pig as a breeding ground for sexual misconduct, including the fact that staff referred to the restaurant’s private third floor space as the “rape room.” Friedman releases a brief statement apologizing for his actions
The Times investigation followed Eater NY’s reporting about celebrity chef Mario Batali’s history of sexual misconduct; in the December Times piece, the Spotted Pig staff say “they regularly experienced or witnessed sexual aggression by Mr. Batali there, often with Mr. Friedman’s knowledge” at the restaurant.
May 21, 2018
60 Minutes airs a report about sexual misconduct in the restaurant industry. In it, among other new allegations, a woman accuses Batali of committing sexual assault after a party at the Spotted Pig. The NYPD tells 60 Minutes that they are investigating the allegation. Also in the 60 Minutes report, Bloomfield publicly confirms that she and Friedman were “severing” their partnership. At this point it’s unclear whether Friedman will be pushed out of the restaurants completely, or if the pair will split the restaurant empire down the middle, but after more than 15 years as partners, Bloomfield and Friedman will no longer share restaurant ownership.
June 6, 2018
Bloomfield and Friedman reach an agreement: In the split, Bloomfield will retain control of the group’s West Coast restaurants, Tosca Cafe in San Francisco and Hearth & Hound in Los Angeles. She also stays on as chef at the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar in New York City’s the Ace Hotel. Friedman, meanwhile, holds onto New York City butcher shop and restaurant White Gold and the Spotted Pig. (White Gold would permanently shutter just two months later; Friedman and Bloomfield are now being sued by its former landlord, and Friedman is being sued by a former White Gold purveyor.)
June 13, 2018
In an interview with the New York Times, Hamilton reveals that she and Merriman plan to partner with Friedman to take over the Spotted Pig. Although they don’t have a deal at the time of the announcement, Hamilton declares, “We’re going to be chef-owners. We’re going to run the Pig.”
The backlash is immediate. Hamilton is called out on social media by many of her peers for partnering with a man accused of sexual misconduct, at a restaurant that was the site of potentially criminal behavior. The Times also spoke to disappointed women who left the Spotted Pig due to Friedman’s behavior. “It’s shocking and unfathomable why as a female chef, as a queer woman, Gabrielle would align herself with a sexual harasser and help bail this man out,” said Natalie Saibel, a former server at the restaurant.
But Hamilton insists that the decision is unequivocally good. “Everyone gets so excited when José Andrés goes into these natural disasters and helps people,” Hamilton told the Times. “They ought to be happy that these two women are going into a man-made disaster to help make things right.” On Twitter, many took issue with the comparison to chef Andrés’s disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
June 13, 2018
After the news breaks, Hamilton releases a statement to clarify her intentions. She says she and Merriman saw the partnership as an opportunity to be at the “leading edge of the much-needed paradigm shift in the industry.” And although Hamilton doesn’t view their actions as contributing to Friedman’s redemption narrative, she does want to help Friedman and the restaurant’s staff, doubling down on the Andrés comparison: “You have your heroic José Andrés going into the eye of the natural disaster,” she says, “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.”
Hamilton also calls for a more “nuanced conversation regarding the #MeToo movement” and indicates that she believes Friedman can change. “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,” she writes. “As everyone knows, it is a bittersweet truth — everyone is a better spouse their second time around.”
June 14, 2018
In an interview with Eater, Merriman elaborates on Hamilton’s statement. She reiterates that the Spotted Pig will benefit from Hamilton’s and Merriman’s management style: “Gabrielle and I will take full responsibility for the culture at the Pig,” she says. Merriman also indicates that when the deal was done, she and Hamilton will have an ownership stake in the restaurant.
June 15, 2018
Despite the various statements, many in the industry still disapprove of the prospective deal. Some note that the decision reflects poorly on Hamilton and Merriman: San Francisco chef Preeti Mistry, for example, calls them “opportunists.” Others point out that the only way forward is for Friedman to cease to financially benefit from the Spotted Pig. “The net effect here gives a serial sexual harasser a second chance long before he’s due salvation, and you can’t extract that from this situation,” chef Anita Lo said.
Andrés, however, was charitable. He tweeted, “We all should support Gabrielle+Ashley. May seem strange what they are doing. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt” [sic].
August 20, 2018
The New York Times reports that the state is investigating allegations of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination at the Spotted Pig. The New York attorney general issues a subpoena to the Spotted Pig’s holding company as well as Friedman, seeking “any records of sexually suggestive communications between Mr. Friedman and any employees.”
This civil investigation into whether laws were broken at the Spotted Pig is separate from the NYPD’s criminal investigation into accusations that Batali sexually assaulted a woman at the Spotted Pig.
September 6, 2018
Hamilton sends an email to the Spotted Pig staff announcing that she and Merriman were unable to reach a deal with Friedman. In that email, Hamilton writes, “We felt we needed to be the actual owners and final decision makers of the day-to-day decisions of the restaurant, and we couldn’t make our case persuasively enough for Ken to agree to that.”
September 10, 2018
After Eater NY reports the news, Merriman shares the message she sent to staff. In the letter, Merriman writes that she is “heartbroken” to put an end to the work with the staff at the restaurant. And she provides some reasons for the end to the deal: Crucially, she and Hamilton were unable to “reach an agreement that feels just and ethical.”
As Hamilton and Merriman had expressed in their previous statements, they had intended to drive the restaurant’s culture. Perhaps without the power to be the “final decision-makers,” as both Hamilton and Merriman put it in their emails, that wasn’t possible.
October 14, 2018
New York Magazine published a piece on the deal between Hamilton, Merriman, and Friedman. It goes into the financials of the agreement and includes new details on why the deal fell apart. Hamilton and Merriman agreed to share an executive chef salary of “$130,000 or $140,000,” according to Hamilton, along with Bloomfield’s ownership stake. Ultimately, the two chefs walked away with a couple of paychecks after pulling out of the restaurant because Friedman refused to give up his salary. Although he was not working at the restaurant, he was on the payroll, and Hamilton says they could not “ethically, financially” accept that.
Eater NY, meanwhile, reports that the company behind the Ace Hotel, where Friedman restaurants the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar are located, is suing Friedman for financial fraud. The $5 million suit alleges that Friedman misrepresented profits.
October 16, 2018
After months of silence, April Bloomfield opens up to the New York Times, depicting herself as powerless in her relationship with Friedman. Bloomfield came to America to work at Friedman’s behest, and according to Bloomfield, he once threatened her visa after she disagreed with him. She admits that she knew about some of Friedman’s behavior, but not about the incidents “that were coercive or physically abusive,” and that although she confronted Friedman, nothing changed.
The Times notes that Bloomfield’s past employees aren’t entirely sympathetic to this framing. While some believed Bloomfield failed to act out of fear of Friedman, others thought Bloomfield herself was “scary and intimidating,” and one employee went as far as to say she “has always been out for herself. She was a perpetrator in a lot of this.” According to the Times, Bloomfield is getting therapy and executive coaching, and she plans to personally reach out to Friedman’s victims sometime soon.
August 23, 2019
For the first time, Friedman speaks to the media about operations at the Spotted Pig. Eater NY reports that Friedman is open to selling his shares of the restaurant, believing that it’s possible the Spotted Pig could stay in business longer if not tied to him. “If taking my damaged reputation out of the equation gets foodies to come, I would do that,” he says.
The Spotted Pig is no longer the bustling New York City hot spot it once was. Calls for accused men to cut financial ties with their restaurants began almost as soon as sexual misconduct allegations hit the news, and in the meantime, many “foodies,” as Friedman calls them, have avoided restaurants at the center of #MeToo stories.
What’s most important to the restaurateur, is that the next person to own the Spotted Pig is invested in its longevity. “If someone said, ‘I’ll keep the Spotted Pig for 15 years.’ I would love to do that and come in for dinner once in awhile,” he says. “More for the sake of the Pig than me. I know I’ll never act like that again. If I can get people like you to come to the Spotted Pig because I’m out of it, then that would be great.”
Friedman has new project in the works. He plans to open an antiques shop on Long Island. He says the motivation behind both moves is, ultimately, to keep the Spotted Pig’s staff employed. “They don’t deserve to lose their job because of my actions. That’s honestly the reason,” he says.
January 7, 2020
Friedman reaches a settlement with the New York attorney general’s office, which was investigating sexual harassment and workplace discrimination claims at the Spotted Pig. As a part of the settlement, he formally relinquishes his role at the restaurant (he had previously merely “stepped away” from operations) and agrees to pay $240,000 to 11 accusers as well as a portion of the profits from the restaurant, including profits from the future sale of his shares. According to the New York Times, Bloomfield’s divestment is still in process and she owns up to 25 percent of the restaurant. (She is not involved with the settlement.)
In a statement shared with Eater NY, he writes: “While I am aware that nothing will completely repair the damage I’ve caused, and although I disagree with several of the allegations, I hope this agreement will bring some comfort to those former employees impacted by my behavior. And I hope we are all able to put this painful chapter behind us.”
Although, Friedman remains financially tied to the restaurant, the settlement feels like the first big monetary victory for restaurant industry victims post #MeToo.
January 27, 2020
Following days of rumors, Friedman confirms to the New York Times that the Spotted Pig has closed for good. On Sunday, January 26, the restaurant began offering a limited menu as it ran out of food, and by Monday morning, Spotted Pig staffers’ social media posts directly addressed the fact that the West Village institution had closed. According to Friedman, the closure puts 78 full- and part-time employees out of work.
The New York Times reports that some of the former Spotted Pig employees who accused Friedman of harassment may buy what’s left of the business, and Bloomberg reports that chefs “have already begun to ask about the possibility of taking over the space.” But for now, the influential restaurant’s story has come to an end.
• Gabrielle Hamilton Ditches Spotted Pig Deal, Calling It ‘True Heartbreak’ [ENY]
• Ken Friedman Says He’ll Do Anything to Bring ‘Foodies’ Back to the Spotted Pig, Even Leave It [ENY]
• Ken Friedman Is Leaving the Spotted Pig After Settlement With the State [ENY]
• The Spotted Pig Has Closed [ENY]
• The Spotted Pig, Where Employees Were Sexually Harassed, Closes [NYT]