Bay Area Chef Accused of Sexual Harassment by 17 Employees

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Employees say he did it “to everyone.” Photo: charliehallowell.com

Charlie Hallowell, a restaurateur and chef in Oakland, has stepped aside at his restaurant group following a new San Francisco Chronicle story in which 17 former employees allege sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. The culture these women say pervaded his three well-regarded restaurants — Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service, and Penrose — is one that’s become far too familiar in recent weeks: a “demoralizing work environment where his indecent propositions and abuse of his power were the norm along with a near-constant stream of sexually explicit language.”

The women describe a charismatic and often charming boss whose “sexual Tourette’s disorder” (as one employee puts it) created an emotionally damaging work environment “from which they have yet to recover.” Some likened it to an “abusive relationship,” saying he’d interrupt mid-sentence to say he wanted to sleep with them, and that he’d graphically detail his sexual fantasies, constantly compare food to the female anatomy, and give unsolicited advice about what women should do to please their husbands and boyfriends in bed.

In a statement to the Chronicle, Hallowell acknowledges his behavior was “unfiltered and often completely inappropriate,” and claims he feels “deeply ashamed and saddened” now. “I can see very clearly that I have participated in and allowed an uncomfortable workplace for women. For this I am deeply ashamed and so very sorry,” he wrote in an email to the paper. “We have come to a reckoning point in the history of male bosses behaving badly, and I believe in this reckoning and I stand behind it.” Richard Weinstein, Hallowell’s restaurant group partner, has called a companywide meeting today to discuss the situation, and also tells employees they’ve brought in an HR specialist to “conduct an independent investigation.”

Just like John Besh and Mario Batali’s restaurants lacked any real way to keep the chefs accountable, Hallowell’s company had no official HR department (or, for that matter, any functional mechanism in place for reporting misbehavior in the workplace). Employees say Hallowell’s misconduct wore many of them down to the point that his inappropriateness was “no longer remarkable.” Nobody thought his behavior wasn’t unacceptable, but, as one ex-employee explains, everyone would simply say, “That’s just how he’s always been.”

Bay Area Chef Accused of Sexual Harassment by 17 Employees