The New York Times reports that ten women have accused Ken Friedman, a 56-year-old music industry veteran turned restaurateur, of engaging in sexually predatory behavior toward them, including groping them, forcibly kissing them, and demanding sex or nude pictures from them. Friedman operates five restaurants in New York City and took over the popular San Francisco destination Tosca Cafe in 2013 with his frequent business partner, the chef April Bloomfield.
Friedman does not deny the allegations against him and says that he “apologizes now publicly” for his actions. In an update to their original story, the Times reports that Friedman will take an indefinite leave of absence from his restaurants.
For its report, the Times interviewed more than two dozen current and former employees. They write:
All the employees interviewed said that for many women, Mr. Friedman’s unwelcome sexual overtures, verbal and physical, were part of the daily routine at his New York restaurants, especially the small, intimate Spotted Pig. They said Mr. Friedman had frequent consensual sexual relationships with employees; openly hired, promoted or fired people based on their physical attractiveness; was often intoxicated at work and pressured staff members to drink and take drugs with him and guests.
Friedman and Bloomfield gained a reputation for their elevated pubs catering to celebrity foodies in New York City. In 2013, they were hailed as saviors in San Francisco when they stepped in to take over North Beach mainstay Tosca after the retirement of longtime owner Jeanette Etheredge. Their current relationship with Tosca is more distant, and neither is active in its day-to-day operations.
In 2014, Friedman and Bloomfield announced plans to take over the nearby, worker-owned strip club the Lusty Lady, which had recently closed, and convert it to a bar. That project has proceeded slowly, if at all. The duo’s latest restaurant, the Hearth & Hound, opened this month in Hollywood, their first in Los Angeles. Last year, Friedman was awarded the James Beard award for outstanding restaurateur of the year.
Friedman, Bloomfield, and a recently hired Human Resources Director responded to the Times’ report with statements. “I have spoken to Ken about professional boundaries and relied on him to uphold our policies,” Bloomfield said. “Nonetheless I feel we have let down our employees and for that I sincerely apologize.”
Others appear to see Bloomfield as complicit. “Her response was always the same,” says former server Trish Nelson, who tells the Times that Friedman forcibly kissed her in a car after inviting her inside to smoke pot. “‘That’s who he is. Get used to it. Or go work for someone else,’” Nelson paraphrased Bloomfield.
Friedman is the latest major restaurant industry figure to face allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Michael Chiarello was slapped with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment in 2015 (but continues to open new restaurants). New Orleans chef John Besh stepped down from his company after the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on more than 25 accusations of sexual harassment against him. And, just yesterday, celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali stepped away from his business empire after Eater New York confronted him with accusations from at least four women who say the chef groped them or engaged in other predatory behavior.
Batali — along with music industry celebrities like Jay-Z and Bono — provided financial backing to open the Spotted Pig in 2004. In fact, he was a frequent late-night patron of Friedman’s restaurant, and according to the Times, restaurant employees say they “regularly experienced or witnessed sexual aggression by Mr. Batali there, often with Mr. Friedman’s knowledge.”