Seven employees of Boot and Shoe Service, one of the Oakland restaurants owned by accused sexual harasser Charlie Hallowell, have issued an ultimatum to the chef. In a letter sent to the SF Chronicle, a group of managers have threatened to quit their jobs at the restaurant if Hallowell does not divest himself from his restaurant group completely by Saturday.
In the letter, the seven managers at Boot and Shoe wrote: “Actively working to keep the business open while you are still a profit owner implicitly condones your behavior, trivializes the allegations brought against you and betrays our obligation to protect the financial and psychic well-being of our staff. Furthermore, your continued ownership tarnishes the reputations of your employees and our standing in the community.”
Since “stepping away” following allegations of sexual harassment in December, Hallowell has not been collecting a paycheck or participating in day-to-day operations while an outside human resources firm conducts an investigation (the company did not previously have an official HR department). Yet, Hallowell’s future at the company has been unclear, even as it prepares to open a new Boot and Shoe in Berkeley in February.
Meanwhile, the restaurant group has hired a local crisis management specialist, Larry Kamer of Kamer Group, whose website asserts that “For more than 30 years, we’ve transformed our clients’ greatest challenges into opportunities.” In a statement to the Chronicle, Kamer says that the restaurant group is “trying to understand exactly what it is that ‘divest’ means.” Hallowell’s attorney Allison Surowitz is managing the HR investigation — Kamer says Hallowell “has directed Allison to make a sincere effort to find out what will satisfy these employees’ concerns and if there’s a workable solution.”
For Four Barrel Coffee, that solution was for CEO Jeremy Tooker, accused of sexual harassment and assault, to leave the company completely, and divest himself of his shares. The company has since rebranded as the Tide, announcing plans to sell remaining shares to its employees.
Hallowell’s continued involvement in the business and the investigation do not appear to be a solution that the employees named in the ultimatum find “workable.” Boot and Shoe general manager Emily Hayward told the Chronicle that the potential walkout “seemed like the only means necessary to gain control of the process, and not allow the perpetrator of this abhorrent, toxic behavior be in control of how it gets resolved.”