More than 30 employees of Oakland restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, who was recently accused of sexual harassment, have signed a letter expressing their faith in a path forward for the businesses where they work. The open letter was circulated among and edited by employees of Boot and Shoe Service, Pizzaiolo, and Penrose, and is now being publicized by a crisis PR firm. The three restaurants, which employ about 150 people in total, have also enlisted an outside HR department and an independent investigator to examine their work conditions and Hallowell’s alleged misconduct.
“We in no way condone Charlie’s behavior or speech,” the open letter states. “We respect those co-workers who have come forward with their stories and acknowledge how painful and difficult that must have been.” However, it concludes, “we believe the large majority of our restaurant family wants to unite, to look for a path that is supportive of all involved, and to provide a chance to heal, change and move forward, together.”
That path of “restorative justice” could include Hallowell himself, according to the letter. “We support Charlie as he seeks to change himself, his behavior and the operations of our restaurants,” it reads.
The letter arrives in response to the resignation of six Boot and Shoe Service managers, whose own public ultimatum, that Hallowell divest from his business, appeared last week. “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,” seven employees wrote, most of them quitting when he refused to comply. In December, Hallowell “stepped away” from the day-to-day operations of the restaurants, and while he’s not taking salary or owner distribution, he remains majority owner.
The letter “has been a conversation going back and forth between us,” Landon Haynes, an assistant general manager at Pizzaiolo, told Eater SF. “After the Boot and Shoe [employees] put out their letter, a lot of people were looking to the other two management teams to make a statement to see where we stood... It started through an email [and] everyone was able to add feedback.”
Haynes is now moving to fill a GM position at Boot and Shoe Service. “We need strong leaders at this company to make changes... to be involved in changing the culture, instead of just throwing in the [towel],” he says. For him, the letter is a chance to put the focus not just on Hallowell, but on the people who actually run the businesses Hallowell founded. “I’m just trying to support our staff that comes in to work every day, a lot of them supporting families,” he says, “it’s such an amazing group.”
“Charlie created these companies, but these companies aren’t Charlie.”
Update, 5 p.m. 1/23: Several Boot and Shoe employees whose names were listed on the original letter dispute their involvement. Eater has reached out for more details.
Update, 9 a.m. 1/24: The names of several Boot and Shoe Service employees were added to the letter in error and have been removed from the tally. “We apologize to those individuals whose names were mistakenly included,” says Larry Kamer, a PR consultant whose services Hallowell’s restaurants have enlisted. The number of cosigners on the document remains at just over 30.