Charlie Hallowell, an Oakland chef accused of sexual harassment by more than 30 employees according to the San Francisco Chronicle, has issued a long letter of apology addressed to the Oakland community in which he appears to outline a plan to return to restaurants after his now 10 month absence. That plan includes real changes — such as adding Donna Insalaco, who joined Hallowell’s restaurant company in April, as an outright co-owner and managing partner — alongside trivializing suggestions like subjecting himself to a “dunk tank” at the mercy of employees.
Hallowell stepped away from his restaurants Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service, and Penrose without pay in December after an initial report from the Chronicle detailed allegations by current and former employees against the chef. One former employee likened his behavior to “sexual Tourette’s disorder.” In the past months, Hallowell has sold two restaurants — Boot & Shoe Service and Penrose — to former employees.
“I want to reach out and offer another apology for the harm I have done to individuals and to the community as a whole,” Hallowell writes.
I lost my ability to really listen to and feel the people around me, and I became numb to the fact that I was expecting people, especially women, to shoulder the effects of my inappropriate speech and behavior. I created a work environment that was unsafe for women, and where many people, women, and men, were compelled to absorb my inappropriate speech and behavior. I was hurting the women right in front of me and I did not give validity to their experiences. I made light of it, ignored it, and simply did not acknowledge it as true or relevant. For all of this, I apologize.
As of June, Hallowell began hinting at plans to return to restaurants, and his new letter reveals he still plans to open another restaurant, to be called Western Pacific. Originally, the project was a Berkeley location of Boot & Shoe Service, which had been in the works since before the accusations against Hallowell were made public — but now he’s sold the Boot & Shoe name to its new owners.
“Some people might be wondering why we are choosing to open a new restaurant now?” Hallowell writes. His answer: “We have a very real fiduciary responsibility to our employees and our investors.”
In his apology, Hallowell also reveals that he has begun therapy and is “working with a men’s group dedicated to holding men accountable for their actions and examining how I and we can stop mindlessly upholding patriarchy...”
As for the help and support his employees might expect to receive, Hallowell says he’s hired a third party HR company and formed an all-female board of advisers for his company. Donna Insalaco has the power to fire him and set his pay.
“Once a month a dunk tank will be set up in the backyard at Pizzaiolo. Charlie will be in the dunk seat and anyone who wants to put him in the tank can come and give it a shot!”
Other measures in the 12-part proposal include Friday office hours for employees and restarting a Sunday supper program, “donating 20% of all profits earned on Sunday nights to a home for battered women and survivors of domestic abuse.”