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Oakland Chef Accused of Sexual Harassment Plans Return to Restaurants

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Charlie Hallowell hopes to return to his restaurants Pizzaiolo and Penrose after a six-month absence

Penrose Penrose

Chef Charlie Hallowell plans to return to Pizzaiolo and Penrose, the Oakland restaurants from which he “stepped away” in December after 17 employees accused him of sexual harassment. Donna Insalaco, the newly-hired CEO of Hallowell’s restaurant group, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that Hallowell might start by dining with his partner at one of his restaurants, or by holding an off-site meeting with employees.

In December, the Chronicle reported on claims made by employees that the chef/owner created an uncomfortable, sexualized atmosphere for employees at his popular restaurants, Pizzaiolo, Penrose, and Boot & Shoe Service. One employee likened Hallowell’s conduct to “sexual Tourette’s disorder,” while many alleged that he made unwanted sexual advances toward them.

“I can see very clearly that I have participated in and allowed an uncomfortable workplace for women,” Hallowell said in response to those claims. “For this I am deeply ashamed and so very sorry.”

Charlie Hallowell in 2014
Pizzaiolo

During a self-imposed, unpaid leave of absence from his restaurants, more accusers stepped forward — there are now 31 — to detail a pattern of alleged behavior stretching back to Hallowell’s days as a rising star chef at Chez Panisse. Ten women also accused Hallowell’s business partner, Richard Weinstein, of inappropriate touching and behavior. News of Hallowell’s plan to return to his restaurants comes ahead of mediation proceedings, set to begin today, between Hallowell and five women who have accused him of harassment.

How, if at all, chefs and restaurant owners accused of sexual misconduct can continue to work at, or profit from, their businesses is an open question for diners, restaurant workers, and food media pundits. It’s a pertinent one as many industry players accused of harassment, like the Spotted Pig’s Ken Friedman, appear eager to maintain their involvement in their businesses after brief absences.

One answer to the question, offered by some former Hallowell employees, is “never, not at all.” In January, workers at Hallowell’s restaurant Boot & Shoe Service demanded that he divest completely from his businesses. When he refused, they quit in protest.

But as Hallowell plots a return to his restaurant empire, there’s one business he won’t be coming back to, at least as an owner. In April, his restaurant group sold Boot & Shoe service to a former employee, Jen Cramer, and her husband Richard Clark. A transfer of the restaurant’s liquor license to the new owners is being finalized.

Penrose

3311 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610 (510) 444-1649 Visit Website

Pizzaiolo

5008 Telegraph Ave, , CA 94609 (510) 652-4888 Visit Website

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Avenue, , CA 94709 (510) 548-5525 Visit Website

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