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Disgraced Bay Area Chef Charlie Hallowell Still Wants a Second Chance

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NPR checked in with the restaurateur accused of sexual harassment

Outside Western Pacific in Berkeley Western Pacific

Almost two years after an initial report in the Chronicle detailed accusations of sexual harassment against East Bay chef Charlie Hallowell, NPR checked up on the state of the disgraced restaurateur as he continues to do business in Oakland and Berkeley. On All Things Considered, Hallowell, his accusers, and some current employees spoke about his attempt at a “second chance.”

The segment recalls how dozens of women accused Hallowell of creating an unsafe work environment at his restaurants Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service, and Penrose. Workers like Catalina del Canto, a former hostess and cook, again shared their accounts. Hallowell would come up to her from behind and press himself against her, del Canto tells NPR. “He’d say that dress looks great on you, but it would look better on my floor.”

Hallowell tells NPR that the accusations hit him “like a mule kick... Like I had my head pretty far up my ass, and I didn’t even realize until I got hit over the head with it.”

But the experience of being publicly shamed, Hallowell now argues, provided him some insight into what might have inflicted on his employees.

“Like my heart was racing and I felt unsafe,” he recalls, fighting back tears. “And I remember thinking this is probably a lot like how a lot of women feel all the time. And it was so heartbreaking to think that I was making people feel that way. You know, I thought of myself as this radical feminist. It just cracked me open.”

Hallowell tells NPR he’s been going to therapy and working with a men’s group to address his toxic masculinity. He’s engaged in restorative justice sessions with women he’s harassed. And he’s sold two of his restaurants — Penrose and Boot & Shoe Service.

Still, the scandal didn’t stop Hallowell from opening a new restaurant, Western Pacific, in downtown Berkeley. According to NPR, that business is doing okay, though it was hurt by an article from the Chronicle’s critic Soleil Ho in which she wrote she would decline to review the restaurant to avoid “enabling” Hallowell.

Some of Hallowell’s current employees at Western Pacific and former employees at his other restaurant’s praised his progress. “I just think if you have someone who believes what they did, and is sorry and wants to change, that’s not the person you cast aside,” one employee, who had been harassed by Hallowell but has now taken a job with him again, tells NPR.

Others, like del Canto, don’t buy Hallowell’s latest redemption tour. ”He’s a salesman,” she tells NPR. “He’ll convince you of anything. I feel like he’s still selling: ‘Look, I’m reformed! Come to my restaurant, it’s owned by women!’”

As another former employee, Celeste Cooper, put it, “I feel like he lost that privilege. Like [he] blew it,” she says. “Why do we need to give [him] another chance or three?”

Read, or listen, to the whole NPR story here.

Western Pacific

2286 Shattuck, Berkeley, CA Visit Website