The industry’s reputation as a hotbed of sexual harassment was reinforced yesterday by accusations leveled at New York City operator Ken Friedman and lurid accounts of alleged improprieties reported in yet another media expose.
Friedman is best known as a partner in The Spotted Pig, a celebrated gastro pub in Greenwich Village. The New York Times reported accusations yesterday that he routinely pressed himself on female employees and maintained an upstairs party room where he did not stop invited guests from groping the waitresses serving them drinks. Employees nicknamed it the rape room, the Times reported.
The article also cited allegations that Friedman had bitten a female employee’s waist, shoved another’s head toward his crotch, routinely groped women on the staff and hounded at least one via text to send him lurid photos. The Times story was accompanied by a depiction of the exchange.
In a statement issued to the Times after the story ran, Friedman commented, "I own my behavior which can accurately be described at times as abrasive, rude and frankly wrong. The women who work at our restaurants are among the best in the business, and putting any of them in humiliating situations is unjustifiable. Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today's discussion. I apologize now publicly for my actions."
In addition to owning a piece of The Spotted Pig, Friedman is also a partner in The Breslin and John Dory. He entered the business after a career in the music industry, managing big-name bands like The Smiths.
The Times said it had interviewed more than two dozen employees who witnessed Friedman’s inappropriate behavior, going back more than a decade.
The story followed a report a day earlier on Eater.com that alleged routine sexual behavior by famed New York chef-restaurateur Mario Batali. The red-haired chef also figured into the Times story. The article cited an alleged instance where Batali was groping an unconscious woman in Friedman’s party room. An employee said she saw the situation on a closed-circuit TV and interrupted Batali.
The report about Friedman is the latest in a series of high-profile exposes about routine sexual misbehavior on the part of famous male chefs and restaurateurs. In late October, The Times Picayune, New Orleans’ leading newspaper, ran a comprehensive story about rampant harassment within Besh Restaurant Group, a local multi-concept operation headed by celebrity chef John Besh. He subsequently resigned as leader of the company, acknowledging in the process that he had sexual relations with a female employee, which he termed consensual.
Batali stepped out of his operation, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, on Monday, the same day Eater.com’s expose was posted online.
Another business with which Batali is involved, Eataly, is reportedly pulling products branded with the chef's name from its shelves.
Not all of the recent allegations of harassment within the industry have involved independent restaurants. Five Latina employees of McCormick & Schmick’s unit in Boston have filed a lawsuit that accuses the seafood restaurant of maintaining an abusive work environment. The plaintiffs allege that they were fondled and subjected to other lewd behavior, and that management did not halt the harassment.
McCormick & Schmick’s owner, Landry’s, said in a statement that it does not tolerate such sexual misbehavior, and noted that neither federal nor state authorities had chosen to act when the plaintiffs initially aired their allegations in 2015.
It accused the five’s lawyers of capitalizing on “the current frenzy surrounding sexual harassment.”