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Six employees have resigned from the notable Oakland restaurant group amid the company’s response to widespread sexual harassment allegations against its owner-chef.

The resignations are the latest fallout over the bombshell that acclaimed Chef Charlie Hallowell, owner of Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service and Penrose, created an abusive work environment by propositioning female employees and talking explicitly about sex. The allegations were first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in December, based on interviews with 17 employees, and confirmed in interviews with this paper.

Four of the employees who resigned in the wake of the allegations were managers, according to Larry Kamer, a crisis communications consultant who has been serving as a spokesman for the restaurant group.

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“We understand that some people feel they can’t continue to work there,” Kamer said, adding that he’s not sure if more employees will resign. The restaurant group is working to hire staff to fill those vacancies.

Several managers had reportedly threatened to quit if Hallowell did not divest from the company. Hallowell stepped away from daily operations at his restaurants and has not been taking a salary or distributions, Kamer said, but he still has equity in the restaurant group and hopes to return.

“He would like to come back at the appropriate time, but that time is not now,” Kamer said, adding that the restaurant group is focused now on investigating the sexual harassment allegations and reforming its policies and culture.

But some employees believe reform isn’t happening soon enough. Workers protested outside Boot and Shoe Service over the weekend. The restaurant closed its brunch service Saturday, both because of the protest and to allow its employees to participate in the women’s marches happening around the Bay Area, Kamer said.

Hallowell has been considered a star in the Bay Area restaurant scene, having started his cooking career at the famed Chez Panisse in the late 1990s before breaking out on his own, first with Pizzaiolo in 2005 and then with Boot and Shoe Service and Penrose.

In an “open letter” shared with the Bay Area News Group last month, Hallowell said he “takes full responsibility” for his actions and admitted that his “unfiltered” and “completely inappropriate” behavior had created “an uncomfortable workplace for women.”

He said he was “deeply ashamed and sorry” and acknowledged the cultural shift in American society in the wake of allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein and other powerful figures in Hollywood, politics, tech and business.

“We have come to a reckoning point in the history of male bosses behaving badly, and I believe in this reckoning and I stand behind it,” he said in the statement.

Sexual misconduct is rampant in the restaurant industry. According to data analyzed by Buzzfeed, more than 170,000 claims were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 1995 and 2016 — 83 percent of them filed by women — and those do not count the ones resolved internally (or not at all).

Source: mercurynews.com


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