OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Charlie Hallowell, one of the star chefs and restaurateurs of the Oakland culinary scene, will take a six-month leave of absence from his popular chain of eateries following sexual harassment allegations and may return only in a cooking capacity, a lawyer for the chain announced Tuesday.
While not disclosing the result of an independent investigation of the claims, Yasmeen Omidi, a lawyer for the chain’s owner/investors, told reporters that Hallowell will never return to a management position.
A new COO has been selected to run the day to day operations at Pizzaiolo on Telegraph Ave., Boot and Shoe Service on Grand and Penrose.
“Charlie stepped away from the company immediately, he has not set foot inside any of his three restaurants since Dec. 27th,” Omidi said. “He’s not taking a salary and he’s not taking any ownership disbursements. The purpose of that is to give all the employees space to deal with what’s happened and it is also give him the space that he needs to undertake the very serious and difficult work of a self reckoning — of understanding what has happened and what he needs to do to correct it going forward.”
Of the four-week investigation that ended Friday, Omidi said Hallowell will not be given the results, but that the other owners would use it to determine his future.
“The details of that report will not be given to Charlie,” she said. “Charlie is not in any sort of driver’s seat at this point…Charlie will be taking a leave of absence for a minimum of six months. During that time he will not be drawing a salary. During that time our new COO will be running these restaurants…At the end of six months, Charlie, the COO and the other owners will sit down and have a frank discussion about him coming back.”
“All parties have already agreed that if he does come back it will not be in a management capacity. He is the creative culinary force that has created these restaurants… (If he returns, he) should be operating in a creative capacity.”
At an earlier news conference, several women employed at the restaurants demanded Hallowell divest of his ownership stake. While the three restaurants have remained open, several employees have resigned since the allegations by 17 staffers were published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The employees complained about workplace “sexual harassment and pervasive verbal abuse.”
“Employees need to feel safe and know that they have someone with whom they can discuss issues of abuse in their workplace, however when the harassment comes from the very top there’s nowhere to turn and one’s only recourse is to go into survival mode and be on defensive at all time,” Sydni Skorich, a Former Hallowell Restaurant employee, said Tuesday. “In Charlie’s restaurant, to survive was to avoid him…”
“There have been attempts to bully and smear us, but we will not be intimidated,” added Jessica Moncada, another former employee. “This is not about a moment in the spotlight, but we recognize this as a duty to participate in a movement that started long before us.”