The Spotted Pig Restaurant Empire Is Fracturing
Posted May 25, 2018 7:37 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — The once-robust empire that restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield built together is showing signs of breaking apart, five months after Friedman was accused of sexually harassing employees and retaliating against those who complained.
The two partners are no longer involved in Salvation Taco, the restaurant they opened in 2012 in the Pod 39 hotel in Manhattan, said Richard Born, an owner of the hotel, which has taken over the restaurant.
As lawyers for Friedman and Bloomfield near the end of efforts to dissolve the partnership, the fate of two of their six remaining restaurants — the Breslin Bar and Dining Room and the John Dory Oyster Bar, both in the Ace hotel in Manhattan — is particularly uncertain. GFI Hospitality, the management company that retained the group to provide all food service for the hotel, is renegotiating that contract, three people knowledgeable about the matter said. (The company said, through a representative, that “nothing has changed.”)
Other restaurants are shedding talent. One of Bloomfield’s longest-serving lieutenants, chef Josh Even, resigned from Tosca Cafe, in San Francisco, last week along with the general manager, Dana Katzakian. High-profile butchers Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest, who were hand-picked by Bloomfield to run White Gold Butchers, on the Upper West Side, walked away in March.
Charlene Santiago of the John Dory, Christina Lecki of the Breslin and Katharine Marsh of the Spotted Pig, all longtime protégés in whom Bloomfield had invested years of training, have left their posts as chefs de cuisine in the group’s most prestigious kitchens. The Hearth & Hound opened in Los Angeles in December, but the head chef, pastry chef and wine director have left. (Nevertheless, the restaurants remain popular with customers.)
Most of the staff exodus has occurred since December, when The New York Times reported that 10 women — current and former employees of the restaurant group — said Friedman had subjected them to sexual harassment. Even more said he maintained a coercive and sexualized atmosphere, with Bloomfield’s knowledge — particularly at their first restaurant, the Spotted Pig, which opened in 2004.
Friedman has disputed the accuracy of those accounts, but apologized for behavior that can be “described at times as abrasive, rude and frankly wrong.” He was immediately removed from the restaurant group’s daily operations, and negotiations have since begun to split the business.
In response to several questions from The Times, Friedman’s lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, released a statement Thursday: “It has been a complex and protracted process, but Mr. Friedman hopes and expects the separation will be completed shortly. Given ongoing discussions we don’t believe it would be appropriate to say more at this time.”
Bloomfield issued a one-sentence statement the same day: “As I finalize ending my current business partnership, my future plans will not involve Ken Friedman.”
On Monday, the New York Police Department confirmed that it was investigating a woman’s claim that she was sexually assaulted at the Spotted Pig in 2005 by celebrity chef Mario Batali, an investor and a regular at the restaurant’s private third floor. (Police are also looking into another woman’s complaint that Batali drugged and raped her in 2004 at his Greenwich Village restaurant Babbo, a person familiar with the matter said.) Batali has denied that he engaged in any sexual assault.
Batali’s partners in the B&B Hospitality Group announced this week that they expected to complete the process of buying him out by July 1, and would continue to operate the group’s 20-plus restaurants worldwide.
The separation of Friedman and Bloomfield is more complicated; they are slicing up an empire, not surrendering one. Their remaining restaurants are operated by the partners’ company, Biergarten LLC. As the company is being broken up for parts, the future of those restaurants is unclear.
A “60 Minutes” segment about the scandal, broadcast Sunday, only made the separation more complicated. The Spotted Pig was identified as the location of the alleged sexual assault under investigation by New York police, making it a possible crime scene.
Friedman has been accused not only of harassing his own employees, but also of knowingly allowing Batali to do the same.
On Thursday, Friedman said through a spokesman that he had told Batali about five years ago that he could no longer host or attend parties on the third floor, because his behavior there had become intolerable. Theresa Callaghan, the restaurant’s current manager, and two other people said they were told about the ban. But they and others said Batali continued to visit the Pig occasionally.
On Friday, through a representative, Batali denied that the conversation with Friedman ever took place.
Trish Nelson, a former server at the Spotted Pig who said Friedman had groped her and that Batali had verbally harassed her, said Bloomfield was aware of the rampant sexual harassment there but did not intervene. Many other employees have concurred.
“April is one of the few women in this industry who worked their way up through the trenches,” Nelson said. “She had to be so tough to get there, and then she had to keep being tough to stay there, to the point of becoming inhuman.”
In public statements, Bloomfield has apologized for not doing more, said “the extent of events” was kept from her, and pledged that “under my watch no employee will endure this kind of pain again.” Many prominent women in the restaurant industry have shared their disappointment in Bloomfield with one another, but have been reluctant to openly criticize her.
Gayle Pirie, the chef and co-owner of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, is one of the few to go public. “I am dumbstruck that a female partner could possibly be complicit in the abhorrent behavior of her male partner,” she wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle in December.
Many people remain conflicted about Bloomfield. “Maybe there was a point that she either tried to say something and nothing changed, so she rolled with it because that was the status quo of our industry,” said Adrienne Cheatham, a New York chef who cooked for eight years at Le Bernardin. “But it still doesn’t make me feel any better about it."
Cheatham has long been a fan of Bloomfield’s cooking, but said she would not eat at any of her restaurants until she hears more from Bloomfield.
Others have weighed in on social media, reluctantly turning away from Bloomfield. In a tweet, food writer J. Kenji López-Alt, said: “Dropping Batali and Friedman is easy. It breaks my heart to also drop April who had long been an idol.”
Bloomfield has spent part of May cooking at Coombeshead Farm, a luxurious rustic guesthouse in Cornwall, England, that she opened in 2016 with British chef Tom Adams. It is her only professional enterprise in her native Britain, and her only restaurant project in which Friedman is not involved.