New York City restaurateur Ken Friedman has been accused of sexual harassment by a number of former employees. In dozens of interviews conducted by The New York Times, 10 women said the 56-year-old subjected them to unwanted sexual advances, including groping them in public, demanding sex, and making requests via text message for nude pictures or for group sex. It was also revealed that working for Friedman required tolerating daily kisses and touches, pulling all-night shifts at private parties that included public sex and nudity, and enduring catcalls and gropes from Friedman’s friends.
All employees interviewed claim many women were subject to Friedman’s unwelcome sexual advances — both verbal and physical — almost every day. They said he had frequent consensual sexual relationships with employees and openly hired, promoted, and fired people based on their physical attractiveness. Interviewees allege that he was often drunk at work and pressured staff members to drink and take drugs with him and guests.
One incident involved Natali Saibel, a longtime waitress at The Spotted Pig, a restaurant Friedman owns in partnership with Mario Batali, who is currently facing sexual harassment allegations himself. Saibel alleges that in 2004, Friedman ran his hands over her buttocks and groin in a room filled with customers while joking he was searching her pockets for a forbidden cellphone. Saibel claims to have written up a formal complaint about Friedman, which was sent to restaurant managers and top chef April Bloomfield. Shortly after, Saibel and her husband were fired for minor infractions.
Other employees who voiced their concerns with Bloomfield say they received the same responses: “That’s who he is. Get used to it. Or go work for someone else.” The chef has apologized, yet denied the claims. She told The New York Times she referred any complaints to the company’s outside labor counsel and spoke with Friedman to address professional policies and boundaries.
In a statement to the paper, Friedman said his personal and professional lives are intertwined with his restaurants and staff. He continued: “Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today’s discussion. I apologize now publicly for my actions.”
He said his behavior “can be accurately described at times as abrasive, rude and frankly wrong,” and that the women who work for him “are among the best in the business and putting any of them in humiliating situations is unjustifiable.”
Friedman owns five restaurants in New York, including The Spotted Pig, Breslin Bar & Dining Room, John Dory Oyster Bar, Salvation Taco, and White Gold Butchers. He also runs Tosca Café in San Francisco and the brand new Hearth & Hound in Los Angeles. A day after The New York Times released its exposé, Friedman’s company announced he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.
The Daily Meal has reached out to The Spotted Pig for further comment.
Other celebrity chefs accused of sexual misconduct just this year include New Orleans’ John Besh, Plaza Hotel’s Todd English, Top Chef alum Johnny Iuzzini, and The Chew’s Mario Batali. The scope of the problem makes the need for reform perhaps the most important of the 20 lessons we learned about food in 2017.