Pizza restaurant Western Pacific opened in Downtown Berkeley on Thursday. The restaurant’s co-owner, Oakland chef Charlie Hallowell, was accused of sexual harassment by more than 30 employees over the past year.
According to a press release, Hallowell and co-owner Donna Insalaco have worked with chef de cuisine Troy Wilcox to create a “pizza-centric and small plate focused menu often prepared with organic, locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients.”
The restaurant is located at 2286 Shattuck Ave., where BUILD Pizzeria used to be. The 100-seat dining room is designed to reflect the natural environment of Northern California, evoking the “rugged coast” and redwood forests, according to designer Wylie Price.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Hallowell’s employees accused him of sexual harassment and pervasive verbal abuse. They described a work environment where he frequently used sexually explicit language and abused his power. Hallowell sold two of his restaurants — Penrose, and Boot and Shoe Service — earlier this year, but still co-owns the Oakland restaurant Pizzaiolo, along with Western Pacific.
After 10 months of unpaid leave from his restaurants, Hallowell wrote an open letter Oct. 11 apologizing for his behavior but explained that he was moving forward with Western Pacific because of his team’s fiduciary responsibility to its employees and investors.
“I created a work environment that was unsafe for women, and where many people, women, and men, were compelled to absorb my inappropriate speech and behavior,” Hallowell said in the letter. “I am so sorry for the damage I caused and the effect it has had on all of you.”
Several Bay Area residents said that despite his apology, they still would probably not eat at Western Pacific.
“Being a woman myself, and as an Oakland resident, I already feel paranoid walking home, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating there,” Berkeley City College student Iris Quach said.
To ensure that women are leading the business, Hallowell said in his apology that he has given a large percentage of ownership to Insalaco, who is now the managing partner. Additionally, the team drafted a 12-point plan to ensure the safety of all employees in the workplace.
Hallowell and the entire staff will be required to participate in ongoing sexual harassment training, management training and workshops. The restaurant group also has a third-party human resources company that employees can contact and file official complaints with.
Berkeley resident Marianna Tendick said it is good that Hallowell is instituting sexual harassment training, but he should have already had the training at his company. She added that both employees and customers of the restaurant should know about the accusations against him.
“I wouldn’t work for him, and I wouldn’t eat there,” Tendick said. “If you eat there, you’re basically supporting someone who has sexually harassed countless women.”