Oakland chef Charlie Hallowell will proceed with the opening of his Downtown Berkeley pizza restaurant Western Pacific after being accused of sexual harassment by more than 30 employees over the past year, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The pizza restaurant will occupy the former Build Pizzeria storefront at 2286 Shattuck Ave., according to Berkeleyside. Hallowell co-owns the Oakland restaurant Pizzaiolo and sold his other two restaurants — Penrose, and Boot and Shoe Service — earlier this year.
For the last 10 months, Hallowell was on unpaid leave. In an open apology letter to the Oakland community on Oct. 12, Hallowell said he chose to continue with the opening of the restaurant because of “a very real fiduciary responsibility to our employees and our investors.” In the letter, Hallowell apologized for creating an unsafe work environment for women.
Hallowell could not be reached for comment as of press time.
“I was hurting the women right in front of me and I did not give validity to their experiences,” Hallowell said in the letter. “I understand an apology doesn’t instantly make things right, but I offer it as an indication of the direction I want to go as an individual and as a company.”
In the letter, Hallowell detailed the restaurant group’s 12-point plan for how it will ensure all employees, especially women, feel safe in its restaurants.
To ensure women are leading the business, Hallowell said in the letter that he has given a large percentage of ownership to his former chief operating officer Donna Insalaco, who is now the co-owner and managing partner of the restaurants. Insalaco now has the ability to remove Hallowell at any time, the letter said.
Among other changes, Hallowell hired an all-female board of advisers, and ongoing anti-harassment training is now required for all staff in the restaurant group.
In Hallowell’s apology, he invited people to dunk him in a dunk tank once a month in the backyard of Pizzaiolo. He apologized for the dunk tank comment in a new letter Monday, in which he said the dunk tank comment was “clearly a mistake” that was misguided and insensitive.
Hallowell started working with a therapist who specializes in helping people address trauma and move beyond “entrenched patterns of behavior,” according to the Oct. 12 letter. He will also continue working with a social worker and men’s group facilitator who both specialize in “dealing with toxic masculinity.”
“I guess what you can do is raise awareness of his history with sexual harassment,” said Berkeley City College student Diego Mendez, who works at Happy Lemon, another Downtown Berkeley business. “What we can do as citizens is let his customers and employees know of his history and decide if they want to take action or boycott.”
Contact Lauren Good at [email protected].