Politics. Journalism. Entertainment. Now it seems that the restaurant industry will be the next focus for CreepDome 2017. This morning Eater published a report on celebrity chef & Crocs-lover Mario Batali, who has been accused by four women of touching them inappropriately over a span of decades. Three of the women worked with Batali at one point or another. The fourth was a fellow chef and fan of Batali’s who was groped by him during a chance encounter.
Minutes into their conversation, she recalls, he told her, “Come work for me, I’ll pay you double what you’re making.” Moments later, someone bumped her glass, spilling wine all over her chest and down her scooped-neck shirt. She alleges that Batali began rubbing her breasts with his bare hands while saying something like, “Let me help you with that,” as he groped her chest. “He just went to town, and I was so shocked,” the chef says. “Jaw on the ground, I just stepped back from him in utter disgust and walked away.”
That encounter seems to fit within the pattern of behavior reported by the other accusers, including being subjected to sexual innuendo, repeatedly being grabbed from behind, and lots of groping. The article also details how he would allegedly escalate his behavior if he was reprimanded. Steve Crane, who co-owned the restaurant Pó with Batali in the 90s, confirmed that he received complaints about the chef’s behavior.
When Crane asked Batali to stop, Batali would become more aggressive, the server alleged; some female staff eventually started asking Crane to not confront Batali with their complaints, she added. (Crane confirmed that after some women would complain, they would ask him not to confront Batali because he would only be more aggressive toward them.)
And though Batali has also helped elevate women in the restaurant field, hiring them in key positions in his restaurants, his misconduct isn’t something relegated to the past. In October of this year Batali was reprimanded by his own company, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, after a restaurant employee officially reported his inappropriate behavior. As a result of these accusations, Batali is stepping away from his restaurant empire, and ABC has asked him to also step down from his co-hosting gig on their daytime show The Chew.
What’s impressive, though, is Batali’s own statement to Eater in response to these allegations, which is basically fancy-talk for “Yup, it me” followed by a shrug.
“I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.
I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses. We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior. I won’t make that mistake again. I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there.
I know my actions have disappointed many people. The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone. To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that.”
Batali probably saw the rising tide of victims speaking out and realized it would be coming for him. He doesn’t claim any ignorance for how his behavior was perceived, and instead owns up to it whole-heartedly. It remains to be seen how his career will rebound and just how he can repair his reputation (pro-tip: stop groping!). But this scorching report comes not just as a facet of the national conversation around sexual harassment, but at a time when the restaurant and bar industry is reckoning with its own toxicity. The reality is that it is a high-stress environment and its staff are uniquely at risk — and they can be on the receiving end of harassment not only from their colleagues but from their customers (Eater has also done a good job covering this issue here).