Does a restaurant with a history of sexual harassment allegations belong in a guide to ethical eating? Absolutely not, say critics. They question the inclusion of Pizzaiolo, a restaurant in Oakland owned by chef Charlie Hallowell — accused by more than 30 women of sexual harassment — in the recently released book “Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery,” the subject of a recent Q&A in the Post.
“Work Equity takes great exception to the inclusion of Pizzaiolo as a restaurant which treats workers ‘fair[ly] and ethically’,” wrote Pamela Lopez, the president of the organization, which works with people who have endured sexual harassment, in an email.
Hallowell is not mentioned in the guide, nor are the allegations against him. Instead, the entry lists current chef Courtney Rockwell-Gehrett. Asked about the inclusion of the restaurant, Blackwell & Ruth publisher Ruth Hobday initially told The Post: “We learned of [the allegations] during the final stages [of the guide’s production], but after further investigation ultimately resolved that as he was no longer involved in the running of the business, and he wasn’t named — the head chef is — that we could, in all good conscience, include them.”
But in the wake of reaction to the initial Post piece, Hobday said the publisher has decided to revisit the matter. “We have taken our own steps to clarify whether Charlie Hallowell has in fact returned to day-to day-involvement at Pizzaiolo,” wrote Hobday in an email. “While we conduct our enquiries, we have removed Pizzaiolo from the Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery website. If we find he has returned, then it will not reappear on the website and will not feature in the next edition of the guide.”
The controversy highlights the inherent challenge of a self-auditing system of selecting restaurants worthy of being in a guide designed to celebrate and promote ethical eating. In addition to serving delicious food, the stated criteria for inclusion in “Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery” includes the sourcing of ingredients locally and sustainably, consideration of the impacts of a business on the environment, fair and ethical treatment of workers, and civic engagement in the community.
A former chef at Alice Waters’s landmark Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, Hallowell sold two of his three Oakland restaurants in the wake of the allegations, first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2017. (Hallowell is among a slew of chefs and restaurateurs, including Mario Batali, John Besh, Ken Friedman and Mike Isabella, who have come under fire for their sexual misconduct.)
Hallowell has retained ownership in Pizzaiolo but told a reporter who met with him last Friday at Western Pacific, his new restaurant in Berkeley, that he is not involved in the day-to-day running of Pizzaiolo and does not receive a salary from that restaurant. The 14-year-old Pizzaiolo — once held in high esteem in culinary circles — is known for championing organic sustainable produce from local growers such as Riverdog Farm and Full Belly Farm.
In an October 2018 open letter to the Oakland community that was also sent to food media, Hallowell apologized for his “transgressions,” wrote about participating in the life of the restaurant again, and laid out a 12-point plan to make it a safe space for women, including sharing ownership with a new chief operating officer, Donna Insalaco; providing ongoing sexual harassment training; and forming an all-female board of advisers.
In a move that was roundly ridiculed in news accounts, he also wrote of making himself available for an atonement of sorts, a once-a-month dunk tank at Pizzaiolo — so anyone could come by and take shots at him. For sexual harassment survivors, it was evidence of tone deafness at best and lack of sincere remorse at worst. Hallowell followed up with an apology for what he called a misguided and insensitive attempt at humor.
A visit to Pizzaiolo last Friday morning found the restaurant full of diners drinking coffee, eating breakfast and hunching over their laptops. Rockwell-Gehrett, prepping for the night’s menu, told a reporter that while he could not speak to Hallowell’s financial affairs, he could confirm that Hallowell is not a daily presence in the restaurant and that his interactions with Hallowell are mostly confined to email correspondence. (Hallowell is listed as both chef and owner on Pizzaiolo’s website.)
Even the story behind how Pizzaiolo ended up in the guide reveals how divided and conflicted people feel about the place. The food writer assigned to recommend Northern California restaurant picks, former San Francisco magazine food editor Rebecca Flint Marx, did not include the restaurant on her shortlist. She says she learned about its placement in the book when she was approached for comment for this story.
“I was surprised and more than a little perturbed to learn of Pizzaiolo’s inclusion in the guide,” said Flint Marx, adding that she was not consulted about the decision, nor did she have access to galleys or proofs before publication. “While I believe that Pizzaiolo’s sustainability practices are laudable, and that its hard-working employees don’t deserve to be penalized for Charlie Hallowell’s behavior, its inclusion in a guide celebrating ‘ethical’ restaurants was bound to create a reaction among people who truly care about these things, myself included. If Charlie is still profiting, then that puts the restaurant at odds with the values of the guide, and that’s not something that can be shrugged off.”
Hallowell’s supporters say they have faith in his expressed remorse and ability to change, and that they are committed to a concept known as restorative justice, which emphasizes accountability and making amends. His detractors maintain that nothing short of divestment in ownership is necessary to heal the restaurant’s broken culture.
Hobday told The Post that Pizzaiolo was nominated by Waters, who is listed on the editors page of the guide and wrote its introduction. Waters’s office alerted the publisher to the controversy in the course of the production of the book. “We chose to keep Pizzaiolo in the guide for their sustainability practices,” Waters’ spokeswoman, Claire Sullivan, wrote in an email. “We knew that Charlie had stepped back from the restaurant and was not a part of day-to-day operations. We have not been updated about any change with Charlie’s involvement in the restaurant. If the situation has changed, then the inclusion of Pizzaiolo in the guide should be revisited.” The publisher is donating 5 percent of revenue from the guide to Waters’s Edible Schoolyard Project.
Hobday said that as publisher she reserves the right to cancel the membership and remove from the guide and its website any business that does not meet its standards, and that she has removed restaurants from other countries at the discretion of the editors concerned.
One stated purpose of the guide is for diners to feel good about where they spend their dining dollars. For some, that means actively avoiding a restaurant with a history of alleged mistreatment of workers. One critic of Pizzaiolo’s inclusion in “Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery” signed an email as a “public school teacher in Oakland who no longer frequents the restaurant because I care about women and have ethics.”
Henry is a freelance writer in Berkeley.
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