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Mario Batali, who is facing sexual harassment and assault allegations from eight women, allegedly used famed New York City eatery The Spotted Pig to attack women, according to a New York Times report.
The Tuesday exposé featured accounts from 10 women, with several speaking on the record, alleging Spotted Pig owner Ken Friedman had harassed them. The misconduct claims include unwanted sexual advances and groping in public. One longtime server, Trish Nelson, alleged Friedman grabbed her head and pulled it towards his crotch in front of patron Amy Poehler in 2007 and later forced his tongue down her mouth, forcing her to quit. (Poehler told the Times she didn’t recall the first incident, but said it was “horrible.”)
The report painted a dark behind-the-scenes view into the New York hotspot, which is known for hosting celebrities and A-listers. The women described an “unusually sexualized and coercive” environment being run by Freidman, who co-owns four additional New York restaurants, one in San Francisco and another in Los Angeles with chef April Bloomfield. Celebrity chef and TV host Batali is an early investor and frequenter of The Spotted Pig.
Many of the women told the Times that working for Friedman required them to tolerate daily kissing and touching, as well as working private parties that included public sex and nudity. Employees said they regularly experienced or witnessed “sexual aggression” by Batali at The Spotted Pig, claiming the acts occurred with Friedman’s knowledge.
On the West Village restaurant’s third floor, an invitation-only room that often played host to the most VIP of guests, was where Batali was seen on a security camera groping and kissing a woman who appeared to be unconscious during a 2008 party, according to former manager Jamie Seet.
“We called him ‘the Red Menace,’” Nelson added. “He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend’s face.”
The Times says the third-floor space has been nicknamed “the rape room” among industry insiders.
“Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today’s discussion,” said Friedman, in part, to the Times (which posted his full apology, along with responses from Bloomfield and his human resources director). Said Bloomfield, “I feel we have let down our employees and for that I sincerely apologize.”
Batali also issued an apology: “Though I don’t remember these specific accounts, there is no question I have behaved terribly. There are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused.”
Friedman announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately, after the story was published. Batali had previously announced that he was stepping away from the day-to-day affairs of his restaurant empire after Eater published a report on Monday. He also has stepped away from co-hosting ABC’s The Chew, and his products have been removed from the shelves of the Italian marketplace chain that he co-owns, Eataly.
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