Ten months after Charlie Hallowell first came under scrutiny for multiple accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace, the well-known restaurateur behind Oakland’s Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe and Penrose, has written an open letter apologizing for his behavior. He also said he’s returning to having more of a hands-on role in running his operation, after stepping away on unpaid leave for ten months. His involvement will be under new terms, however, and he has given up the majority ownership of his business.
Hallowell said the new downtown Berkeley restaurant that he was planning to open in the former BUILD Pizzeria space at 2286 Shattuck Ave. (at Bancroft), before the scandal broke, will now move forward.
“We have a very real fiduciary responsibility to our employees and our investors,” he wrote, addressing why the decision was made to proceed. “A large group of women and men have put their time and money on the line in order to stand behind this restaurant getting open. We do it with the utmost humility.” The restaurant will be called Western Pacific and the menu will feature pizzas. Readers have noticed construction work underway at the large corner space over recent months. One said she spotted Hallowell working on the premises Thursday.
Hallowell has given a “large percentage” of the ownership of his business to his former COO Donna Insalaco. In his email — which details the therapy he has engaged in and includes a 12-point outline of how things will be “different moving forward” — Hallowell said Insalaco is now the co-owner and managing partner of the entire restaurant group. The business has also formed an all-female board of advisers.
With the subject header “An open letter to the Oakland community,” the email was sent out around 5:30 p.m. Thursday to those who subscribe to the Pizzaiolo e-newsletter.
“I want to apologize for letting you and our entire community down,” Hallowell wrote. “I lost track of a promise to make my restaurants safe spaces for everyone. I lost my ability to really listen to and feel the people around me, and I became numb to the fact that I was expecting people, especially women, to shoulder the effects of my inappropriate speech and behavior.”
The numerous allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse of employees emerged in December 2017 in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. At that point, 17 former employees from the three Hallowell restaurants described “a demoralizing work environment where his indecent propositions and abuse of his power were the norm, along with a near-constant stream of sexually explicit language.”
Hallowell said in his letter that Insalaco, who is overseeing the opening of Western Pacific with him, “has the legal and administrative authority to be the final word on any decision. She can remove Charlie at any time.” He also made clear that his former business partner, Richard Weinstein, is no longer involved in the business.
After the harassment accusations came to light, Hallowell divested of two of his restaurants. He sold Penrose (3311 Grand Ave.) to Rico Rivera, the executive chef at Oakland’s Flora, who once was employed by Hallowell at Pizzaiolo. And he sold Boot & Shoe Service (3308 Grand Ave. ) in April to another former employee, Jen Cremer and her husband Richard Clark.
As part of his penance, Hallowell said he would be available to anyone who would like to talk to him every Friday between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on the back patio of Pizzaiolo, beginning on Oct. 19. Point 10 of his promise list also states that once a month a dunk tank will be set up on the same patio. “Charlie will be in the dunk seat and anyone who wants to put him in the tank can come and give it a shot!,” he wrote.