Oakland restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, who has been accused of multiple instances of sexual harassment, has apologized for some of the things he wrote in an open apology letter he sent out Friday, after his first attempt met with pushback.
In Friday’s email, Hallowell apologized for his past behavior and outlined a 12-point plan for moving forward. But one point in particular in the letter struck many as inappropriately lighthearted given the gravity of his alleged behavior: his claim that he would set up a public dunk tank in the back yard at Pizzaiolo. “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.
Janet Winter, commenting on Berkeleyside’s story about the first apology letter, wrote, “… the dunk tank is just a stupid idea. It makes light of the very real damage he did to his employees, as if he can just joke it away, and that doesn’t make it right.”
Speaking to The Guardian, Mika Hilaire, an attorney who represented about a dozen Hallowell accusers, said she was shocked to learn about the dunk tank. “A letter like this triggers the emotional harm that these women have had to endure, and by making light of it, it reinjures them,” she said.
In his second email, titled “A follow up, with gratitude,” and sent to the restaurant group’s subscriber list on Monday evening, Hallowell wrote that, based on feedback he received from his first email, he “wanted to clarify a few things.”
“First, I would like to add another apology: The dunk tank comment was clearly a mistake. It was not meant to make light of the situation. I can see now that it was misguided and insensitive,” he wrote.
The restaurateur also revised his plans to have regular “open hours:” “… based on some helpful feedback, I have decided to continue to hold space on Fridays at Pizzaiolo through the month of November, but I am also searching for a more neutral space for those who are not comfortable with meeting at Pizzaiolo … stay tuned for details,” he wrote.
While some people were positive about the transparency and openness of Hallowell’s plans for discussion hours, others had less of an optimistic view, feeling that he was still trying to define the terms of how, when, where and why his detractors should trust him again.
In his second email, Hallowell also wrote: “The letter was meant to be an acknowledgment of the ways I have hurt the women around me, an apology, and a humble plan on how we make changes to our business so it is truly a place of safety for our team and for the community. It is not the “plan for my return”.
After fall-out from the allegations, Hallowell gave up the majority ownership of his business to Donna Insalaco, who is now the co-owner and managing partner of the entire restaurant group. He also cut ties with his former business partner, Richard Weinstein, and created an all-female board of advisers.
Hallowell also clarified in his follow-up that he is no longer the owner of either Boot & Shoe Service or Penrose.
Last month, Boot & Shoe Service celebrated its grand reopening, what it called a “reboot,” under the new ownership of Jen Cremer and Richard Clark. The couple told Eater SF that they have been working on refreshing the restaurant’s reputation as a “healthy and fun” workplace for employees and a place where customers who were avoiding Hallowell restaurants could once again patronize “with a clear conscience.”
In July, Penrose was sold to Rico Rivera, the former executive chef at Flora. Both Cremer and Rivera are former Hallowell employees.
However, Hallowell is moving forward, in partnership with Insalaco, to open Western Pacific, a pizza-focused restaurant in the former BUILD Pizzeria space at 2286 Shattuck Ave. (at Bancroft), in downtown Berkeley.