Mario Batali is stepping away from his restaurant empire after four women have accused him of sexual harassment. Eater, which published a report this morning after conducting dozens of interviews with industry professionals, spoke with the women, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. The alleged behavior spans over two decades.
Three of the women had worked for Batali. In one case, he allegedly rubbed a female chef's breasts at a party after someone had spilled wine on her. One former employee claimed that he repeatedly grabbed her from behind and tightly held her against him.
Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, which oversees 24 restaurants owned by Batali and others, told Eater it reprimanded Batali in October, when an employee formally reported his alleged misconduct for the first time. B&B said he was required to undergo training.
"We have had systematic policies and training about sexual harassment for over 10 years, including a detailed procedure for employees to report complaints to senior management," B&B said in a statement. "All members of management have participated in these trainings, including Mr. Batali." B&B says it's taking things a step farther by employing outside corporate investigations firm T&M Protection Resources to independently examine cases.
Batali said in a statement to Eater that he is taking leave for an indefinite period of time.
"I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt," he said. "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."
He added that he is taking the leave because he has "work to do" to regain the trust of those he has hurt. "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," he said. While Batali has stepped away from day-to-day operations, he is still the owner of his restaurants, the B&B spokesperson told Eater.
While some seem satisfied with his apology, many people took issue with him seemingly equating "fun and [indulgence]" with sexual harassment — and called it out on Twitter. While his statement was "almost effective," writes Leah Fessler at Quartz, "There is no world in which this sexual abuse is 'fun.' There is no world in which this sexual abuse could be justified as a reasonable 'indulgence.' There is no world in which Batali — or any person — should make any excuse for harassing anyone."
"I think the reckoning is coming across the board. It is a time for women and men to face each other across the board, across the table," he said then. Discussing the predominantly female staff at his restaurant Del Posto, he said: "It's not because they have a vagina, it's because they are the smartest people for the job."
We have reached out to Mario Batali's office and will update this story when we hear back.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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