Soleil Ho announced in her first Chronicle newsletter that she is choosing not to review or endorse businesses from one of the most noteworthy local perpetrators of sexual misconduct in restaurant kitchens.
Chef and restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, the founder and original force behind popular Oakland pizza spots Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe Service as well as the former Penrose, was the center of one of the biggest #MeToo Movement storms last year. A December 2017 piece in the San Francisco Chronicle reported the accusations of 17 women, all former employees, who described years of sexual harassment and rampant verbal abuse by Hallowell. The women described Hallowell's "constant need to talk about sex or anything sexual" and his "sexual Tourette's disorder" — one example was comparing the feeling of properly made pizza dough to "a fat girl’s tit." The number of accusers would ultimately grow to 30.
Hallowell subsequently apologized and "stepped away" from his restaurants. Penrose was sold to chef Rico Rivera and has been rechristened Almond & Oak. Hallowell also sold Boot & Shoe Service to an employee, Jen Cremer, and it's retained its name and concept.
But Hallowell has reportedly occasionally returned to the kitchen at his flagship, Pizzaiolo, and he's opened a new restaurant in Berkeley — originally slated to be called Boot & Shoe Berkeley, it's called Western Pacific. That debuted in October, and it has four stars on Yelp.
On the eve of that restaurant's opening, Hallowell again made some public apologies for his behavior, and wrote up a "12-point plan" for his return to public life as a chef, which included the unfortunately joke-y detail of installing a dunk-tank in the backyard at Pizzaiolo where employees could periodically dunk him if they wished.
Ho notes that as she passed by Western Pacific recently, it was crowded with people enjoying pizza and pasta. "Maybe they had no idea about the owner’s history; maybe some believed he’d been treated unfairly; and maybe some just didn’t care and simply wanted a quick bowl of gluten-free porridge for lunch."
Ho writes that as a critic "I don’t have to go anywhere I don’t want to go," and she says, "I consider my refusal to grant publicity to chefs like John Besh, Mario Batali or Charlie Hallowell as another line that I won’t cross, for both public and my personal health."
Prior to his retirement last year, former critic Michael Bauer chose to drop Pizzaiolo and Boot & Shoe service from his Top 100, citing the "magnitude" of the accusations against Hallowell. He did, however, choose to keep Tosca Cafe (now wholly owned by chef April Bloomfield) despite its connections to accused harasser Ken Friedman, and Coqueta and Bottega, owned by Michael Chiarello, who has faced accusations of his own and has settled a couple of cases out of court.