OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - An Oakland chef is being accused of sexual harassment by several of his former employees.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle 17 women have come forward with allegations against Chef Charlie Hallowell.
The allegations include inappropriate behavior, indecent propositions, and sexually explicit language in the workplace.
The employees claim they were subject to sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
Hallowell is the chef-owner at three popular Oakland-based restaurants including Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service and Penrose. The companies are known to support social causes.
The Chronicle reports Hallowell is stepping away from his day-to-day operations while an independent HR firm begins an investigation.
The restaurants were temporarily closed Thursday afternoon for a staff meeting inside Penrose where an employee said Hallowell gave a heartfelt apology.
The 44-year-old Chez Panisse alum declined to comment on camera to KTVU and referred us to the open letter, which serves as his statement.
Hallowell released the following letter:
"An Open Letter to my Co-Workers and the East Bay Community,
I can see very clearly that I have participated in and allowed an uncomfortable workplace for women. For this I am deeply ashamed and so very sorry. We have come to a reckoning point in the history of male bosses behaving badly, and I believe in this reckoning and I stand behind it. I understand that I cannot right the past wrongs, and at the same time, I take full responsibility for all of my actions. I am genuinely committed to shifting the ethos of the entire business to a much safer and more hospitable environment for everyone, but especially women.
I am clear that my behavior as a business owner was unfiltered and often completely inappropriate. For this I am filled with shame and have deep regret for the damage I have caused. I know that a written apology in no way justifies, excuses or “fixes” any harm I have caused. I didn't see at the time what an effect I was having on the people around me. My willingness to participate in this kind of sexism is something I regret with all my heart.
I have started to very clearly see the ways in which I have failed as a leader, ways I have allowed myself to behave and speak that compromised my employees and the women around me. I understand that my words and actions have had a damaging effect to both my female and male co-workers and our amazing company as a whole. For this I am so sorry. I am truly sorry for causing pain.
We are working with legal counsel and an HR consultant to create and implement company-wide policies and procedures to better equip the company to handle these sensitive matters. Additionally, the company is retaining an outside, independent investigative attorney to come and perform a full investigation. This investigation will provide all employees with an opportunity to express concerns to a neutral third party. This mechanism is intended to help ensure that the company creates and sustains a safe working environment for all employees. We are also retaining a very well respected restorative justice company that will facilitate reconciliation and help us all find a path forward.
In an effort to create real change, while the investigation is taking place, I will be uninvolved with the daily operations of the business. My intention is to foster a safe environment for all employees to express their experience of working in this restaurant group so that we can clearly determine how to move forward. With this information, we will work with an HR consultant who will help the company implement new policies and procedures that protect all employees and create a culture that every employees deserves to work in.
I love the community we have built, the family we have nurtured, and the beauty we have collectively brought to Oakland. I believe so much in what we have co-created and I believe that with a real shift in my personal behavior and the entire culture of my company we can create an even more beautiful company built on the things we hold dearest to our hearts: respect, justice and love.