Mario Batali and The Spotted Pig
When chef Mario Batali stepped away from his business empire this past winter, after nine women made accusations against him, it may have surprised his fans, but it did not come as a shock to many of the people who'd worked for him, or served him at The Spotted Pig, a New York City restaurant he'd invested in and frequently visited. The Spotted Pig is owned by a friend of Batali's named Ken Friedman and its chef April Bloomfield. Over the last six months we've talked to dozens of people who worked there, or in Mario Batali's restaurants. And tonight some of them are speaking out -- we want to warn you, in sometimes graphic detail -- about what they experienced or witnessed in a work environment where they say putting up with incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault were required if you wanted to keep your job.
Trish Nelson: He would ask to wrestle with me. He would try to grab me. He's a monster.
Anderson Cooper: Really? A monster?
Trish Nelson: I think Mario Batali's a monster. He has been lauded as this incredible chef and this leader. But behind the scenes he's hurtful and he does not respect women.
Anderson Cooper: And you're saying this based on your personal experience.
Trish Nelson: Yes. Yeah.
Trish Nelson was a waitress at The Spotted Pig, who frequently served Mario Batali.
Batali is one of the biggest stars in cooking. He owns 26 restaurants and has appeared on television for years, as a gregarious and friendly master Italian chef.
Trish Nelson: We called him the Red Menace.
Anderson Cooper: Why?
Trish Nelson: Because it was a warning. The Red Menace is here. You know, like, pull all of your bits in, Mario's in town.
Natalie Saibel: He came to party and have a good time. And make passes at the female wait staff and make inappropriate comments. Grab people. He--
Anderson Cooper: That happened more than once?
Jamie Seet: Yeah--
Natalie Saibel: It happened a lot.
Jamie Seet: Yeah.
Anderson Cooper: That was common?
Natalie Saibel was a waitress, and Jamie Seet a manager at The Spotted Pig.
Jamie Seet: He grabbed my breasts.
Anderson Cooper: Were you serving him?
Jamie Seet: Yeah, and he kind of reached around and--
Seet says she complained about Batali to one of the restaurant's co-owners Ken Friedman.
Jamie Seet: And I said, 'Ken, Mario just grabbed my boobs,' and he's like, 'oh, don't worry about it, it's just Mario." And I'm like ok.
Mario Batali was an investor in The Spotted Pig, and a close friend of Ken Friedman.
Ken Friedman (Newsclip): What I do for a living is basically I throw parties every night.
When Friedman opened the New York restaurant 14 years ago, he wanted a place that catered to celebrities. Batali and other A-list stars would frequently hang out in a private party room on the third floor.
Anderson Cooper: What was the allure of the third floor of The Spotted Pig for celebrities?
Trish Nelson: You could smoke cigarettes, you could smoke pot, you could do drugs, you could have sex if you wanted to, I mean, there were no boundaries.
Dozens of employees told us that lack of boundaries meant a workplace where Ken Friedman and Mario Batali did whatever they wanted, and there was no one to complain to. Many told us that emotional abuse and intimidation were common.
Anderson Cooper: Did you ever see Ken in a rage?
Trish Nelson: On a daily basis.
Anderson Cooper: What kinda things would he say?
Trish Nelson: He would berate you-- belittle you, make you feel like you were nothing.
Erin Fein, who bartended at The Spotted Pig for two years says Friedman's abuse wasn't just verbal. She says he sexually assaulted her in his car outside the restaurant in September of 2014. This is the first time she's spoken publicly about it.
Erin Fein: He lunged forward, he grabbed my face, he started kissing me very sort of sloppily. He pulled up my shirt. He put his hands on me. And I felt frozen.
Fein says she managed to get out of the car, and Friedman told her not to tell anyone what happened.
Erin Fein: It was terrible and not what I wanted. But-- you know, he didn't ask.
Hours later Friedman sent Fein these three emails, asking her for "sexy" pictures.
Erin Fein: "Send sexy pix tonight. I'll delete." And I was just really shocked by that. I worried about what would happen if I didn't respond.
Anderson Cooper: You worried if you didn't respond, what, that he might retaliate?
Erin Fein: (SIGH) It was not a good option for me to not have this job. So I thought the best move would be, you know, don't respond and just let's pretend like this never happened.
A spokesman for Ken Friedman says he "vehemently denies any non-consensual activity" and says Erin Fein "never issued a complaint" and continued to want to work for him.
Editors Note: Below, in full, is Ken Friedman's statement in response to 60 Minutes' story (or click here)
Editor's Note: Erin Fein, a former bartender at The Spotted Pig, spoke with 60 Minutes about her experience with Ken Friedman and why she says she continued to work for him in the video below
But Fein wasn't the only employee who received requests for sexy pictures from the boss. These text messages were sent to Carla Rza Betts the same night she says Friedman tried to kiss her in 2010. Rza Betts was an executive in charge of selecting wines for all Friedman's restaurants, but she says he was often demeaning to her.
Carla Rza Betts: Ken came up. And I was leaning down to put something away. And he, I had a low-cut dress on. And he said, "Oh, I understand why you need to wear push-up bras. I see the stretch marks on your breasts." And I stood up. It's amazing there's this much emotion connected to it still. I stood up and I was furious. And I was like, "Carla, don't punch a boss. Don't punch your boss. Keep your job, 'cause you love this job."
Anderson Cooper: Why do you think he said that to you?
Carla Rza Betts: It is a pure use of power to manipulate somebody into not feeling like they have any power.
It was that feeling of powerlessness they say that kept nearly all these women from speaking out until recently. Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield own seven restaurants together and have employed hundreds of people over the past 14 years, but they didn't have a full-time human resources department until 2017.
Anderson Cooper: So there was no chain of command to go to?
Carla Rza Betts: Uh-uh, nope, and I didn't go to April, because I didn't trust her with this either.
Anderson Cooper: Did you feel, as a female co-owner of the company, that April Bloomfield had your back?
Carla Rza Betts: No. I know other people went to April, and she did nothing to make them feel safe.
Other staff say Bloomfield may not have known the extent of the harassment. She declined our request for an interview but in a statement says "I am in the final stages of severing my partnership with Ken Friedman. I deeply regret not doing more to protect my staff, who relied on me."
Many of the women we spoke with say they feared being fired if they complained to Ken Friedman, and say he would sometimes blackball former employees.
Manager Jaime Seet says Freidman was so angry when she was leaving his company that he contacted the new restaurant where she had just been hired.
Jamie Seet: The director of operations of that restaurant called me and he said, "I'm so sorry. We're rescinding your job offer." And I said, "Does this have anything to do with Ken Friedman?" And he was like, "Yes.
Trish Nelson finally quit in October of 2012 the day after she says Ken Friedman sexually assaulted her in his car.
Trish Nelson: We got into the car and he lunged to kiss me. He's a 6'4" man and so your pretty overpowered, and I just felt panic. I felt panic… because I never thought that was going to happen to me. I thought that I was respected.
Ken Friedman and Mario Batali also declined our requests for interviews. In a statement, Friedman says in part "over the past several months I have focused… on my own personal decisions and my mistakes for which I have apologized."
Mario Batali says in a statement, "My past behavior has been deeply inappropriate and I am sincerely remorseful for my actions."
In December he was removed from his television show, and is leaving the company he founded.
Woman: I had thought about it a lot.
But earlier this year, another woman came forward to us, with an incident she says occurred all the way back in 2005. She asked us to conceal her identity because she says she was concerned about future job prospects.
Woman: Who wants to be defined by the worst day of their life?
She was working in Batali's restaurant Babbo when she says he invited her to The Spotted Pig for a party. She says she remembers sitting with Batali alone at a small table on the second floor drinking white wine.
Woman: It gets completely foggy for me. And this is-- part of the messy, scary part for me, there is a part where it-- it all disappears. I remember a moment where I was on his lap, kissing him. Like, he was kissing me. And then I remember throwing up-- in a toilet. And that is all.
She says she woke up around dawn in a room on the third floor of the building.
Woman: I woke up by myself on the floor, I don't know where I am, of an empty room, wooden floor. I see broken bottles. The first thing I think is, "I've been drugged." That was the first thing I thought is, "I've been-- I've been assaulted."
Woman: My right leg was very deeply wounded, like, scratched, like, deep scratches.
Woman: I didn't think I had been raped. I didn't feel any kind of trauma ...
Anderson Cooper: Internally, you didn't feel--
Woman: I didn't feel any trauma internally. But I also did find-- I looked on my skirt-- There were two areas. It looked like DNA.
Anderson Cooper: Semen.
She says she had to go into work, and hours later was back at Batali's restaurant Babbo when he called in.
Woman: I said, "What happened?"
Anderson Cooper: You asked him that.
Woman: Yeah, I asked him. "What-- what happened last night," And he just was silent, wouldn't talk to me.
After her shift she says she called a crisis hotline and went to a hospital for an examination. Four people confirmed to us that she told them what happened at the time, one of whom accompanied her to the hospital. She says she also went to speak with a detective at the New York Police Department's Special Victims Division.
Woman: They tried getting me to file a report. They tried, they tried. But I-- you know, a young actress, no resources, no money. I couldn't. I-- I couldn't do it.
Because she declined to file a police report, the rape kit taken at the hospital was never processed, and hospital records have been expunged. She still has few answers as to how she ended up blacked out and alone on the third floor of The Spotted Pig.
Anderson Cooper: You believe he broke the law with you?
Woman: Yes, and that's why I called the crisis hotline, because I knew something very wrong happened to me.
Mario Batali issued a statement that says, "I vehemently deny the allegation that I sexually assaulted this woman."
Editors Note: Below, in full, is Mario Batali's statement in response to 60 Minutes' story (or click here)
But three years later, there was another incident in that third-floor party room. Manager Jamie Seet told us what she saw, and three other employees, who were also there, confirmed her account.
Jamie Seet: We were in the third floor of the restaurant, and there are cameras. And there had been a party. And it dwindled down to two people, Mario and then this woman.
Seet says she was counting the evening's receipts in the office and watched on a video monitor as Mario Batali began to reach his hand up between the legs of the woman.
Jamie Seet: She was-- you know, she looked like this. So that to me looks like someone is unconscious.
Anderson Cooper: And he actually-- You saw him pull up his chair and start to touch her?
Jamie Seet: Uh-huh.
Anderson Cooper: Sexually?
Jamie Seet: Yes.
Anderson Cooper: When you saw that on the monitor, what did you think?
Jamie Seet: You know he crossed a line. A huge, a huge line, as of-- to doing-- assaulting someone that's unconscious.
Jamie Seet: So we all went out there, and we-- we stopped what was going on. "Hey Mario. How are you doing? Let's get you a cab." Just-- you know, we were saying something just to snap him out of this.
Seet and others say a number of employees later watched the video of what happened, and say Ken Friedman was told about it as well.
Anderson Cooper: You have no doubt you saw Mario Batali--
Jamie Seet: No doubt. Absolutely--
Anderson Cooper: --sexually assaulting an unconscious or semi-conscious woman.
Jamie Seet: Yeah, no doubt at all, and to this day I'm-- I feel ashamed that I never called the police.
We spoke to the attorney for the woman, who at the time was an up-and-coming chef. She declined our request for an interview.
Trish Nelson and all the women we spoke to say they are speaking out about The Spotted Pig because what happened to them is all too common they say in the restaurant industry.
Trish Nelson: Doing this over 20 years there isn't one place that I haven't had this kind of an experience.
Anderson Cooper: There's not one restaurant you've worked in that you haven't had some sort of harassment?
Trish Nelson: Exactly. It's pervasive throughout the entire industry.
Anderson Cooper: You would like -- what happened to you and others to have an impact around the country?
Trish Nelson: Yes. I would love for women to be able to feel like they finally have a voice. They can say 'no' and not lose their jobs.
The New York Police Department confirms to 60 Minutes that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into Mario Batali.
Produced by Michael Rey and Oriana Zill de Granados. Associate producer, Lucy Boyd.
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