In light of news that Mario Batali has stepped away from his restaurant empire after sexual misconduct allegations, his actual restaurants in New York City were still just as busy as they’ve always been on Monday, according to visits from Eater staffers.
The only visible difference — Batali’s face had been scrubbed in some cases. At Greenwich Village Roman restaurant Lupa, a shelf that once featured Batali’s cookbooks had been wiped of his presence. Indeed, Joe Bastiantich’s memoir, Restaurant Man, and also his wine guide Grandi Vini, were available for purchase, but none of Batali’s celebrated cookbooks were anywhere in evidence, even though they had been profuse on previous visits.
Bastianich also visited all of the New York restaurants on Monday, trying to reassure employees, a staffer told Eater. Batali & Bastianich, the company running about 24 restaurants owned by Batali, Bastianich, and others, confirmed that he had done the rounds. Jason Denton, director of operations at the company, was also spotted at both Lupa and Otto on Monday.
“Joe visited all the NY restaurants yesterday to ensure our teams know the company is with them and behind them, and to reinforce how strongly the company takes sexual harassment,” a B&B spokesperson said. “We are proud of how our teams are handling this week and remaining focused on delivering for our guests.”
B&B also said that all merchandise, such as the Batali books, are under review. “We want to ensure our restaurants reflect our values and our respect for our teams,” a spokesperson said.
Yesterday morning, four women accused Batali of inappropriately touching them over the span of the last two decades. In a statement to Eater, the influential celebrity chef — who launched into culinary fame with regional Italian restaurants in New York — did not deny the allegations, saying they “match up” with ways he has acted. He’s stepping away from the day-to-day operations, though he still owns a share in many of the restaurants in the empire.
Although scandal sometimes leads to boycotts at businesses — Paula Deen’s Savannah restaurant was a “ghost town” after she admitted to using racial slurs — Batali’s restaurants largely seemed business as usual on Monday.
Besides the wiping of Batali’s face from the shelves, Lupa was bustling and almost seemed completely normal; at lunch, the room was about 90 percent full. At least one French couple dining there, when asked about the Batali news, looked confused and said they had no idea before returning to their pastas.
Over at upscale Del Posto in Chelsea, the news of the restaurant’s star chef owner’s departure had reached the guests — though it did not seem to stop them from dining there. The bar was full from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, and the dining room was full by 8 p.m.
Two women at the bar said they were checking the space out in anticipation of a fashion media company holiday party there the following night. They joked that maybe they could now get a discount, but added that so many people work at the restaurant who had nothing to do with Batali — so why “punish” them for his mistakes? Plus, “The drinks still taste good to me!” one said.
Otto, the sprawling restaurant near NYU, was packed at primetime dinner on Monday. Not a single bar seat was available before 7:30 p.m., and standing room tables at the front practically had no room. (The playlist was classic Batali, though maybe not the most well-thought-out given the current situation: “Free Bird,” “Hot For Teacher,” “Foxy Lady.”) By 8 p.m., the bar had cleared out, but just one single open table looked available in the dining room by then.
And over at Babbo in the West Village, which has been around since 1998, there were no free seats at the bar and no walk-in tables without a 45-minute wait; it was so packed that playing human Tetris was required. People appeared happy as they greeted a regular who worked there.
Worth noting: Babbo takes reservations 30 days out, and despite the city’s walk-in friendly zeitgeist, this is the type of place where people really do book a few weeks out. In other words, most people here decided to come a month ago. Still, at the very least, news of Batali’s behavior did not seem to prompt a mad dash to cancel reservations.
Most staffers, perhaps by company mandate, did not want to talk much about Batali on Monday. A maitre d’ at Babbo, when asked about his thoughts on the situation, simply said that he’s just trying to make sure people feel comfortable.