Disgraced restaurateur Ken Friedman won’t be bailed out by New York chef darling Gabrielle Hamilton and her partner Ashley Merriman after all, according to Merriman and multiple sources.
The James Beard Award-winning chef behind Prune sent an email to at least some of the Spotted Pig’s staff last week announcing that she will no longer be partnering with Friedman, who was accused of serial sexual misconduct at his restaurants last December. In an email with the subject line “true heartbreak!”, Hamilton wrote that she and the restaurateur could not reach a final deal for her to operate the iconic West Village gastropub.
“We felt we needed to be the actual owners and final decision makers of the day-to-day decisions of the restaurant, and we couldn’t make our case persuasively enough for Ken to agree to that,” the email, which was sent to Eater by multiple people, says. In a separate letter to staff, Merriman also writes that she was “heartbroken” but that they “quite simply can’t reach an agreement that feels just and ethical.” Both letters are in full below.
Hamilton and Merriman said in June that they planned to help Friedman run the Spotted Pig, a new partnership after Friedman longtime collaborator April Bloomfield split following the misconduct allegations. The decision shocked and angered many in the restaurant world, who regarded Hamilton as a champion of female chefs and restaurateurs.
The duo defended the decision; they called their plan a humanitarian effort to enter “ground zero” of a “man-made disaster,” comparing it to chef José Andrés’ work in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In follow-up interviews, they said they would be helping to change restaurant culture by joining.
Since the Prune chefs’ announcement, news has also come out that the New York attorney general is investigating the restaurant for sexual harassment and workplace discrimination — with potential for a civil lawsuit against Friedman for alleged behavior. Despite the scandal surrounding the Pig, the restaurant famous for its elevated pub fare reportedly remains quite popular.
Still, the goodbye email to Spotted Pig staff from Hamilton reiterates their original intent to “figure out” sexual misconduct in the workplace at the restaurant but ends the email with “I trust he knows better than we do what the path forward is for you all.”
Merriman and Hamilton did not immediately have further comment. Eater has also reached out to Friedman for comment. Here’s Hamilton’s email in full.
well, it’s hello and goodbye in the same email. what an awkward and regrettable--not to mention stinging--sadness for me!
there was a lot to figure out here at the pig--the symbolic and for some, actual, “ground zero” of the topic of sexual misconduct in the workplace of our industry. one hundred thanks for the chance to meet you all and work with you and begin meaningful conversations about your workplace and its highs and lows.
we have come to the final impasse of our ability to move forward as operators of the spotted pig; we felt we needed to be the actual owners and final decision makers of the day-to-day decisions of the restaurant, and we couldn’t make our case persuasively enough for ken to agree to that. i trust he knows better than we do what the path forward is for you all; i wish you all the very very best, for yourselves personally, and for our industry as a whole. one i have the deepest respect for and commitment to.
with warmth--and sadness,
Update: Merriman sends along a letter that she sent to staff.
Hello Team Spotted Pig-
We don’t know one another very well but I would like to tell you that I am so disappointed, frustrated and sad that Gabrielle and I can no longer continue at the Spotted Pig.
I am crestfallen. There are some serious reasons I decided to endeavor the work at the Spotted Pig - some professional, some personal, some political. I am, frankly, heartbroken that I can’t continue my work - for all the reasons -- with you and for you.
We have been contemplating a partnership with Ken since we first met with him in the Spring of this year. In the past few days, finally, we have come to understand that we quite simply can’t reach an agreement that feels just and ethical.
This has nothing to do with money. We got our first (split between the two of us) paycheck three weeks ago. The deal that we can’t make with Ken is based on principle and ideology. We wanted to be the final decision-makers at the restaurant -- The Buck-Stops-Here- type owners for the good / the bad / the ugly and everything that comes between in a restaurant. We can’t come to an agreement with Ken about such a structure.
I want to, again, tell you: your work, in the absence of an owner or chef in the midst of a terrible and very public shit storm has been so good. It is not my place to say so, but you have A LOT to be proud of.
I want you all to know that if you ever need anything: from a decent meal in the East Village to a professional reference to an insider tip about the Dairyland delivery guy -- I will be available.
My very best,