Ken Friedman is exploring selling his shares of the Spotted Pig. The restaurateur — who’s been accused of a range of sexual misconduct, like groping staffers — tells Eater that he’s debating whether the nearly 15-year-old West Village gastropub could stay in business for longer without him. Extracting himself from the restaurant could mean a combination of selling shares and donating them. “I’m open to doing whatever it takes to have the Spotted Pig live on,” Friedman says. “If taking my damaged reputation out of the equation gets foodies to come, I would do that.”
Last year, Friedman also asked minority investor Mario Batali to return his shares, following news of Batali’s alleged sexual misconduct at his own restaurants and at the Spotted Pig — which included allegations of groping and assault. Batali “graciously said yes,” Friedman says, and his shares went to Spotted Pig employees.
The longtime friends did not discuss why Friedman made the request, though he assumes that the chef understood the reason. “Mario’s a much bigger name than I am,” Friedman says. “He’s accused of a freaking horrible thing, as am I. He knows why.”
Friedman also claims that his longtime collaborator and partner chef April Bloomfield hasn’t expressed interest in raising money to buy him out of the restaurant. He declined to answer questions about whether there’s been outside interest in investment. (Eater has reached out to Batali’s spokesperson and Bloomfield for comment.)
The Spotted Pig opened in 2004 and quickly became a destination, known in equal measures for its gastropub fare — the burger was an instant classic — and celebrity clientele. It’s had Michelin stars, and besides Batali, celebrities like Jay-Z (who purportedly owns the building) and Michael Stipe have been known investors.
In December 2017, ten women accused Friedman of sexual misconduct in the workplace — such as public groping, unwanted kisses, and requesting nude photos or group sex. The restaurant empire he built with Bloomfield has since splintered.
Friedman stepped away from operations temporarily, and last June, Bloomfield and Friedman split their empire. He kept the Spotted Pig, the duo’s most iconic restaurant, along with White Gold Butchers; she kept the Breslin and the John Dory at the Ace Hotel, and their two California restaurants, Tosca and Hearth & Hound. All of Bloomfield’s restaurants but the Breslin have since closed, and she has returned to New York. White Gold closed shortly after the split, while at the Ace, one of Friedman’s partners has accused him of financial fraud in an ongoing lawsuit.
Though people are still going to the Spotted Pig, reports indicate that #MeToo stories are having an impact on overall foot traffic at restaurants where leadership has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Friedman is now planning an antiques shop on Long Island and says that his primary goal is to keep the 80 or so staffers at the Spotted Pig employed, adding that some people have worked there for years and make salaries that he doesn’t think they could get elsewhere. “Why should it close because of the dumb stuff that I did? That’s not fair to the employees,” he said. “They don’t deserve to lose their job because of my actions. That’s honestly the reason.”
It’s a change of heart from last year, when Friedman neared a partnership with Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman of Prune to run the restaurant. In September 2018, Hamilton announced that it had fallen through because she and Merriman couldn’t reach a deal to be “actual owners and final decision makers of the day-to-day decisions of the restaurant.” Their deal was to work together, Friedman says, and at the time, he didn’t want to give up full ownership.
But now, Friedman says that he wants to bring back “the base” who helped build the Spotted Pig’s reputation as a pillar of the city’s dining establishment — “foodies,” in his words — and he’s “open to anything” to get them back. He just wants to find “the right person.”
“If someone said, ‘I’ll keep the Spotted Pig for 15 years.’ I would love to do that and come in for dinner once in awhile,” he says. “More for the sake of the Pig than me. I know I’ll never act like that again. If I can get people like you to come to the Spotted Pig because I’m out of it, then that would be great.”