Former Salare and JuneBaby Workers Unite, Plan Action to Address Toxic Kitchen Culture


JuneBaby remains closed indefinitely. | Suzi Pratt

Still reeling from the sexual misconduct accusations against chef-owner Edouardo Jordan, former staffers recall a tense final weekend of work, and now look to spur positive change

Employees at Salare and JuneBaby knew something was amiss when chef-owner Edouardo Jordan called them into an all-hands meeting Thursday, June 10. According to two staff members present, Jordan explained that an article was about to come out in the Seattle Times that didn’t paint him in a good light. But he didn’t go into much detail. Rather, Jordan described the pending report as “bro culture stuff,” says Kayla von Michalofski, a former Salare sous chef. Another employee, who wished to remain anonymous, tells Eater Seattle that Jordan “alluded to flirting,” but cited legal complications as to why he couldn’t reveal more. “That was the first red flag for me, because why is the Seattle Times even taking that on if it’s just flirting?” says the worker.

The following day, there were more red flags: Jordan called up his managers and let them know that he was going to step away from the restaurants without specifying exactly how long that would be for — nor the exact reason behind the decision. The mood among the staff members was grim throughout the weekend; Salare employees prepped food for a 300-person event held on Sunday under a cloud of uncertainty. Still, the staff came up with a plan for the worst-case scenario, with managers sending out an email Friday that indicated the staff would convene whenever the article dropped. “I didn’t sleep much and was refreshing my browser at like 5 a.m. Sunday,” says the anonymous worker.

The Seattle Times investigative report came out early in the morning on Sunday, June 13, and detailed allegations from 15 women of sexual misconduct against Jordan, including unwanted touching (Jordan denied the majority of accusations and later released a statement on Instagram). Not long after the report came out, the 18-person staff at both Salare and JuneBaby held a Zoom meeting to discuss what to do next. The employees conducted an anonymous poll on the call to gauge options, and the vast majority decided to quit right then and there. “[The news] really damaged and blindsided the staff,” says von Michalofski. “But we just turned in our keys, turned everything in, and just left.” Salare’s staff still prepped meals for that large event, though “begrudgingly,” says the anonymous source.

More than two weeks later, the fallout continues. With only a bare-bones operation at the moment, JuneBaby is still closed. Salare had already planned to shut down for good in July, but that timeline was accelerated, as a message on the official website notes that the restaurant is now permanently closed. Jordan had said the Salare decision was related to pandemic impacts; von Michalofski notes that the restaurant had indeed been “super slow” toward the end. But Jordan said days before the Seattle Times piece was published that his intention was to reopen JuneBaby for indoor dining in mid-June and merge the space with next-door Lucinda Grain Bar. Now all those plans seem to be on indefinite hold. When reached for comment, Jordan told Eater, “We are in the midst of preparing an update in the next couple of days on plans for the restaurants moving forward, as well as a few announcements surrounding both my professional and personal next steps.” This article will be updated as more information comes in.

Jordan’s corporate sponsors seem to be starting to distance themselves from the chef but have not yet officially dropped him. He has an ongoing deal with the car company Lexus for an undisclosed amount of money, in which he posts about the brand on his social media platforms. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will evaluate next steps pending further clarification and investigation of the allegations,” says a rep for Lexus. “These are very serious accusations (and, if true, are certainly not representative of the Lexus brand).” The meal-prep company Blue Apron says it was “disappointed to learn about the allegations” against Jordan, but notes that its “limited seven-week partnership with him ended in December 2020.” It also looks like Blue Apron may have scrubbed the mention of Jordan from its website. National supermarket Whole Foods — which carries Jordan’s Food with Roots retail line of pimento cheese dip — did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but at the time of publishing, the dip is still for sale online from local outposts.

For the staff members who quit en masse, there’s still solidarity — and lingering anger. “When [Jordan] pulled us into that meeting, there could have been victims of harassment or assault present, and he didn’t even allude to what [the article] was going to be about,” says the anonymous employee. The group of former coworkers are still in touch on a regular basis and have formed an informal coalition, with the intentions of taking broader action around kitchen labor issues.

Currently, Washington state already has general employer requirements and laws in place regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, but nothing specifically tailored to the restaurant industry. In 2020, a state law was enacted that requires hotels to issue “panic buttons” to employees, such as housekeepers, who spend a majority of their working time without another worker present — but, again, the law doesn’t cover restaurants. And the Washington State Law Against Discrimination states that employees have a right to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, so long as the company has at least eight employees, which would exempt many small restaurants.

“As a team, we want to try to field a response from Olympia [where the state government is] in terms of trying to get some legislation out there as a mandate,” says Jordan’s former employee. That legislation could be as basic as getting resources for workers posted publicly in restaurant spaces that delineate what their rights are and how to report complaints. “Our hope among my former coworkers is to be change agents in regard to harassment in the workplace or any wrongdoing that needs to have actionable things done to correct it.”

The former employees are also looking at creating a pop-up with rotational staffing that would help raise money for organizations doing work in the field that aligns with the issues the workers are pushing for. “It has the potential to turn into something so much bigger by building out a co-op model,” says the anonymous former employee. “So we’re pretty excited about it.” That plan is still in its early stages but should begin to come into greater focus this summer.

The workers hope to move quickly. As Kayla von Michalofski, the former Salare sous chef, sees it: “We want to try to make a difference while the subject is still hot.”

This post was originally published on this site

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