Mario Batali's Partner Admits He Knew of Sexual Harassment

A new Eater report published Friday claims Joe Bastianich, a partner in accused chef Mario Batali's restaurant group, helped to create a "boys' club" culture of sexual misconduct at the restaurants he owns with Batali.

B&B Hospitality Group has responded with a new restructuring plan after the Friday report from Eater. Dozens of current and former employees from the B&B restaurants (many under anonymity) spoke to the outlet. Employees that spoke out were from B&B restaurants like Babbo, Otto, Lupa, Del Posto and Las Vegas’s B&B Ristorante and Carnevino.

The staffers claimed Joe Bastianich fostered a "boys' club" environment and that he and Batali were responsible for some of the most "debaucherous behavior" they had ever witnessed.

The claims include staffers being degraded with sexual language, having to endure physical touching and women seeing little recourse after reporting the behavior.

In a new statement in response to the story, Batali told Eater he always wanted people working at the restaurants “to feel comfortable and safe."

“I now realize that my completely inappropriate behavior impacted the behavior of others who worked in the restaurants. I am truly sorry and am very ashamed. It was never my intention to humiliate, cause discomfort or pain to anyone in the operations in any way,” Batali added.

In response to the story, B&B announced that Mozza owner and Batali's partner, Nancy Silverton, and Lidia Bastianich (Joe Bastianich's celebrity chef mother) will now be taking on new leadership roles at the company.

"It has become clear that we need to improve our culture," B&B told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. "Some employees have violated our policies. We have fallen short in creating an environment where every employee feels comfortable reporting complaints. And we have fallen short at times when enforcing our policies. We are already taking steps to change."

Some of those changes include Batali stepping away from all aspects of operation, including "not going into any of the restaurants." Silverton and Lidia Bastianich will be taking on new responsibilities "to help ensure everyone has a safe and positive workplace and to steer our culinary direction." Additionally, the company will hire additional senior management to oversee daily operations and plans to retain an outside firm to survey employees and staff compliance with their sexual harassment policies.

Joe Bastianich, Batali's partner since 1998, denied via a spokesperson to Eater that he had ever witnessed Batali grope an employee. Though he admitted that he had heard Batali say "inappropriate things" to staffers and said he "should have done more," he also said he had “never heard” accusations of Batali’s sexual misconduct until the past week.

Bastianich did say that he is going to work on refocusing the restaurant side of the business.

"I’m reexamining my own behavior to ensure that everyone I work with feels that respect," he told THR.

"The stories I have read and heard these past two weeks about Mario and our company have shaken me to the core," he continued. "Other stories I have now heard about employee mistreatment, violation of our sexual harassment policies, and that some employees felt they had no future in our company are terrible and unacceptable. I am sorry that I didn’t devote enough attention to the business, didn’t do enough to protect my employees, and delegated too much of the day-today to others. I’m now refocusing my energies here where they belong, and have already taken specific steps to do so."

Batali told Eater that the steps announced by B&B are “significant” and "meaningful."

The B&B restaurant empire includes 24 restaurants and five Eataly marketplace locations across the United States. An Eater report published on Dec. 11 revealed alleged decades of sexual misconduct at the hands of Batali, spurring several additional women to come forward with claims about the celebrity chef.

As a result, Batali apologized, stepped away from the day-to-day operations of his business, saw his products removed from shelves and was fired by ABC, where he co-hosted the daytime talk show The Chew for six years.

The B&B group initially called the allegations against Batali "appalling."

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"In light of these reports, we are continuing to assess our practices to make sure we have the best policies in place to offer our employees that environment,” read the statement in part.

Photo credit: Getty / Eugene Gologursky / Stringer