OAKLAND, Calif. - A popular Oakland restaurant that was at the center of a recent sexual harassment scandal has new owners.
An Oakland couple, Jen Cremer and Richard Clark, have purchased Boot & Shoe Service, one of three Oakland restaurants owned by Charlie Hallowell.
Seventeen former workers accused Hallowell of sexual harassment earlier this year and many quit their jobs in protest when he refused to divest from the restaurants.
For the past four years, Cremer has been an assistant general manager at another Hallowell restaurant, Pizzaiolo on Telegraph Avenue.
Cremer and Clark, a certified sommelier who is winding down a restaurant management job at Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco, had been looking to purchase a restaurant for some time.
With help from friends, family and a small business loan, they will now run the place where they had their first date six years ago.
“We are so excited to be taking over ownership of the boot and shoe and hoping to be a part of a long standing change in the industry,’’ Cremer said. “We look forward to ensuring the best experience for our guests and work family right now and hope to continue working with the staff that shares in our vision.”
The couple said the restaurant will be officially theirs in six to eight weeks following the transfer of the liquor license.
While the owners will change, much will stay the same.
“We are not going to change anything immediately. We are keeping the name, keeping the menu and as many of the staff who want to stay,’’ said Clark. “Like any restaurant, we will make changes over time, but no drastic or dramatic changes right now.”
Cremer said the new ownership is like a “weight” lifted off everyone’s shoulders. Customers who went elsewhere during the scandal are now coming back for their fill of margherita pizza and spaghetti puttanesca.
“(The controversy) was a big dilemma for everyone,’’ said Cremer. “The restaurant had a lot of close friends and family and repeat diners who came in once or twice a week and considered it a home. Now they can come back and dine and have a clear conscious about it.”
For his part, Hallowell, a Chez Panisse alum, has apologized for allowing “an uncomfortable workplace for women.” In January, the 44-year-old owner-chef, stepped away from day-to day business operations for six months without a salary.
An attorney representing his restaurant group also laid out steps the company is taking to more thoroughly investigate claims of harassment and to change the culture at the restaurants. This includes better sexual harassment training for management and staff to curb future problems.