Threats of quitting popular Oakland restaurant if owner won't divest after sex harassment claims

Top staff at a popular Oakland restaurant are threatening to quit his weekend, if the owner doesn't separate from the company. 

It stems from sexual harassment that chef Charlie Hallowell has previously admitted to in an open letter. 

Stories began emerging in December, with more than 30 women now sharing complaints with an independent outside investigator.   

"Our goal is that Charlie is no longer an owner of the restaurant," Emily Hayward told KTVU on Thursday, as Boot and Shoe Service prepared to opened for dinner service.

Hayward is the General Manager of the pizza restaurant on Grand Avenue, where seven key staffers are vowing to resign in protest. 

"Myself, the assistant manager, head chef, sous chef, pastry chef, cafe manager, and brunch manager," detailed Hayward.  

Hallowell has currently stepped away from any role at the cafe, and two others his restaurant group owns in Oakland.

His critics want him out of the profits. too.

"The stakes are incredibly high and we felt the need to honor the women who had come forward with allegations," explained Hayward, "because there are many, more stories to be told."

As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in December, female employees describe an abusive environment, in which the 44-year-old chef consistently made crude comments about sex and regularly propositioned them. 

Hallowell has stopped collecting pay and apologized for his misconduct .

The company is searching for a new CEO, as an exhaustive review of company policies and culture is underway. 

But Hallowell's harshest critics at The Boot are frustrated with the pace. They want a divestment plan laid out to them by a Saturday night deadline. 

"We're trying to hear them out but it's not something that can be done overnight," responded Hallowell spokesman Larry Kamer, speaking by phone to KTVU.  

Kamer acknowledges negotiations are underway, but notes it's unclear how divestment would take shape.

"Do they want us to sell the restaurant to them?," he posed, "because a lot of people's jobs could be at stake."

The company employs about 150 people at its three restaurants, with a fourth set to open in Berkeley next month. 

None of the managers at the other locations are threatening to leave. 

"Most of the employees believe the situation can be fixed, " insisted Kamer, "and they support the company and want to be part of the solution. This is a small group at one restaurant holding onto this ultimatum."  

But those who are willing to walk away from their jobs say it's the right move for them.

"A heart-breaking decision, not made lightly," said Hayward, "but it it feels necessary and it feels empowering to be taking back some measure of control." 

The seven staff have been with the company between two and nine years. 

"This behavior is rampant in our industry and it's institutionalized, and it's going to take a lot to undo that and make it right," Hayward stated.  

The demand, issued a week ago, calls for a timetable for Hallowell to surrender his financial stake. 

Kamer describes the chef currently, as "taking responsibility, seeing a therapist and a business coach to work on these issues on a personal level."