In an April 27 New York Times expose, former workers from Lummi Island’s critically acclaimed Willows Inn accuse the restaurant of being, briefly, a nightmare work setting. Amongst a number of the most troubling claims within the article are that chef-owner Blaine Wetzel and the restaurant’s supervisor Reid Johnson oversaw a sample of sexism, sexual harassment, and racist bullying on the Willows Inn, and that workers members allegedly preyed on teenaged women from the island. The piece additionally claims that the fastidiously cultivated picture of native sourcing was false, with gadgets bought at grocery shops handed off as island-grown substances.
Wetzel denied all the allegations concerning sexism, harassment, and racist abuse, and he additionally refuted many of the claims concerning ingredient sourcing. Johnson didn’t present a remark to the Occasions for the article.
The Occasions spoke to 35 former workers members, together with feminine workers who mentioned they endured fixed sexual harassment from male co-workers and feminine cooks who had been repeatedly blocked from promotion. Amongst them had been just a few locals who began working at Willows Inn after they had been youngsters, and declare that sure male kitchen staffers touched them inappropriately and plied them with alcohol.
Sarah Letchworth, a former feminine worker who was 15 when she began working at Willows Inn, mentioned that her male co-workers had a working joke about “Lummi Island 16,” which meant that “you had been obtainable for intercourse, and that any type of creepy and predatory habits was effective.” She additionally claimed Wetzel as soon as supplied to drive her residence from a celebration when she was 18 however coerced her into doing pictures at his home first, then drove her residence drunk.
Wetzel denied Letchworth’s claims within the piece and mentioned the next concerning the allegation that feminine cooks didn’t advance in his kitchen: “I help feminine cooks with all my coronary heart (a lot in order that I married one). Anybody that will declare that I don’t help feminine cooks is mendacity.”
Along with an environment of misogyny, the Occasions additionally spoke with former workers who claimed verbal bullying was rampant, together with the declare that Wetzel would put employees down “utilizing a derogatory time period for mentally disabled folks to disparage them.” The sources within the article additionally say that Wetzel used “racist language” to explain Latino workers and Asian prospects, all claims which Wetzel denied with an analogous phrasing to his sexist and sexual harassment refutation: “My step mother and brother are Chinese language, my spouse is Mexican, and anybody that will declare I used to be racist is mendacity.”
The story paints a grim image of what was allegedly happening behind the scenes for years at Willows Inn, however the tradition of deception additionally apparently prolonged to the plate. Although the restaurant touted its meticulous preparation of produce grown on Lummi Island (notably the inn’s personal small farm), former workers declare many of the substances truly got here from mainland purveyors — and even from grocery shops, occasionally.
The “wild venison” the restaurant marketed as from Lummi was truly farm-raised in Idaho, and “roasted hen drippings” in a single dish allegedly got here from poultry purchased at Costco. “On my first day, I used to be slicing frozen Alaskan scallops right down to the form and measurement of pink singing scallops,” Julia Olmos, a line cook dinner who labored on the restaurant from 2017 to 2019, informed the Occasions. Wetzel denied these claims, too, saying “we by no means misrepresent our ingredient sources,” however he did admit that many substances come from exterior Lummi, together with natural chickens.
The Occasions’ report arrives weeks after the Willows Inn settled a $600,000 class-action lawsuit associated to wage theft, wherein former workers accused Wetzel and administration for “failing to pay minimal wage for all work carried out, extra time wages, and to supply or pay for relaxation and meal breaks underneath Washington legislation.” The lawsuit was associated to a labor violation discover the restaurant acquired roughly 4 years in the past, wherein the restaurant allegedly violated labor legal guidelines by having its “levels” — culinary interns who usually work at no cost in fine-dining eating places — work for as many as 14 hours a day, with no extra time and day charges as little as $50.
In response, the restaurant nixed its staging program however denied any wrongdoing. A settlement was agreed upon by each events in October 2020. Wetzel informed Eater Seattle that the lawsuit allegations “are on no account correct” and claimed it was “a instrument that this specialised legislation agency makes use of to tremendously exacerbate a quotation we acquired from 2016.”
Eater Seattle reached out to Wetzel and Johnson for additional touch upon the allegations within the New York Occasions article, however didn’t hear again earlier than publication. We are going to replace this piece if extra data emerges.