Watami chain sued by employee's parents
Watami, a popular chain of Japanese restaurants, is being sued by the parents of a former employee.
A major Japanese restaurant chain found itself in the midst of a complicated lawsuit yesterday, when the parents of a former employee filed a suit over their daughter's death.
According to Mainichi, 26-year-old Mina Mori committed suicide in 2008, just two months after starting to work for Watami, a popular Japanese restaurant chain. She was a full-time employee at the chain, and her monthly overtime totaled around 141 hours, well over the national overtime limit of 80 hours a month. After two months at Watami, Mori killed herself by jumping off an apartment complex, having left a suicide note that said, "Please somebody help me."
Last year, a local Labor Standards Inspection Office ruled that Mori's suicide was a work-related accident, at which point Mori's parents asked the company to explain what caused their daughter's suicide and what steps the company would take to prevent that sort of tragedy from happening again. The company did not respond.
Now, saying they have not received an adequate explanation from the company and that working conditions would not change unless someone took action, Mori's parents have filed a suit against Watami, its parent company, and the man who was Watami's president at the time of Mori's death. The Moris are seeking about 153 million yen (approximately $1.5 million) in damages.
"It is regrettable that we could not agree to settle the matter," Watami said in a statement. "We will make sure to take care of the case sincerely after reviewing the complaint."
Two nurses died of overdoses inside a Dallas hospital. What went wrong?
The nurse lay in a bathroom stall, a syringe in her hand and track marks on her arm. She died from an overdose of fentanyl, a potent painkiller meant for patients.
It was a rare accident two years ago at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Clements hospital in Dallas.
Some 16 months later, a second nurse was found in a different bathroom at Clements, with a syringe in her arm. She had overdosed too, and died from the same drug.
UT Southwestern has released few details about the nurses' deaths and says it can't say for sure where the drugs came from. But experts say that when health care workers abuse drugs, they almost always steal the medicines from their workplace. The hospital's own reports and medical examiner records show that's a likely explanation, according to an investigation by The Dallas Morning News.
This kind of theft, known as drug diversion, is a serious matter for hospitals, especially amid the nation's opioid epidemic. In the last four years, for example, Texas hospitals have reported more than 200 thefts by employees. But the government doesn't track drug thefts that lead to overdoses or deaths.
Nurses and doctors who steal and abuse drugs put not only themselves at risk, but also patients. In recent years, the federal government has levied millions of dollars in penalties against hospitals for not tracking dangerous drugs.
It's unusual for one hospital to have two caregivers die of overdoses in such a short time, experts say.
"This is an extreme example," said Kimberly New, a nurse and lawyer in Tennessee who consults with hospitals nationwide on how to prevent diversions. "That type of alarming situation would be the reason to bring someone in and look at their controls."
UT Southwestern officials declined to specify what measures they took to prevent drug diversion after the deaths.
They told The News that there were no "reported patient care lapses" related to the incidents. Safety is a top concern, they said. Clements has a variety of procedures to prevent medicine from being stolen, and the hospital has used "multiple review systems" and increased staff education about drug abuse since the deaths.
"Because no system is infallible, we continuously examine potential improvements" to ensure that dangerous drugs aren't misused, university spokesman Russell Rian said in a statement to The News.
Experts say thefts can happen in spite of multiple safeguards.
“You can have really good systems in place and still be defeated by a diversion,” said Keith Berge, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota who studies the issue.
Problems at Clements
Williams P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, named for the two-time Texas governor and Dallas native, opened in late 2014 on Harry Hines Boulevard, replacing an older hospital with a modern, 460-bed facility. UT Southwestern Medical Center runs the hospital.
Like all major hospitals, Clements has an internal pharmacy that stores potentially addictive drugs, such as anesthetics, sedatives and painkillers so potent you can’t find them at your neighborhood drugstore.
Government regulations require hospitals like Clements to keep accurate records of how such drugs are used, to have a system in place to detect diversions quickly, and to report thefts.
In early 2015, UT Southwestern’s internal auditors found lapses in how Clements and other university facilities managed dangerous drugs.
Scores of employees had unauthorized access to the drugs. At Clements and Zale Lipshy University Hospital, staff members didn’t dispose of excess medicine correctly. Liquids were dumped down sinks, in violation of federal environmental rules. Employees didn’t dispose of pills or medicine patches in secure containers.
UT Southwestern said it followed through on all of the auditors’ recommendations for improvements.
Less than a year later, a nurse was caught stealing drugs.
A theft and an arrest
In January 2016, co-workers suspected a nurse was stealing drugs, according to records from the UT Southwestern police department.
The nurse worked in a unit that treated patients recovering from surgery. Staff members aren’t supposed to remove drugs from a locked cabinet until the patient arrives from the operating room.
But Aaron Bradley Hudson, a nurse who worked for a temp agency, would sign out drugs and take them into a bathroom before his patients arrived, according to the police report. Co-workers spotted empty syringes in nearby staff bathrooms.
Reporting suspicious behavior is an important tool to prevent drug diversion, UT Southwestern said in a statement to The News.
That January, the same month that Hudson stole the drugs, UT Southwestern created a committee to address diversion of controlled substances “as part of ongoing commitments and efforts to continually improve patient and caregiver safety.”
Hudson lost his Texas nursing license in 2017 and pleaded guilty early this year to fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance. He died by suicide in June at age 39.
Hudson was smart and funny and enjoyed his job, said his mother, Cindy Huffine. But he also battled an opioid addiction.
“Once he was introduced to a drug of that magnitude,” Huffine said, “it was no match.”
The first overdose
Several months after Hudson stole the medicines, another nurse — Patricia Norman — began showing signs she might be using drugs.
Norman, known to family and friends as Tricia, had worked in the cardiac intensive-care unit at Clements since early 2015. Her mother said she had wanted to be a nurse since she was 15. Family described her as fearless and artistic, with a smile that showed off her dimples.
Her 12-hour shifts typically ended around 7 p.m., said her brother, Mark Norman. He recalled that sometimes his sister, after arriving home from work, would start walking into the walls of their apartment.
Norman denied using drugs, her brother said. When he asked her about syringes and empty medicine vials he found in their apartment, Norman would say she’d forgotten to throw them away at work.
But other events suggest Norman may have been battling an addiction.
In May 2016, Highland Park police and paramedics responded to a call around 7:30 p.m. on Mockingbird Lane near the Dallas North Tollway, about three miles from Clements. Norman had worked that day. She was found unconscious inside her gray Honda Accord, along with a used syringe, records show. A bystander broke the car’s window to get Norman out rescue personnel started CPR and Norman regained a pulse.
When she awoke, she told paramedics she was using a prescription medicine for neck pain. She also said she had injected herself with an anti-nausea drug and taken some Xanax.
The ambulance took Norman to Parkland Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, just down the street from Clements.
Highland Park police did not investigate whether Norman had used illicit drugs, Lt. Lance Koppa said. As the officer at the scene saw it, no crime had occurred, Koppa said.
Less than two months later, Dallas police found Norman unconscious in her car, again after work and a few miles from Clements. A tourniquet was on her left arm and a needle was on her lap, records show.
Rescuers again broke a window to get into Norman’s Honda. Records show that to revive her, they had to use naloxone — a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.
This time, rescuers took Norman to the emergency room at Clements. According to the police report, officers knew she worked there, and spoke to a supervisor about the incident. Dallas police took the needle and tourniquet to an evidence room and referred the case to their narcotics division.
Norman's mother, Jeri Van, gave The News a medical report that Norman had submitted to a supervisor. The report, printed just a few hours after Norman got to the hospital, lists "Drug Overdose" in a section called "Chief Complaint." According to the report, a urine test was negative for opioids, but experts say such tests are not always a perfect indicator.
Norman told her brother that her colleagues helped her keep her job, he said. She didn’t explain how.
“They knew she was a hard worker,” Mark Norman said, “and they covered for her.”
UT Southwestern said it would be inappropriate to comment on an allegation that didn’t include names or other details.
Dallas police never pursued the case. A department spokesman said the syringe was empty, so there was nothing to go on.
Norman died six months later after overdosing in a Clements restroom, at age 32. She was discovered late in the evening, still wearing scrubs from her day’s work. Norman’s mother and boyfriend told investigators from the medical examiner’s office that she had been seeing a doctor for blackouts but that she wasn’t using illicit drugs.
The medical examiner ruled her death an accident, due to an overdose of fentanyl.
UT Southwestern reported to state and federal regulators that on Dec. 15, the day Norman died, an employee stole fentanyl from the hospital.
University officials declined to identify the employee to The News.
According to state records, UT Southwestern told the Texas State Board of Pharmacy that the employee was a nurse. The university declined to comment on the pharmacy board’s findings.
After Norman died, university police obtained the syringe from her June episode, Dallas police records show. University officials said tests of the syringe came back negative for controlled substances.
Other details of UT Southwestern's police investigation are unclear. In response to a request by The News, the university withheld 22 pages of a 25-page police report, citing state law.
Fentanyl claimed Iyisha Keller about a year and a half later.
Keller, 36, had worked as a nurse at UT Southwestern since 2011. Family described her as a red-headed firecracker who loved her patients.
In April of this year, Keller took a break during her shift and stayed away longer than expected, according to UT Southwestern police and medical examiner records. Colleagues called her cellphone and heard it ring inside a staff bathroom. Maintenance workers had to unlock the door. They found Keller on the floor, a syringe labeled “Fentanyl,” in her arm. A nurse tried to revive her.
She was pronounced dead in the Clements emergency room.
One of the several syringes submitted as evidence contained fentanyl and a sedative called midazolam, medical examiner records show. University police also submitted an IV bag as evidence the medical examiner found it contained midazolam.
The medical examiner ruled Keller’s death accidental, concluding she had died from toxic effects of “therapeutic medication including fentanyl” and alcohol. She also had midazolam in her system.
Her family wants to know more about what university police found.
“They said she never missed work,” said her mother, Denise Keller. “If she’s that good, why can’t you tell me what happened?”
More than 200 hospital thefts
The News asked the state pharmacy board for reports of thefts of controlled substances that occurred during the last four years.
We found that some 125 hospitals reported a combined total of about 220 thefts. Some were of a single pill, others thousands of doses. The state has more than 700 registered hospital pharmacies.
The drugs most commonly reported stolen were powerful and potentially lethal painkillers like morphine, fentanyl and hydrocodone. The list also includes sedatives, as well as anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and Valium.
The reports came from hospitals across the state, including in the Dallas area.
Three years ago, a nurse at Children’s Medical Center Dallas stole 123 syringes of morphine, vials containing more than a half-gallon of fentanyl, and a variety of other drugs.
Last year, two nurses at Medical City Plano pocketed more than a quart of fentanyl as well as sedatives and other painkillers.
And in July, a technician at Sundance psychiatric hospital in Garland pilfered 16 gallons of codeine cough syrup.
But The News found the state pharmacy board reports do not reflect every theft.
For instance, health care workers have been disciplined by their professional boards or arrested for stealing drugs from hospitals, but the pharmacy board had no records of the thefts.
In one case, the state nursing board revoked a nurse’s license after finding she had misappropriated morphine and other drugs from Promise Hospital in northwest Dallas in 2016. She later pleaded guilty to a drug-diversion charge. The hospital did not respond to repeated requests for comment about whether it reported the thefts to the state pharmacy board.
Another nurse took dozens of drugs, including methadone and hydrocodone, from Parkland Hospital last year, state nursing board records show.
Parkland did not report the theft to federal regulators or the state pharmacy board. A Parkland spokeswoman said that’s because initially it was unclear where the stolen drugs came from.
The nurse later pleaded guilty to taking the drugs from Parkland.
This week, in light of The News' questions, the hospital said it would review its reporting process.
It’s also hard to tell how often health care workers die from drugs they steal when hospitals report thefts, the government doesn’t ask about deaths or injuries.
The News got a tip about the Clements deaths. Because Clements is operated by a public university, we were able to get records related to drug diversions there through the state's public information act.
To look for other cases, we contacted major hospitals in the area to ask if any staff members had died in the last five years after overdosing on drugs stolen from the workplace.
Three hospitals systems — Parkland Health, Children’s Health and Texas Health Resources — said none had. Three others — Baylor Scott & White, Medical City and Methodist Health System — declined to comment, citing employee privacy. We also checked Dallas County medical examiner records and did not find any other fatal overdoses inside hospitals.
When hospitals report drug thefts, they don’t have to offer a lot of detail. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s reporting form, which Texas hospitals typically also submit to the state pharmacy board, doesn’t ask how the theft occurred. It does ask what steps have been taken to prevent future thefts, but many hospitals don’t answer.
UT Southwestern officials told The News that Clements has many safeguards to prevent drug diversion: fingerprint access, education on signs of abuse, and having a witness watch the disposal of excess medicine.
Clements’ pharmacy director, Brian Cohen, said one of the most important tools the hospital uses is software to track unusual patterns of drug-handling by staff members.
“We need to be able to take care of those situations before it’s something that jeopardizes the patients' safety,” he said.
Since the hospital opened, Cohen said, Clements has hired more staff members to monitor medicines. The hospital also started using new containers that destroy leftover drugs.
But officials would not detail what changes they had put in place in response to the deaths of Norman and Keller.
The medical center said that drug diversion safeguards are “always an ongoing process.”
Federal regulators can impose steep penalties on hospitals with poor safeguards on controlled substances.
In Georgia and Massachusetts, hospitals recently paid millions of dollars after DEA investigators discovered thousands of pills had been stolen.
In August, the University of Michigan Health System agreed to pay a $4.3 million penalty to settle a case in which the DEA found multiple lapses in record-keeping. The investigation began after a doctor and a nurse overdosed on the same day at a university hospital.
Both were found in locked hospital bathrooms, each with a syringe, having overdosed on fentanyl and other drugs meant for patients, according to news reports. The doctor recovered the nurse died.
Evanston bakery sues former chef over missing recipes
Fraiche Bakery Café in Evanston -- home of what one magazine called an "addictive," doughnut-like muffin known as the Cinnamon Bomb -- has been deprived of key recipes since a chef resigned two weeks ago, then returned to the café a few days later and made off with a pair of ring binders that contained the secrets of the restaurant's signature bomb, acclaimed cupcakes and other baked goods, according to a lawsuit.
Fraiche owner Susan Davis Friedman filed a lawsuit against the chef today, five days after she discovered one of the recipe books had gone missing and a day after the chef informed a manager Fraiche would have to sue to get them back.
"If she wanted the recipes, why didn't she make copies?" the chef is quoted as saying in an affidavit by a Fraiche manager.
The chef could not be reached for comment.
Friedman maintains the recipes are restaurant property, items developed by the chef and her assistants during the three and a half years since Fraiche opened in the site of the former Kim's Bakery. After years of tweaks and adjustments, the Cinnamon Bomb rated No. 87 on the entertainment magazine TimeOut Chicago's list of 100 Best Things We Ate In 2011, and Fraiche's cupcakes were dubbed the best on the North Shore by a local lifestyle magazine.
"Why call this (admittedly tame-looking) pastry a 'bomb'? Because this moist, cinnamon-dusted cake is unexpectedly addictive. And that's dangerous," read the TimeOut review.
The lawsuit states the recipes "were developed, assembled tested and honed over the course of 3 ½ years. That work cannot be readily reproduced. The damage to Fraiche's goodwill from the inability to offer these items would be irreparable because it cannot be measured in money damages."
Benson Friedman, Susan Davis Friedman's husband and attorney, said Tuesday the recipes clearly are property of Fraiche, much as the work done while on the clock of a chemist or engineer would belong to his employer. And, he points out, the chef signed a non-disclosure agreement.
Friedman said Fraiche, 815 Noyes St. rotates its baked goods menu, but said he hopes to have the recipes back after a court hearing later this week.
"There will always be good (items) there. There are always new and innovative things," Friedman said. "Recipes are important pieces of property that restaurants maintain."
'Kitchen Nightmares' Restaurateur the Latest Reality TV Tragedy
Sept. 28, 2010 -- Yet another reality TV participant has met a tragic end.
Joe Cerniglia, the chef at New Jersey restaurant Campania, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey on Friday, according to New York authorities. Authorities told reporters that the cause of Cerniglia's death is under investigation, but "no criminality" is suspected.
In 2007, Cerniglia was featured on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's restaurant rehab show, "Kitchen Nightmares."
On "Kitchen Nightmares," the often outspoken Ramsay unleashed on Cerniglia, a 39-year-old husband and father of three. Cerniglia was more than $80,000 in debt at the time his restaurant was featured on the show.
"Your business is about to f***ing swim down the Hudson," Ramsay said. "Why did you become a chef-owner if you haven't a clue how to run a business?"
In a cruel bit of irony, Cerniglia's body was found floating in the Hudson river.
It's not the first time someone from a Ramsay show has committed suicide: in 2007, Rachel Brown fatally shot herself a year after competing on Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen," a series that sets up battles between up-and-coming chefs.
It should be noted that with both Brown and Cerniglia, their suicides came long after they appeared on their respective Ramsay shows.
For some reality TV participants, the drama hits only after their series goes on the air.
"Your life is an open book to people and that makes you feel very vulnerable," Nadine Kaslow, the chief psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta told ABCNews.com. "When people feel very publicly shamed and humiliated that's a risk factor for suicide. Part of what you don't know is how sensitive people are going to be to the shame and humiliation they might experience."
People with mental illnesses are obviously vulnerable. In the case of bipolar contestants, the reason they are attracted to these shows may stem from their mental illness and their desire to perform or be famous, Kaslow said. Mentally stable contestants are also vulnerable, especially when the pressures of competition and the public eye prove too great.
"They have no control or they lose control. They lose the boundaries that we all hold," Kaslow said. "People – the media and the public – aren't always so nice about them either. You can also go from being a star and really famous to being either a nobody or a villain."
That's why screening the participants before they join the show may not be enough.
"You have to be sensitive to them afterwards after they are out or lose. Now, the losers are on morning TV the next day. Most of us when we've had a public failure is not when we want to be on morning TV," she said.
"Obviously people are drawn to these reality shows," Kaslow added. "So we're not going to not have them. But people need to do a better job of managing and assessing the people on them."
Below, ABCNews.com looks at what happens when the realities of real life meet the realities of a television show and the devastating consequences for some show participants and their families:
The 30-year-old one-time "American Idol" contestant had an apparent infatuation with judge Paula Abdul. Goodspeed was ridiculed and flatly rejected by the judges during her audition, but never gave up her obsession with the former Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader and pop star.
On Nov. 12, 2008, Goodspeed parked her car a few doors down from Abdul's Los Angeles home and, according to Los Angeles police, died from an apparent overdose.
At the time, Reuters reported that prescription pills, along with CDs and pictures of Abdul, were found in the car.
Later, Abdul told ABC's "The View" that Goodspeed had been stalking her for 17 years and later told co-host Barbara Walters on Walters' radio show that she pleaded with Cowell and the producers not to let Goodspeed audition.
They did, she said, for the "entertainment value. It's fun for them to cause me stress. This was something that would make good television."
In an earlier interview on "Good Morning America," she said, "what people don't realize, this was a serious, serious situation."
Cowell defended himself and the show's producers in an interview in Us Weekly magazine in December 2008. "What happened was awful," he said. "My regret in all of this was that we didn't know how troubled this person was. If I could've gone back in time and known what she was going through, I wish that we could've spent time trying to help her, but we genuinely didn't know."
The former deputy district attorney from Reno killed herself after she was bounced from "Pirate Master," the CBS reality show that followed 16 would-be modern-day pirates on their quest for $1 million.
The fourth person to leave the show, Kosewicz, 35, was found dead in her home on Jan. 27, 2007, from an apparent suicide. Before committing suicide, she reportedly wrote on the MySpace page of a fellow contestant that she had "lost the strong Cheryl and I'm just floating around lost."
She also blamed the show for coming between her and her boyfriend Ryan O'Neil, who committed suicide himself two months earlier. "This frik'n show…was such a contention between Ryan and I," she reportedly wrote at the time. "The shame seemed to get to her," Kaslow said. "The note was so public and was, in part, blaming the TV show."
Kaslow added that there are often several factors that lead to a suicide and, in Kosewicz's case, losing her boyfriend could have been an additional stressor, while being eliminated from the show may have been the final straw. In the show's final episode, there was a dedication message to Kosewicz.
CBS did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The "Partridge Family" star allowed VH-1 cameras to follow every detail of his life for "Breaking Bonaduce," including even an apparent suicide attempt.
According to entertainment web site TheWrap.com, the former child actor tried to kill himself by swilling Vodka and Vicodin after his wife Gretchen asked for a divorce during the filming of the reality show – and just prior to the Sept. 12, 2005 premiere. In another episode, he slashed his wrists before checking into rehab.
His behavior only made the show more popular. It was brought back for another season and picked up for international distribution. In the end, his marriage to Gretchen fell apart. But Bonaduce has continued to seek the limelight as a radio personality.
VH-1 did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The 23-year-old boxer from Philadelphia was reportedly the first reality television show participant to take his own life.
A contestant on the first season of NBC's "The Contender," Turpin shot himself in a parked car just weeks before the series premiere.
According to the police report, Turpin had been sitting with his girlfriend, with whom he had been having a custody dispute over their 2-year-old daughter. According to media reports he was also said to have grown frustrated, after being knocked out of the show early, that he was not allowed to compete in any professional boxing matches until the series' finale aired, which would have made it hard for him to support his family.
His former trainer Percy "Buster" Custus also told ABCNews.com that Turpin was never mentally fit to be on the show. "He wasn't even supposed to be on the show," said Custus, a former Golden Gloves boxer. According to Custus, Turpin not only failed a psychological evaluation for the show but had previously attempted suicide. Nonetheless, Custus said, the young athlete was pushed to join the show.
The network established a fund for Turpin's family, but Custus believes NBC could have done more. "I'm not happy with how they treated Najai," he said. "I'm not happy with the fund either."
NBC did not respond to requests for comment.
James Scott Terrill
The Georgetown, Ky., single dad appeared on the ABC reality show "Supernanny" in January 2008, seeking help in managing his two sons, Lane, 11, and Tate, 5, after their mom abandoned them.
But after the cameras left, Terrill was reportedly still struggling with parenting solo. On July 4, 2008, he called Georgetown police from the cemetery where his father was buried and threatened to shoot himself in the chest. Police stayed on the phone with him for nearly an hour, but in the end the 37-year-old Terrill took his own life.
ABC Entertainment declined to comment. ABC Entertainment is part of The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News.
In the second installment of "Paradise Hotel," the Fox reality show in which participants compete to see who can stay in a luxury hotel the longest, 25-year-old Clutter appeared, even though he had committed suicide just after production was wrapped on the show.
Originally the show covered his Oct. 12, 2007 death by saying Clutter, a former call center employee, had fallen during a climbing accident. But after an investigation by the Sheriff's office outside Amarillo, Texas, where he died, it was determined that Clutter had actually jumped from the top of a cellular tower.
"There were no findings of foul play [and] all evidence and findings show that [Clutter's death] was a product of his own demise," read the Sheriff's report obtained by RealityTVWorld.com.
A member of the Sheriff's Office was also quoted saying that Clutter battled depression and bipolar disorder and his family had recently wired him money so he could return home and receive treatment.
His family and producers agreed to keep in Clutter's scenes, according to Broadcasting & Cable.com.
Fox did not respond to requests for comment.
Reality shows in other countries have experienced similar tragedies, proving it's not just an American phenomenon. In fact, the 1997 suicide of a Swedish man who participated in the forerunner to the "Survivor," series, a show called "Expedition: Robinson," produced by Mark Burnett, led Burnett and other producers to screen potential contestants through psychological testing before they were casted. Nevertheless, several incidents have occurred since then.
In England, two contestants killed themselves and another reportedly tried after participating in reality shows, according to TheWrap.com. Simon Foster was found dead on April 15, 2008 presumably from an excess of methadone and alcohol, after he did English version of the show "Wife Swap" with his then wife Jane. Carina Stephenson, a 17-year-old English girl, took her life in May 2005, two weeks before her role on the UK reality show "The Colony" was to air.
Jo O'Meara, who appeared on England's "Celebrity Big Brother," downed pills and whiskey after she was accused of being a racist and a bully on the show and received death threats when it was over. She survived after a friend found her, but O'Meara was still furious with producers for "abandoning" her, she told Britain's News of the World in March 2007.
"I actually did hardly anything on that show, but it made me look like some monster," she said. "Then when the show finished playing with me like a puppet it abandoned me and left me to sort out my problems, knowing just how bad I'd become."
The Disgusting Reason One Customer Just Brought a Lawsuit Against McDonald's
Yikes. Fast food giants like McDonald's have found themselves among the establishments least hit by the pandemic… but a new report suggests that even in a time when safe food handling is under the microscope more than ever, it sounds like gross back-of-house behavior is still happening in some restaurant kitchens. Here's the truly sickening reason one New Jersey family has filed a serious lawsuit against their local McDonald's.
NJ.com reported Thursday that a woman has filed a lawsuit against a McDonald's restaurant in Millville, New Jersey. She alleges that on January 13, she and her young daughter ordered at McDonald's and took their meal home to discover—well, we'll let our source explain what happened next:
"After eating some fries from the McDonald's bag, the (child) reached in the bag and took out the burger (and) noticed a brown substance all over the wrapper," the suit states.
At the same [time], [the mother] "noticed and smelled a horrible stench from the substance on the burger," the suit states.
"To their disbelief and shock, plaintiffs realized what they had just ingested was human feces, which was touching their French fries in the same bag and that was all over (the child's) hand and the wrapper of the burger," the lawsuit claims.
The report states that the woman's daughter immediately reacted by vomiting. When the mom phoned that McDonald's location, the woman got no answer. At that point, she contacted the local police, who apparently found sufficient reason for the responding officer to pursue the matter.
The report states that he went to the McDonald's and spoke to two managers, and two days later county health department officials arrived for an inspection. According to the report, the McDonald's was cited for multiple hand-washing violations.
The woman's suit states that she and her daughter sought medical treatment after the event. As a result of the incident, she is reportedly seeking damages against the franchise location owner and 10 employees for "physical and psychological damages to include emotional distress, loss of appetite, heightened anxiety and stomach pain."
The owner of that McDonald's location denies any wrongdoing and has been quoted as having commented: "Serving safe, high-quality food is always our top priority … We've taken appropriate steps to investigate this and have been unable to substantiate this claim."
Fast food may be an easy go-to when life gets busy… but this kinda makes you want to eat at home this week, doesn't it? Catch Genius Meal-Prep Tricks for Easier Weekdays.
Gordon Ramsay, reality TV and the suicide of chef Joseph Cerniglia
F or the viewers it was just another example of the host's bullish bluster – the sort of bad-mouthed, bare-knuckled assault that draws millions of viewers to Gordon Ramsay, turning him into one of the most famous people in America.
"Your business is about to fucking swim down the Hudson," the Scot told Joseph Cerniglia, chef and owner of the floundering New Jersey restaurant Campania.
Saddled with debts of $80,000 from purchasing the restaurant, Cerniglia found himself in the hands of Ramsay and the team at Fox TV, taping an episode of the first US series of Kitchen Nightmares, in which the by turns ebullient and demonic chef follows the tried-and-trusted reality TV formula of visiting a struggling business and shouting at people.
Ramsay is no John Harvey-Jones, the BBC's gentlemanly Troubleshooter. Ramsay tells it like it is, and then some, glorifying in the travails of others, gleefully exposing their shortcomings and – most recently – vomiting their work into the nearest bin.
But in the case of Cerniglia, the reality of his situation caught up with him earlier this week. Three years after he first appeared on Ramsay's show, the 39-year-old Cerniglia was found dead, his body pulled from the Hudson river after a witness reported seeing a man jump from the George Washington Bridge.
It is not the first time that a contestant on one of Ramsay's shows has taken their own life: three years ago, Rachel Brown, a chef appearing on another of Ramsay's shows, Hell's Kitchen, shot herself in her Dallas home. Neither is it the first time that people who have appeared on TV have subsequently encountered problems in their lives. Of course, no one is suggesting that these deaths are directly related to their appearances on reality TV. But it has sparked a fresh debate about the genre.
Dr Bruce Weinstein, AKA the Ethics Guy and a columnist for Bloomberg Business Week who has looked at the mores of reality TV, believes there has been "a ratcheting up of the level of brutality . . . it's nastier, it's coarser, it's harsher".
"Going back to the first series of Survivor, there was conniving, but it's reached a level we've not seen before."
Weinstein suggest that the conflicts and drama that are the making of reality TV are quite detached from reality. "These programmes are as produced as drama," he says. "What we are watching is not reality unfolding, but reality as it is shaped by a group of people. Aristotle told us that the essence of all drama is conflict. What the producers of these shows are trying to do is to maximise the conflict."
And who better than the vulnerable to give the public – the economic drivers of reality TV – its kicks? And if audiences crave a rollercoaster ride of emotion, sweat, heat, tantrums and topsy-turvy balance sheets, look no further than the restaurant business.
The hierarchical structure of the restaurant kitchen and the tendency for chefs to move into management, an area in which many have little expertise, is manna to reality producers. According to Nation's Restaurant News, 5,500 restaurants closed in 2009 in the US, out of a total of 578,353.
"Dentists and chefs," says David LeFevre, who is leaving behind the success he has enjoyed as chef at the Water Grill in Los Angeles to start his own restaurant. "They are the two most-hated, highest-risk occupations."
The tension inside the kitchen, says LeFevre, is easily explained. "It's extremely hot, it's an extremely small space and there's a lot of people," he says. "You have a deadline every two minutes. You're kind of doing air traffic control with tickets. You're trying to organise all these planes and tickets to land at the right time, but these planes have to be hot and tasty and seasoned. That for me is one of the monkeys on your back."
All of which, he says, leads to the sort of tensions that have prompted some, such as Ramsay, to rise to the top of the ratings – and others to plummet to the bottom.
LeFevre points to the example of one of the greats of French cuisine, Bernard Loiseau, under whom he served at the Michelin-starred La Côte d'Or before Loiseau killed himself in 2003. "Here you are in a pretty stressful environment already, that's hot and loud, and you add in the stress of running a business. It's a lose-lose situation."
Cerniglia's sister has insisted that taking part in the show did not adversely affect her brother. "He really liked Gordon and the show was great," she said. "The show was also great for business. It really helped tremendously. There are no hard feelings at all from our family to Gordon Ramsay, who is a wonderful man. His behaviour on the show was played up for the cameras."
Ramsay himself issued a dignified statement, noting, "I was fortunate to spend time with Joe during the first season of Kitchen Nightmares. Joe was a brilliant chef, and our thoughts go out to his family, friends and staff."
But some critics have used the occasion of Cerniglia's death this week to take issue with Ramsay's unique selling point: his manner. "Smart chef[s] lead kitchen by sharing, teaching, inspiring with respect," New York-based French chef Eric Ripert wrote on Twitter this week. "Not insulting, abusing, humiliating their team . . . Nothing personal against Gordon Ramsay but he is a poor inspiration for professional chefs in his shows." Ripert, a judge on reality TV show Top Chef, quickly clarified that he was not blaming Ramsay for the deaths.
Mary Sue Milliken, chef and co-owner of the Border Grill in Los Angeles, argues that Ramsay-style shrieking may have something to do with gender. "Maybe because we're women," she says of herself and co-owner Susan Feniger, "we don't have the kind of egos that lead to this. You manage your personality to fit your passion, don't you? And we made a very conscious effort to find other ways to manage our kitchens."
She also suspects the Ramsay stereotype of the demon chef is something peculiar to TV. "In 29 years as a chef I've run into guys who were maybe 30-40% of the persona that Gordon Ramsay exudes," she says. "There were a few chefs who were like that, but I don't think it's as prevalent any more. But the Gordon Ramsay persona makes popular TV. I've met him and he was delightful to me."
LeFevre, however, recognises the difficulties of staying calm in the heat of the kitchen.
"I have my challenges with my temper," LeFevre says. "It's something I work with on a daily basis. If it's super-stressful, you need to be very firm and clear and curt about what needs to be done. Other times you can be more calm. I have to be aware of where I am in order to be in the right mood to put my food out."
And though Ramsay may be delightful to his peers, that isn't going to win viewers. Trailers for the current series of Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen, also on Fox, makes it sound like Gladiator: "Fighting reaches epic proportions," it proclaims.
But several former contestants have elided the standard $5m confidentiality agreement that all must sign before taking part in the programme, to suggest that much of the fighting and brawling and crying is exaggerated.
But as media analyst and former TV producer Richard Crew notes, few people recognise themselves on reality television. "You have the reality of who this public persona of you is. Unless you are incredibly narcissistic, it must be quite a shock to see that person: is that really me, or did they manipulate that person to be me?"
As with the ingredients of a gourmet meal, it takes a phalanx of people to achieve the right blend of personalities for a reality TV show. Would-be participants are subjected to psychological evaluations ahead of recording. Once contestant recalled being asked how he felt at his grandmother's funeral and what his attitude was towards promiscuous sex.
"Part of the reason that psychologists are involved is to screen out people that might not be suited for that sort of experience," says Crew. "But the other reason is to identify characters that will be attractive and entertaining to viewers. That show was certainly a part of Cerniglia's personality."
One psychologist who was a consultant on Survivor has compared the contained reality of reality TV with the Stanford prison experiment of 1971, which saw students taking their roles as prisoner and guard beyond the norms of acceptable behaviour.
"The primary business in LA is reality TV," Crew points out, "and the challenge is that, because it isn't fiction, you can't just make it up, so you have to manipulate it and make it as entertaining as you can."
Eateries shuttered, but chef's plate remains full with lawsuit
1 of 2 Bistro Vatel on East Olmos Drive still delights customers with its take on French cuisine, but earlier this year it came under new ownership. Damien Watel stayed on as chef. Beth Spain / San Antonio Express-News Show More Show Less
2 of 2 Damien Watel was unaware that he'd been sued. Show More Show Less
A descendant of a French chef who committed suicide over a banquet gone awry, Damien Watel has made a name for himself in San Antonio's culinary circles &mdash in frenetic fashion.
He opened Bistro Vatel in Olmos Park in 1999 and later turned his attention to launching a string of other restaurants and bars around town, and a dream project in Stone Oak &mdash a retail center best known for a controversial fork sculpture standing at the site.
The artwork remains, but the center is mostly vacant two of his restaurants there shut their doors. Indeed, Watel either has closed or sold most of the locations he opened.
Bistro Vatel at 218 E. Olmos Drive still delights customers with its take on French cuisine, but earlier this year it came under new ownership. Watel stayed on as chef.
Now he's being sued in state court by a lender over a nearly $600,000 debt.
TransPecos Banks filed the complaint against the French-born chef Oct. 4, claiming he owed a combined $594,600.91 on two loans issued in August 2011.
&ldquoA lot of years of hard work to get there,&rdquo Watel said. &ldquoAnd now this. Is (this) what they call the American Dream?&rdquo
Under terms of the loans, he agreed to pay the Pecos-based bank nearly $4,500 a month until early 2019, when the payments would drop to about $2,600, according to court records. The bank's lawsuit does not detail when Watel fell into delinquency.
Reached by phone Tuesday morning, Watel said he was unaware he'd been sued, but explained the debt was an old obligation of Bistro Vatel LLC. He said that company shut down last year following &ldquothe demise&rdquo of parent company Stone Oak Ventures Ltd., in which Bistro Vatel LLC was a partner.
Stone Oak Ventures filed a certificate of termination with the Texas secretary of state in March 2010.
Bistro Vatel recently changed its name to Chez Vatel & Bistro, and locally based Cuisine Machine LLC took control of the restaurant in January.
&ldquoAs you can assume, I must limit my comments on this pending litigation,&rdquo Watel wrote in an email.
&ldquoThe disputed amounts have no connection with my current employer&rdquo and operator of Chez Vatel, he added.
Bistro Vatel and its traditional French dishes quickly became popular in the Olmos Park area after Watel opened the restaurant in late 1990s. Today, it's one of the last remaining establishments in the Watel family's local culinary empire, which peaked right as the national recession began to take its toll.
Watel opened Bistro Vatel after his partners bought him out of a cafe on Broadway in 1997. About six years later, he purchased a coin laundry near his restaurant to house Ciao Lavanderia, and in 2006 he selected a site in Southtown for the popular Belgian bistro La Frite.
But Watel's presence in the city truly expanded starting in 2008, when he opened two neighboring restaurants at Ciel Plaza, a 14,000-square-foot retail center in Stone Oak. In the same year, the Ciao Vino and Soto Vino wine bars opened next to Watel's existing restaurants.
In April 2009, his family launched a bakery across from Bistro Vatel and within the year signed a three-year lease with the San Antonio Museum of Art for Cafe des Artistes. However, the lease wasn't renewed.
With the exception of the flagship location &mdash and La Frite, which Watel sold in 2009 &mdash each of his ventures eventually shuttered.
&ldquoCommercial real estate along Stone Oak, just like housing, got hit during the period in question,&rdquo said Scott Roberts, an associate professor of marketing at the University of the Incarnate Word.
&ldquoIn the lull (or) downturn, some properties were at fire sale prices or rents by desperate owners,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThat may have been tempting enough for Watel to expand.&rdquo
Watel declined to go into detail, but he said the Stone Oak project started three years before the recession worsened in 2008.
An Austin-based private equity firm purchased Ciel Plaza from TransPecos Banks, which had foreclosed on the property earlier.
&ldquoIt just so (happened) to be completed when (the recession) hit. Lucky me,&rdquo Watel said. &ldquoIt is painful to see your dream project end up this way.&rdquo
Express-News archives and News Researcher Julie Domel contributed to this report.
Restaurants Were His Life
The tales of Colin Devlin’s generosity sound like fables. Once, though he was nearly broke and working as a bartender, he pulled $1,000 out of his sock and gave it to a friend starting a restaurant.
When Mr. Devlin opened DuMont, the first of his three pioneering restaurants in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he offered free meals to loyal customers and new friends, whom he made instantly. He adopted the ugliest, most unwanted dogs his favorite was Remy, a mutt with a backward paw.
“Everyone fell in love with Colin,” said Dr. Michael Conroy, 41, his best friend growing up in Philadelphia. “We had him as some demigod.”
Before dawn on July 25, Mr. Devlin was found 38 miles south of his Pennsylvania farmhouse in the cemetery of Chestnut Hill Church, outside Allentown. A worker restoring the steeple spotted a white BMW sport utility vehicle on the private road inside the cemetery, and then, upon inspection, a body, face down, by the far woods. Mr. Devlin had shot himself in the head, the police said he was holding a .38 revolver that belonged to him.
Mr. Devlin was 42. He left a short note in his car, telling his wife, Kristina Devlin, 41, to go on and live her life. He said he would watch over their daughter, Ludivine, 4, and their son, Cole, 3, and apologized to his family, a relative said.
A month earlier, he had closed his Michelin-starred restaurant, Dressler, because it had been steadily losing money. His landlord was also a partner and, according to e-mails between the two men, would not renew the restaurant’s lease, in part because of unpaid bills. Mr. Devlin’s other restaurants, DuMont and DuMont Burger, seemed successful and crowded, but the Devlin Metro Group, which managed them, was struggling financially.
He and his wife owed more than $19,000 in back taxes to New York State, according to the New York State Tax Department, and there was a lawsuit by a food purveyor pending. They were carrying two mortgages, on the house in Pennsylvania, from which he frequently commuted to the city, and the house he bought for his mother next door. When he went missing from the couple’s rented New York apartment on July 24, Ms. Devlin told the police that he had been depressed, and was upset over failing to get a business loan that day.
“He was obviously trying to make his businesses right,” said Joseph Foglia, 48, Mr. Devlin’s business partner, restaurant designer and one of his closest friends. Mr. Foglia was one of a few friends who received an e-mail message from Mr. Devlin the day before he died. He declined to share its contents, but a law enforcement official said that Mr. Devlin asked the friends to make sure his wife and children were taken care of.
“I never saw anyone work harder on anything else,” Mr. Foglia said. “I believe he could have fixed it. He would say, ‘I want to be happy. I want things to be simpler. I want people around me to be happy.’ ”
Mr. Devlin’s death shocked the restaurant world and the creative community that had rallied around him to build Williamsburg into a bustling neighborhood and, unintentionally, a global brand. Twelve years ago, he opened DuMont, a homey spot in a Wild West of culinary experimentation, without much attention from Manhattan. Since then, the casual-chic food and bar scene in Williamsburg has become a magnet for young professionals and guidebook-toting tourists seeking the widely exported source of Brooklyn cool. Mr. Devlin, personable and passionate, appeared to be its ambassador. Instead, he became its first high-profile figure to fall.
Suicide is a deeply personal act, ultimately ineffable. Those who study suicide say the reasons people choose to kill themselves are multilayered, and they caution others not to construct easy explanations — because there are none. Yet some things about Mr. Devlin seem clear.
Interviews with dozens of friends, relatives and former employees offered a picture of a big-hearted man who was frenetic in his enthusiasm, if not in his business dealings. Most spoke about his endearing qualities, but declined to be quoted about the specific pressures in his business and personal life.
Since childhood, he felt tremendously burdened to support people around him, financially and emotionally. He was insecure despite his success and his charm. “Nobody was less impressed with Colin than Colin,” Dr. Conroy, now a dermatologist in Columbus, Ohio, said to a standing-room-only crowd of about 400 at Mr. Devlin’s funeral Mass on July 31 in Stroudsburg, Pa. “That’s what we loved about him. That’s why we’re all here.”
By 2007, a year after it opened, Dressler had earned a Michelin star, only the third Brooklyn restaurant to do so. By 2009, Mr. Devlin was in his second marriage, with one child and another on the way. He was always thinking about his next project maybe one day he would open hotels, he said. But Mr. Devlin acknowledged the challenges.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re making money but then it goes right back into the company,” he said in an interview with the magazine StarChefs, which gave him New York’s Rising Stars Restaurateur Award in 2009. “For me it’s a lifestyle, so I’ve never wanted or needed to take a lot from it.”
But then, Mr. Devlin concluded: “Beyond the bottom line, if the restaurants weren’t here in the morning I wouldn’t have a life. It sounds hokey but I believe it.”
The Island Is Idyllic. As a Workplace, It’s Toxic.
Globe-trotting diners flock to the Willows Inn’s serene Northwest setting. But former employees say faked ingredients, sexual harassment and an abusive kitchen are the real story.
Blaine Wetzel, chef and co-owner of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, denied allegations that his kitchen fails to live up to the ideals he broadcasts to the world. “If we are missing that mark in any way, we must improve,” he said. Credit. Amber Fouts
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The chef Blaine Wetzel first came to Lummi, a tiny island near the San Juan archipelago of Washington State, in 2010. At age 24, he was fresh off a two-year stint at the vaunted Copenhagen restaurant Noma. He could have found a job in any kitchen in the world.
Instead, he’d answered an ad on Craigslist, posted by a chicken farmer who owned a century-old inn on Lummi Island, 100 miles north of Seattle and reachable only by ferry. Sight unseen, Mr. Wetzel had fallen for the island’s ravishing isolation — fewer than 1,000 people live there full-time — and its unspoiled forests, farms and fisheries.
Since he took over the kitchen at the Willows Inn, it has become a global destination, fully booked nearly every night of its annual season, from April to December. Culinary pilgrims come for multicourse dinners of foraged dandelions, custards infused with roasted birch bark and salmon pulled from Pacific waters they can see from the dining room. After dinner, they float up to one of the luxe-rustic bedrooms, and wake up to wild blackberries and long-fermented sourdough.
Beyond the food, they come for the story, and pay at least $500 to live in it for a night.
But 35 former staff members who spoke to The New York Times said that story — the one Mr. Wetzel tells to diners, to the media and to aspiring chefs who come to Lummi to learn from him — is deeply misleading.
For years, they said, Mr. Wetzel’s culinary pedigree and the Willows’ idyllic image have hidden an ugly reality that includes routine faking of “island” ingredients physical intimidation and verbal abuse by Mr. Wetzel, including racist, sexist and homophobic slurs and sexual harassment of female employees by male kitchen staff members. In March, the Willows agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit, after a 2017 federal investigation confirmed accounts of wage theft and other unfair labor practices.
Former employees who grew up on the island told The Times that as teenage girls, they were touched inappropriately, given drugs and alcohol and pressured into having sex by men on the kitchen staff and visiting chefs. Former managers said Mr. Wetzel and the inn’s longtime manager, Reid Johnson, have been aware of these troubling patterns for years, but did little or nothing to change them.
In response to questions from The Times, Mr. Wetzel wrote, “We are deeply saddened to learn that some former employees shared concerns about our business. Our goal is for anyone who works at the Willows to think of us as the most kind, caring, generous, and talented people they have ever worked with and that the Willows was the best job they have ever had. If we are missing that mark in any way, we must improve.”
In a subsequent email, Mr. Wetzel, 35, denied the substance of most allegations. Mr. Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.
Meredith O’Malley, 29, was a dining room manager at Del Posto in Manhattan when she dined at the Willows in 2016, soon after Mr. Wetzel was named Best Chef in the Northwest by the James Beard Foundation. She immediately decided to move to Lummi to work as a server on the inn’s team of 30-odd people. “You think it’s going to be this dream: local sourcing, one service a day, sunsets every night,” she said. “But all these problems were swept under the rug.”
Along with eight other senior staff members, she resigned last season, disgusted by a toxic culture they say begins with Mr. Wetzel’s autocratic, erratic management style and permeates the workplace.
“I am really proud of the work I did there,” said Teo Crider, 31, who resigned as bar manager in November after five years at the Willows. “But the atmosphere was nightmarish.”
Some former employees said the Willows is no worse than other top kitchens, where perfectionism is rewarded and fanaticism about ingredients is admired. “I wanted to learn and grow, and I didn’t take it personally when Blaine was being tough,” said Robert Mendoza, who now heads the kitchen at the Paris restaurant Vivant.
But far more said that Mr. Wetzel’s substitutions cross the line into deception, and that his behavior often crossed the line into abuse.
The Willows opened for the 2021 season this month. Some of the new chefs have worked with Mr. Wetzel’s wife, the celebrated chef Daniela Soto-Innes, who won awards and accolades for her modern Mexican cooking at the New York City restaurants Cosme and Atla. Ms. Soto-Innes resigned from those restaurants in December and moved to Lummi, but she and Mr. Wetzel told The Times she had never worked at the Willows.
The couple’s romance, lavishly documented on Instagram since they met in 2018, has added a glamorous chapter to Mr. Wetzel’s story. His fame rests on his longtime claim of using only the island’s locally foraged, fished and farmed ingredients, mainly from the inn’s one-acre Loganita Farm.
But all of the restaurant employees interviewed disputed that claim. In fact, they said, most ingredients were ordered from distributors and farms on the mainland. When local produce ran out, cooks routinely bought supermarket ingredients, like beets and broccoli, that were then passed off as grown or gathered on Lummi.
They said “Pacific octopus” arrived frozen from Spain and Portugal “wild” venison purportedly shot on the island was farm-raised in Idaho “roasted chicken drippings,” part of a signature dish, were made in big batches from organic chickens bought at Costco.
“On my first day, I was cutting frozen Alaskan scallops down to the shape and size of pink singing scallops,” said Julia Olmos, 24, a line cook from 2017 to 2019.
Mr. Wetzel’s claim, said a longtime sous-chef, Scott Weymiller, was mathematically impossible: to serve 25 different plates to up to 40 people, six nights a week, from a nine-square-mile island. “You can do that for two days, but you can’t do it for two weeks,” said Mr. Weymiller, 32. “Much less for an entire season.”
Guests who requested vegetarian and vegan versions of the menu, they said, were routinely served standard dishes made with chicken and seafood. Mr. Wetzel denied this.
“If a cook asked me now if they should go work there, I’d say, ‘It’s not the place you think it is,’” said Julian Rane, a chef from 2017 to 2019.
In response, Mr. Wetzel said “we never misrepresent our ingredient sources” and described how the Willows grows and sources food on the island. He did not, however, deny that many ingredients came from elsewhere, including organic chickens.
Employees said they were uncomfortable with the lies, but far more troubled by the poisonous work atmosphere.
“The way in which people were abused and belittled there was horrifying,” said Spencer Verkuilen, 28, who said Mr. Wetzel shoved, screamed at and sent him home in full view of customers when he served a course out of order to one table. (Mr. Wetzel denied this several employees confirmed it.)
“I would go farther than a boys’ club,” said Phaedra Brucato, 33, a former sommelier. “It was ‘eat or be eaten.’”
In recent years, the restaurant industry’s longstanding tolerance of tyrannical chefs has begun to crumble. The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have produced new awareness and language regarding inequality, bias and harassment in kitchens. Leading chefs like René Redzepi of Noma and David Chang of Momofuku have acknowledged the harm caused by their past behavior, and many others have vowed to raise professional standards.
But Willows employees said the kitchen atmosphere of misogynistic language and homophobic slurs has remained. Mr. Wetzel has publicly humiliated cooks whose work displeased him, often using a derogatory term for mentally disabled people to disparage them. He also has used racist language to describe Latino employees and Asian customers, they said.
“We used to laugh it off, give Blaine the benefit of the doubt,” said Larry Nguyen, who arrived at the Willows in 2018, having cooked at renowned restaurants like Noma, and Central in Lima, Peru. “We fully believed it was ignorance.”
But last summer, Mr. Nguyen said, after he and another Asian-American chef confronted Mr. Wetzel about using offensive language, including a racist slur directed at them, Mr. Wetzel denied ever having done so. Both chefs resigned within a day. Mr. Weymiller, the sous-chef, also quit in solidarity.
Mr. Wetzel said he had never used racist language of any kind. “My stepmom and brother are Chinese, my wife is Mexican, and anyone that would claim I was racist is lying.”
Female cooks said that in addition to enduring constant barrages of sexual innuendo from male colleagues, they were consistently blocked from promotion and nudged out of the main kitchen by Mr. Wetzel.
More than 30 women have worked in the kitchen as interns and line cooks, Mr. Wetzel said. But none have been promoted to sous-chef or chef de cuisine the two women he identified as former sous-chefs there said they had never held that job. (On the innkeeping side, and in the dining room, some women have been promoted to managerial positions.)
Jen Curtis, 39, was a seasoned chef de cuisine when she left a job and went back to culinary school, just so she would be eligible to cook at the Willows as an intern. “The cuisine is what I identify with,” said Ms. Curtis, who grew up on a Cape Cod farm. “Hyperseasonal, coastal, handmade.”
A Rise in Anti-Asian Attacks
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
- Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
- UnderreportedHate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump's comments.
- In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
- What Happened inAtlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings were hate crimes, and that she would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, who has been charged with murder.
When she was hired full time, she said, Mr. Wetzel told her she was in line for a sous-chef position. (Many employees said they had heard the same promise, usually when they were on the verge of quitting.) But she said that after two years of watching younger men steadily being promoted ahead of her, and seeing other female chefs ignored, she resigned.
Mr. Wetzel said: “I support female chefs with all my heart (so much so that I married one). Anyone that would claim that I don’t support female chefs is lying.”
Many former employees said they put up with Mr. Wetzel’s offensive language, sexism and bullying, because a recommendation from him is a springboard to any cooking job in the world. But many others left midseason, or walked out midshift.
“There were countless times I tried to get upper management to bring in H.R. to deal with our problems,” said Anne Treat, 42, who was fired in September 2020 after confronting Mr. Wetzel. “There was no interest in why we were constantly losing employees.”
Going to Mr. Johnson, the longtime manager, was the only recourse for the many employees who clashed with Mr. Wetzel. But, they said, Mr. Johnson boasted about a “hands-off” management style that made it unnecessary for him to intervene, and never acted on complaints against Mr. Wetzel.
Mr. Johnson did not comment for this article, but Mr. Wetzel wrote, “Reid Johnson records, reports and acts on every complaint in the workplace in the appropriate manner.”
Mr. Wetzel added that the Willows had “an independent H.R. consultant available at all times,” but would not confirm when the person was hired. Employees said it was during the 2020 season, as the senior staff was resigning en masse and the Willows, like many workplaces, was forced to confront its institutional racism and other problems.
In 2017, after employees reported the Willows to the U.S. Department of Labor, the department found that it had violated federal law by forcing employees to work 14-hour days for as little as $50, and by using “stagiaires” — a French term for culinary interns — as free labor. The inn was fined $149,000 and forced to end its intern program.
In March, Mr. Wetzel agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a subsequent class-action lawsuit, brought by 99 employees over various forms of wage theft, including misappropriation of tips and failure to pay overtime or provide rest breaks to employees working 14-hour days. As part of the settlement, he was not required to admit any wrongdoing.
According to public records, Mr. Wetzel co-owns the Willows with one partner, Tim McEvoy, who did not respond to requests for comment.
After 10 years with Mr. Wetzel in charge, the relationship between the inn and Lummi’s residents is showing signs of strain.
A dozen women who worked at the Willows said that men on Mr. Wetzel’s kitchen crew constantly harassed teenage employees from the island with sexual overtures and innuendo, pressured them to stay after work hours to “party,” and plied them with alcohol and drugs to make them compliant.
Female employees from the island said Mr. Wetzel and other managers ordered them to lose weight and get manicures and eyelash extensions at their own expense, in order to polish the image the restaurant wanted to project. Mr. Wetzel denied this.
Local girls were assumed by male employees to be sexually mature, they said “island age” was a running joke. “‘Lummi Island 16’ meant that you were available for sex, and that any kind of creepy and predatory behavior was fine,” said Sarah Letchworth, 21, who was 15 when she started working there. (Several women who worked at the Willows said they did have sex with kitchen crew members. All said it occurred after they turned 16, the legal age of consent in Washington State. None said Mr. Wetzel had sex with staff members.)
Many employees said Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Johnson were frequently present at events where underage employees drank with older staff members until they were unconscious. When Ms. Letchworth was 18, she said, Mr. Wetzel offered her a ride home from a party but instead drove to his house, then refused to take her home unless she did rounds of shots with him. He then drove her home while drunk, she said. Mr. Wetzel denied this.
“Those girls were our sisters and our daughters,” said Kari Southworth, 43, who grew up on the island, managed the restaurant in its previous incarnation, and stayed until 2014, when, she said, the Willows’ celebration of the island had turned into exploitation. “They treat the community with no respect,” she said.
The pandemic proved to be a breaking point. Mr. Wetzel reopened the restaurant in June, and in the fall, at least one Covid-19 case on the island was traced to a guest at the inn.
“They were bringing people over on the ferry every night,” said Rhaychell Davis, a former employee who lives on the island with her two daughters. “And they stayed silent about it while we all were panicking.”
The Willows managers said that they feared for the safety of guests, staff and islanders, and that Mr. Wetzel’s response underlined leadership failures that had been accumulating for years.
“The island is beautiful, the people are kind, the seafood is incredible, just like he says,” said Mr. Nguyen, 32, the chef who resigned because of Mr. Wetzel’s denials. “But our faith was broken.”
1. When Snapchat CEO Had Tough Times
“Snapchat is for rich people, don’t want to expand in poor countries like India and Spain,” said CEO Evan Spiegel according to a lawsuit filed by the company’s former manager. As soon as the words reached the Indian media, outraged Indians started a campaign to uninstall Snapchat from their devices.
The media-sharing application has a huge user base in India, and people started giving negative reviews and ratings on iStore and on the Google Play Store. Snapchat clearly denied the allegations, but the controversy made the company witness a fall in its shares. Some anonymous hackers from India also claimed that they leaked the data of 1.7 million Snapchat users on the dark web and put the company in trouble.