“We called him the Red Menace,” Nelson, 40, said of Batali. “He tried to touch my breasts and told me that they were beautiful. He wanted to wrestle. As I was serving drinks to his table, he told me I should sit on his friend’s face.”
Dozens of interviews with employees at the Spotted Pig and its sister restaurants revealed a toxic top-down culture set by Friedman that not only tolerated sexual harassment, but relished it, The Times reported.
Ten women said Friedman, 56, subjected them to harassing behaviors during their time under his management, such as unwanted groping or demands for sexually explicit photos.
Server Natalie Saibel said that in 2015, Friedman ran his hands over her buttocks and groin while they were together in a room packed with patrons. He excused the crude groping by joking he had to be sure she wasn’t smuggling a forbidden cell phone, she told The Times.
Carla Rza Betts, a former wine director at the Spotted Pig and two other Friedman properties — the Breslin and the John Dory — said she eventually quit in 2013 after multiple incidents of harassment.
She said one night in 2009, Friedman took her to a rooftop bar near the Breslin to scope out the competition. Without asking, he leaned over and planted a kiss on her lips, she said.
“In the moment, you are not thinking at all,” Rza Betts, 39, told The Times. “He’s your boss. You don’t punch him. You just don’t kiss back, and pull away and try to shake it off.”
After she left in a cab, Friedman started pelting her with inappropriate text messages that she saved and shared with the newspaper.
“G’nite gorgeous. Send me a sexy picture,” he wrote in the first.
“You wish,” Rza Betts wrote back before politely thanking him for an “excellent evening!”
“(Come) on. One sexy pic,” he pleaded.
She turned him down again, but he wouldn’t relent.
“Just 1. A hot 1,” he wrote. “Show me your body.”
When Rza Betts asked if Friedman was trying to “hustle” her, he responded, “Yes. Come on. Just one sexy picture. Please.”
He finally signed off by calling her a “meanie.”
“I was embarrassed, felt taken advantage of and emotionally manipulated,” Rza Betts said.
Friedman, who opened the Spotted Pig on West 11th Street in the West Village with the backing of Batali and music mogul Jay-Z, issued an apology published by The Times.
“Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today’s discussion,” he said. “I apologize now publicly for my actions.”
He called his behavior “abrasive, rude and frankly wrong,” and said the women who work at his restaurants “are among the best in the business and putting any of them in humiliating situations is unjustifiable.”
His company said Tuesday that Friedman would take an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.
The restaurant group’s partner and star chef April Bloomfield denied turning a blind eye to prior complaints about Friedman.
“In the two matters involving uninvited approaches that were brought to my attention over the years, I immediately referred both to our outside labor counsel and they were addressed internally,” she told The Times.
“I have spoken to Ken about professional boundaries and relied on him to uphold our policies. Nonetheless I feel we have let down our employees and for that I sincerely apologize,” she said.
Batali, meanwhile, took a leave of absence from his restaurant empire and cooking show “The Chew” on Monday after a report on the food news website Eater New York included four women accusing him of inappropriate touching.
Batali apologized in a statement, saying “much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted.”