Mario Batali Gives Up All His Restaurants – The New York Times

A year after reports that the celebrity chef sexually assaulted and harassed women, the Bastianich family and Mr. Batali’s other partners have bought out his stake and regrouped.

Mario Batali at an awards dinner in April 2017. That December several women accused him of sexual harassment.CreditCreditBrent N. Clarke/Invision, via Associated Press

The 20-year partnership between the celebrity chef Mario Batali and the Bastianich family of restaurateurs was formally dissolved on Wednesday, more than a year after several women accused Mr. Batali of sexual harassment and assault.

Mr. Batali “will no longer profit from the restaurants in any way, shape or form,” said Tanya Bastianich Manuali, who will head day-to-day operations at a new company, as yet unnamed, created to replace the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group.

The new company will operate the group’s remaining 16 restaurants under a new management and financial structure. Mrs. Bastianich Manuali and her brother, Joe Bastianich, have bought Mr. Batali’s shares in all the restaurants. They would not discuss the terms of the buyout.

Mr. Batali, right, with Joe Bastianich at the opening of Eataly NYC Downtown in August 2016.CreditEugene Gologursky/Getty Images

Mr. Batali is also selling his shares in Eataly, the fast-growing global chain of luxury Italian supermarkets. “Eataly is in the process of acquiring Mr. Batali’s minority interest in Eataly USA,” said Chris Giglio, a spokesman for that company.

Several famous chefs and restaurateurs have recently been accused of sexual harassment, but Mr. Batali is the first to surrender all his restaurants.

At its peak, Batali & Bastianich encompassed dozens of restaurants and food businesses in the United States, Italy, Singapore and Hong Kong. Splashy restaurants like Babbo and Del Posto made celebrities of Mr. Batali and his primary partner, Mr. Bastianich. Two other partners added luster to the operation: the respected California chef Nancy Silverton and Lidia Bastianich, Mr. Bastianich’s mother, the chef and owner of Felidia, in Manhattan, and a beloved authority on Italian cuisine.

Ms. Silverton and Ms. Bastianich will be partners in the new company, along with Mr. Bastianich and Mrs. Bastianich Manuali. The four will work together on corporate strategy, culture, talent development and oversight across the businesses.

In December 2017, news accounts of Mr. Batali’s history of sexual aggression touched off police investigations, torpedoed his career and cast a shadow over all the restaurants he was involved in. Reservations at Del Posto, the group’s luxurious Manhattan flagship, shrank as expense-account approvers shied away from Mr. Batali’s compromised reputation.

Six of the group’s restaurants, in Las Vegas and East Asia, closed soon afterward, when the Sands casino group ended its contracts with Batali & Bastianich. Others shuttered as the process of dismantling the partnership dragged on. The group’s newest restaurant, the ambitious and expensive La Sirena, in the meatpacking district of Manhattan, closed in December.

Since the scandal began, Mr. Bastianich has insisted that he was unaware of Mr. Batali’s sexual aggressions against women. In a statement on Tuesday, he said: “While I never saw or heard of Mario groping an employee, I heard him say inappropriate things to our employees. Though I criticized him for it from time to time, I should have done more. I neglected my responsibilities as I turned my attention away from the restaurants. People were hurt, and for this I am deeply sorry.”

But three former employees of the restaurant group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Mr. Bastianich’s power in the restaurant business, said that they believed it was not possible that Mr. Bastianich remained ignorant of serious misbehavior by Mr. Batali. Throughout the industry, they and others have said, both men were known for fostering a sexist, raucous culture that ignored misconduct by male employees and demeaned female workers. (Before the #MeToo movement, however, that kind of atmosphere was hardly unique to Batali & Bastianich.)

Mr. Batali issued a statement on Wednesday morning: “I have reached an agreement with Joe and no longer have any stake in the restaurants we built together. I wish him the best of luck in the future.” He declined requests for further comment.

Batali & Bastianich was not a holding company and had no ownership; it provided management services to all the restaurants in the group. Each restaurant was, and will remain, independently operated and financed by multiple parties.

As a result, Mr. Batali, 58, was never involved in Felidia or the Lidia’s restaurants, in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Ms. Silverton, 64, is involved only in the group’s five California restaurants: Chi Spaccha, Osteria Mozza and three variations on the Mozza theme. At Becco, which Mr. Bastianich opened in New York’s theater district in 1992 after a short career as a bond trader, his grandmother, Erminia, is an investor. (She is now 101 years old, and has recouped her initial stake.)

Although Mrs. Bastianich Manuali, who will run the newly created group, has never had a public role in Batali & Bastianich, she has long managed their mother’s restaurants. She also co-wrote seven of her mother’s cookbooks and has been a producer on her television series since 2006.

“I never planned to come back,” said Mrs. Bastianich Manuali, who holds a doctorate in art history from Oxford University. “The pull of a family business can be strong.”

The new agreement returns control of the restaurants to the family, who have been working together since the 1970s, when Lidia Bastianich and her husband, Felice Bastianich, opened their first Italian restaurants, in Queens. Their children helped out from the time they were old enough to fold napkins. (Felice Bastianich died in 2010.)


Tanya Bastianich Manuali will head day-to-day operations for the new restaurant group.CreditDiana DeLucia

Now, Mrs. Bastianich Manuali, 46, will be in charge of operations across the group, a position that did not exist before. “We need to blow the dust off,” she said in an interview, gesturing to the battalion of elegantly uniformed servers at Del Posto. “These people have been living under a cloud long enough.”

As part of the reorganization, Melissa Rodriguez, Del Posto’s executive chef, and Jeff Katz, its longtime general manager, have become stakeholders in that restaurant, a precious reward that encourages loyalty and motivation. (The chefs Dave Pasternack at Esca in Midtown Manhattan and Andy Nusser at the three Tarry Lodge restaurants in Westchester and Connecticut already have ownership shares.)

Ms. Rodriguez was trained by her predecessor, Mark Ladner, Del Posto’s original chef; she is the first woman other than Ms. Bastianich to hold that position in any of the group’s New York restaurants.

“It will be good not to be a black spot on the map any longer,” Mr. Katz said.

Asked whether she regretted opening the family business to Mr. Batali, Ms. Bastianich, 72, said only, “Everything was done with the best intentions.”

Mr. Bastianich, 50, did acknowledge regret about having spent much of the last decade away from the restaurants that he and Mr. Batali had opened together. His professional attention has shifted to Italy, where he has been a judge on nine seasons of the blockbuster cooking show “MasterChef.” He has vineyards in Friuli, a residence in Milan, and has appeared in Italian commercials for McDonald’s and Alitalia.

In the early years of the partnership, Mr. Batali and Ms. Bastianich were the media stars, with Mr. Bastianich operating behind the scenes. “As a 200-pound bald guy I was in the shadow of Mario, in the shadow of my mom,” he said.

But, he said, after he became a runner, then a marathoner, then a triathlete, he gained confidence — and opportunities for fame that took him elsewhere. “I just wasn’t around,” he said. “That was a mistake.”

The restaurants, most of them operating under longtime Batali & Bastianich chefs and managers, ran smoothly enough, except for some lawsuits over wages, tips and sexual harassment (not by Mr. Batali).

When Mr. Batali and Mr. Bastianich met in 1993, Mr. Batali was the chef at tiny Pó in the West Village, where his loose, modern Italian dishes packed the house every night. Ms. Bastianich had introduced him to her son, who was equally passionate about Italian food, wine and late-night carousing.

In 1998, they opened Babbo, which was an immediate hit for its big-flavored food, classic rock playlist and energetic atmosphere. (With its Michelin star and longtime popularity, Babbo has been least affected by Mr. Batali’s fall, Mr. Bastianich said.)

Nearly 20 years later, the business they built together began to implode in just two days, when The New York Times and Eater published back-to-back articles in which women described a longtime pattern of sexual harassment and assault by Mr. Batali. The most serious incidents were said to have taken place both at the group’s restaurants and other places, including the Spotted Pig, in the West Village, where Mr. Batali was a regular and an investor. (Mr. Bastianich is also an investor in the Spotted Pig.)

[Read more about the allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Mario Batali.]

Mr. Batali said he didn’t recall all the reported episodes, but quickly apologized and stepped away from restaurant operations. He was fired from “The Chew,” ABC’s daily food-and-talk show, which was subsequently canceled. In January, New York police officials confirmed that the department had closed three investigations into sexual assault charges against him, for lack of evidence.

[Read more about the police investigations here.]

Mr. Batali has made no public comments on the allegations since December 2017. After a few much-criticized forays back into the public eye, he is said to be living with his family at the house they own in northern Michigan.

The new restaurant group’s first venture will be The Barish, a steakhouse in the newly restored Hollywood Roosevelt hotel in Los Angeles. The restaurant’s name refers to Ms. Silverton’s forebears, who were cattle ranchers in Saskatchewan, Canada, at the turn of the 20th century.

Julia Moskin, a Food reporter since 2004, writes about restaurants, chefs, trends and home cooking. She investigates the best recipes for kitchen classics in her video column Recipe Lab and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on workplace sexual harassment. @juliamoskin Facebook

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