In one (n ril 27 exposeFormer employees of the critically acclaimed Willows Inn on Lummi Island accuse the restaurant of being a nightmare work environment. Among the most disturbing allegations in the article are that chef Blaine Wetzel and the restaurant’s manager, Reid Johnson, monitored a pattern of sexism, sexual harassment, and racial bullying at the Willows Inn, and that staff allegedly chased teenage girls out of jail on the island. The piece also claims that the carefully manicured image of local sourcing was wrong, as items bought in grocery stores were displayed as island-grown ingredients.
Wetzel denied all allegations regarding sexism, harassment and racial abuse, and also denied most allegations regarding sourcing of ingredients. Johnson made no comment on that Times for the article.
The Times spoke to 35 former employees, including female employees, who reported constant sexual harassment from male employees and female chefs who had been repeatedly banned from promotion. Among them were some locals who started working at the Willows Inn as teenagers, claiming that certain male kitchen workers inappropriately touched and alcoholized them.
Sarah Letchworth, a former employee who was 15 when she started at Willows Inn, said that her male employees had a running joke about „Lummi Island 16,” which meant „They were available for sex and.” for any kind of creepy and predatory behavior was fine. She also claimed that Wetzel once offered to drive her home from a party when she was 18 but forced her to shoot his house first and then drive her home drunk.
Wetzel denied Letchworth’s allegations in the play, saying the following regarding the claim that female cooks had not made headway in his kitchen: “I wholeheartedly support female cooks (so much that I married one). Anyone who would say I don’t support cooks is lying. „
In addition to an atmosphere of misogyny, the Times also spoke to former employees who alleged verbal bullying was widespread, including claiming that Wetzel „belittled workers by using a derogatory label for the mentally retarded in order to demean them”. The sources in the article also state that Wetzel used „racist language” to describe Latino employees and Asian customers. Wetzel denied all of these claims with a formulation similar to his refutation of sexist and sexual harassment: “My stepmother and brother are Chinese, my wife is Mexican, and anyone who would say I was racist is lying. „
History paints a grim picture of what allegedly went on behind the scenes at the Willows Inn for years, but a culture of deception extended to the plate as well. Though the restaurant advertises the careful preparation of produce on Lummi Island (especially on the inn’s own small farm), former employees claim that most of the ingredients actually came from mainland suppliers – and occasionally even from grocery stores.
The „wild game” the restaurant was promoting from Lummi was actually raised in Idaho, and the „fried chicken drops” in one dish allegedly came from poultry bought from Costco. „On my first day, I cut frozen Alaskan scallops to the size of pink singing scallops,” said Julia Olmos, a line chef who worked at the restaurant from 2017-2019 Times. Wetzel also denied these claims by saying, „We never misrepresent our ingredient sources,” but admitted that many ingredients come from outside Lummi, including organic chickens.
The TimesThe report comes not long after the Willows Inn resolved a $ 600,000 class lawsuit related to wage theft, in which former employees accused Wetzel and management of „the minimum wage for all work done, overtime wages and the provision or payment not paying rest and meal breaks under Washington law. „The lawsuit related to an employment violation notice received approximately four years ago in which the restaurant allegedly violated labor laws by having its” steps „- culinary interns who usually work for free in upscale restaurants – work up to 14 hours a day with no overtime and daily rates of just $ 50.
In response to this, the restaurant did not discontinue its production program denied any wrongdoing. Both parties reached an agreement in October 2020. Wetzel told Eater Seattle that the lawsuit’s allegations were „in no way accurate,” claiming that it was „a tool this specialist law firm is using to tighten a 2016 quote significantly. ”
Eater turned to Wetzel and Johnson for further comments on the allegations in the Seattle Article but didn’t hear back until published. We’ll update this piece when more information becomes available.