On February 1, Eater reported chef Michael Scelfo of neighborhood mainstays Alden & Harlow, Longfellow Bar, and Waypoint would be opening a new restaurant this spring inside Somerville’s Cambria Hotel. The news sparked a deluge of industry backlash on social media, bringing to light past allegations of misconduct at the chef’s other restaurants that first surfaced on social media channels in 2020.
The response was swift and virulent: “Most Boston area chefs want nothing to do with him,” @karentek33 wrote on Instagram. “Please do not promote shitty business owners, especially when it’s widely known they’re douchebags with crappy business practices.”
The reactions on Eater’s story centered in part on allegations of misconduct at Scelfo’s three restaurants that were raised to the chef by several employees in 2020, and Scelfo’s alleged mishandling of the situation.
In an email to staff on June 26, 2020 that was forwarded to Eater today, Scelfo said that “recent stories” that had been shared by former employees were “painful to hear and have made it apparent that despite our best intentions, our family has been let down.” The specific stories shared by employees were not spelled out in the letter.
“I want to begin by emphasizing that we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, racism, homophobia or the mistreatment of others in any form, and are striving to create a safe, inclusive space for our team members,” Scelfo wrote. “I pledge that we will do a better job fostering an environment where all feel welcome and respected.”
The staff letter sparked further backlash on Instagram at the time. Alden & Harlow staffer Olivia LoChiatto, who had worked at the restaurant for the past four years, posted an open note in response to Scelfo’s letter clarifying that accusations of sexual harassment and general misconduct against staff members by upper management were among the complaints raised, as well as alleged staff mistreatment due to race and sexual orientation.
LoChiatto’s open letter was then included in @wanderingbostoneater’s Instagram highlights collecting accounts of alleged staff abuse and harassment at many Boston-area restaurants during the national industry reckoning that was happening in 2020. (@wanderingbostoneater, who commented on Eater’s story that it was “unfortunate to see this post supporting such a problematic person upholding abusive systems in the restaurant industry,” did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
LoChiatto says that, to her knowledge, no one involved in expressing the allegations was asked to return to Scelfo’s restaurants when they reopened later that summer.
Scelfo declined to speak on the record for this story. He said he would provide a statement; Eater will update this story if the statement is received.
At least one media outlet started pursuing a story about the allegations, according to a source familiar with the situation, but no story was ever published.
Kate Holowchik, a corporate pastry chef and front-of-house staffer at bartender Ran Duan’s acclaimed cocktail spot Baldwin Bar, says that it was frustrating to see news of Scelfo’s new project — despite past staff allegations that have been raised — especially in light of all of the uplifting news that has been happening in the industry of late, including the diversity in the list of this year’s local James Beard semifinalists. “It’s like watching the villain keep winning,” Holowchik says.
The incoming bar director for Josephine, Welitom Ramos, was surprised by the reaction on Instagram. Scelfo has always treated him “super well,” he says, and accommodated his needs when his wife was diagnosed with cancer last year. According to Ramos, he was part of the opening team at Longfellow Bar and rejoined the company after its restaurants reopened in 2020. “It’s sad that all these people do not think about the hundreds of jobs and the livelihood of everyone who works in our company,” Ramos says of the people reacting on Instagram to Scelfo’s news of opening Josephine.
Meanwhile, Noah Todoroff, a partner at Jamaica Plain restaurant Brassica, says that he publicly commented on the news using the @brassicakitchen account on Instagram to signal support for the workers who spoke out years earlier about their objectionable experiences with Scelfo. “seriously y’all? this asshat again?” he wrote.
“We will not shy away from that conversation,” Todoroff says. “The reason that I said something in the first place is that we really believe in uplifting the voices of the workers and the people that make up this industry.”