The Real Reason Mario Batali Is Giving Up All His Restaurants

To say that things aren't going well for chef Mario Batali's career at the moment would be an understatement. Abysmal is a better description. Ever since news broke of Batali's alleged bad behavior over the course of 20 years, ranging from crude comments to accusations of rape, Batali has watched his celebrity chef empire crumble. Arguably the biggest blow that Batali has had come his way so far has been the March 2019 announcement that he'll be giving up all of his restaurants and stake in the upscale grocery chain Eataly.

Along with the Bastianich family, Batali is one of the founders of the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. The chef's restaurant empire is estimated at being worth over $250 million as of late 2017 (that's a lot of breadsticks). The financial details of Batali's buyout aren't known, but the restaurant group that operates 16 eateries is expected to announce a new name — sans Batali. The relinquishing of his restaurants of course stemmed from the sexual misconduct scandal, but it only snowballed from there and picked up other complications that have brought Batali's career to its current standing. These are the real reasons Mario Batali is giving up all his restaurants.

The sexual assault allegations led to a police investigation

It was in December of 2017 that Mario Batali's reputation in the food industry came into serious question after allegations of sexual misconduct against his staff surfaced. The damaging report came courtesy of New York food website Eater, and contained reports from four women who claimed that over the course of two decades, Batali made unwanted sexual comments and engaged in inappropriate touching.   

A 60 Minutes piece on the allegations soon followed and by that point the Special Victims Division of the New York Police Department had stepped in to investigate. Only one of the two cases that the NYPD was looking into was still within the statute of limitations. The detectives eventually closed the case without filing any charges, and Batali maintained denial of any allegations of sexual assault, though he apologized for "deeply inappropriate" behavior.

Criminal charges or not, the damage had been done and by May 2018, the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group was working to cut ties with the chef. "He has been our partner and our close friend, but the actions he has acknowledged require us to separate wholly so that we reinforce our core values for our employees and our guests," read a company statement.

He was hurting the restaurant group's reputation

By 2018, reports of misconduct had given Mario Batali the reputation of a bad apple, and the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group was starting to pick up that same reputation. The March 2019 announcement that B&B was morphing into a new entity without one of its celebrity chef namesakes is a fresh start in the eyes of Del Posto chef and general manager Jeff Katz. "It will be good not to be a black spot on the map any longer," he said.

The harm from the news reports on the B&B group was almost immediate according to Batali's business partner Joe Bastianich. "On the day in December that it broke, I had to walk into these restaurants and talk about these allegations," Bastianich said, adding that some employees were crying over the news, while others felt betrayed. Bastianch went on to say that the allegations against his former partner were "horrific" and that he "felt terrible" after learning of them.

Chef Nancy Silverton who founded four restaurants in California with Batali told Grub Street that while she called him a friend "my path to separate was immediate."

The restaurants had been struggling

Second to Batali's alleged victims, the biggest impact to come of the entire scandal has been on Batali's restaurants and the people who depend on them for their livelihood. Batali's newest New York restaurant, La Sirena, showed a loss of "up to 30 percent" before closing in late 2018, according to what a rep for the hospitality group told the New York Post. The restaurant had its share of problems before the disturbing Batali news broke, but slowed down even more once the NYPD investigation became known. 

Several months before La Sirena closed its doors, the B&B group had five of its restaurants, three in Las Vegas and two in Singapore, ejected from the Sands' casinos. Bastianch said he had to "go tell 300 people we're doing away with their jobs and shutting down their workplace."

One of Batali's oldest restaurants, Babbo, has remained popular following the scandal according to the New York Post, however others have struggled. Batali's restaurant Lupa, which has been open since 1999, has seen business slow even during busy times like New York's Restaurant Week, said one staffer.

His restaurants had been sued for wage theft

A month before the Eater report that brought Mario Batali's sexual misconduct allegations to the surface, the chef was already in hot water for staff treatment. Batali and his NYC restaurant Babbo were hit with a second lawsuit for pay violations regarding the restaurant's staff.

Batali had previously settled a $5.25 million lawsuit in 2012 that had been brought against the restaurant by staff for "skimming tips" and other wage violations. Batali paid a $1.5 million settlement that same year for the same claims by workers at his restaurant Del Posto.

Octavio Quinones worked as a busser at Babbo from early 2016 to October 2017 and brought numerous allegations against Batali. Quinones claimed he was shorted his overtime pay, as well as his full minimum wage earnings, as well as spending at least 20 percent of his time doing "non-tipped" work that would have warranted an $11 an hour minimum wage instead of his $7.50 wage.  

In 2018, Batali's restaurant cohorts settled for $2.2 million in the suit that also included staff at restaurant Felidia. All of these lawsuits and the knowledge of mistreated workers may have helped to darken the public opinion of Batali's restaurants.

He neglected day-to-day operations

After allegations of Batali's bad behavior came out, the New York Post ran a scathing piece that claimed Batali had checked out of involvement in his restaurants even before the sexual misconduct allegations. Writer Steve Cuozzo said Batali wore a "lost-soul face" and "seemed to hang out more at the scandalized Spotted Pig — where he's one of many investors, but not at the helm — than in his own kitchens when he was in town."

A B&B spokesperson confirmed the chef's lack of involvement saying that it had "been a long time since Mr. Batali had an active management role or day-to-day responsibility for any restaurant..."

Credit for any creative wins in Batali's restaurants that generated buzz might have gone to the celebrity chef, but the Post piece suggests others were often behind the culinary creations. According to that publication, many of the newer dishes at Del Posto were invented by Lidia Bastianich, or by the current or former executive chefs.

They were having trouble keeping staff

It shouldn't come as a big surprise, but many of the staff at Batali's restaurants weren't exactly thrilled to be working for the guy after the scandal broke. If the wage theft lawsuits weren't enough to send staff packing, the allegations of sexual misconduct may have been the final straw. Before Batali's bad behavior came to light securing a job in one of his restaurants wasn't easy and it was often necessary to have an inside connection. According to the New York Daily News, the scandal resulted in staffers leaving and the restaurants struggling to find qualified people to fill the positions. "We're having lots of management changes right now, so we are looking for people to start right away," a staffer at his Greenwich Village restaurant Lupa said.

It's not just Lupa that was peppered with vacancies after the news broke, but many of B&B's other New York eateries. Esca was in need of a lead server while Felidia had a hostess shortage. Prior to its closure, La Sirena was in need of a reservationist and floor manager. Even Batali's long-standing Babbo was short on a bartender.

According to The Takeout, those vacancies were despite generous benefits packages — something not easily found in the industry. It's hard to blame the job hunters for not being interested — no amount of money is worth the work environment those restaurants were rumored to encourage. It's possible they hope ditching Batali will bring more qualified staffers. 

Sexual assault allegations first got him fired from The Chew

A total relinquishing of all his restaurants and amputation of any association from the B&B empire may be the latest fallout for Batali, but it's of course not the first. Batali had been a regular and the biggest star power on the now-defunct ABC daytime show The Chew. Almost immediately following the report of his sexual assault allegations, ABC "terminated its relationship" and he was canned from the show. The network made sure to point out that none of Batali's bad behavior happened under their watch.

"Upon completing its review into the allegations made against Mario Batali, ABC has terminated its relationship with him and he will no longer appear on The Chew... While we remain unaware of any type of inappropriate behavior involving him and anyone affiliated with our show, ABC takes matters like this very seriously as we are committed to a safe work environment and his past behavior violates our standards of conduct," an ABC spokesperson told Variety.

Batali wasn't simply removed from any newer episodes of The Chew, but the network put into place a plan of action to completely erase the chef's image from the show. Batali's image was removed from all social media pages and taken down from the show's website. The network also refrained from airing any reruns that featured Batali. Next to physically burning tapes of his episodes, that's about as extreme as it gets. 

Since even the show he helped make famous wasn't standing by him, it's no surprise that his customers and business partners weren't,either. 

He's been kicked off the Food Network

It wasn't just The Chew that washed their hands of Batali, but the biggest purveyor of food shows on television — the Food Network. Batali's show Molto Mario had been a massive hit for the channel and aired during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Fans of the show were about to get new episodes too... then the ugly news broke. In November of 2017, it was announced that Molto Mario was coming back for a special six-episode run. "What could be better than starting a new year with new episodes of an all-time classic like Molto Mario," a representative for the show said at the time.

Then the Batali bombshell dropped and the Food Network didn't want to touch the chef with a 10-foot pole. The network immediately halted any plans of working with the chef and the new episodes (which had already been filmed) have yet to see the light of day. "Food Network takes matters like this very seriously and we are putting relaunch plans for Molto Mario on hold," a representative said.

He's still figuring out his future

So what's the future look like for Mario Batali now that he's without any restaurants or TV shows? Friends of the celebrity chef have said that he's been "floating ideas, pondering timelines" when it comes to how or when he might attempt a return. Besides taking introspective time to examine how he found himself in such a predicament, Batali is reportedly looking at the possibility of some sort of project where he's not "the lead singer," said one colleague.

One of those ideas could be creating a new company with a female executive taking the lead. The New York Times reported he discussed the topic with the former president of Dolce & Gabbana,  Federica Marchionni. Some peers in the industry have suggested he get out of the restaurant business altogether. "Leave the field and let us do the work needed to build something better," said former Bon Appétit and NYT editor Christine Muhlke.

A return for somebody of Batali's stature certainly isn't out of the question. Celebrity food personality Paula Deen eventually returned with a television show after some time out of the spotlight following her 2013 scandal. There's a lot money attached to Batali's name — though maybe not as much as there used to be — the only question is how will he choose to use it?