Lummi Island Restaurant Willows Inn Faces Allegations of Racism and Sexual Harassment


In an April 27 New York Instances expose, former staff from Lummi Island’s critically acclaimed Willows Inn accuse the restaurant of being, in brief, a nightmare work surroundings. Amongst a few of the most troubling claims within the article are that chef-owner Blaine Wetzel and the restaurant’s supervisor Reid Johnson oversaw a sample of sexism, sexual harassment, and racist bullying on the Willows Inn, and that employees members allegedly preyed on teenaged ladies from the island. The piece additionally claims that the rigorously cultivated picture of native sourcing was false, with gadgets bought at grocery shops handed off as island-grown elements.
Wetzel denied the entire allegations relating to sexism, harassment, and racist abuse, and he additionally refuted many of the claims relating to ingredient sourcing. Johnson didn’t present a remark to the Instances for the article.
The Instances spoke to 35 former employees members, together with feminine staff who mentioned they endured fixed sexual harassment from male co-workers and feminine cooks who had been repeatedly blocked from promotion. Amongst them had been a number of locals who began working at Willows Inn after they had been youngsters, and declare that sure male kitchen staffers touched them inappropriately and plied them with alcohol.
Sarah Letchworth, a former feminine worker who was 15 when she began working at Willows Inn, mentioned that her male co-workers had a working joke about “Lummi Island 16,” which meant that “you had been obtainable for intercourse, and that any sort of creepy and predatory habits was positive.” She additionally claimed Wetzel as soon as supplied to drive her house from a celebration when she was 18 however coerced her into doing pictures at his home first, then drove her house drunk.
Wetzel denied Letchworth’s claims within the piece and mentioned the next relating to the allegation that feminine cooks didn’t advance in his kitchen: “I assist feminine cooks with all my coronary heart (a lot in order that I married one). Anybody that may declare that I don’t assist feminine cooks is mendacity.”
Along with an environment of misogyny, the Instances additionally spoke with former staff who claimed verbal bullying was rampant, together with the declare that Wetzel would put staff down “utilizing a derogatory time period for mentally disabled individuals to disparage them.” The sources within the article additionally say that Wetzel used “racist language” to explain Latino staff and Asian clients, all claims which Wetzel denied with an identical phrasing to his sexist and sexual harassment refutation: “My step mother and brother are Chinese language, my spouse is Mexican, and anybody that may declare I used to be racist is mendacity.”
The story paints a grim image of what was allegedly occurring behind the scenes for years on the Willows Inn, however a tradition of deception additionally apparently prolonged to the plate. Although the restaurant touted its meticulous preparation of produce grown on Lummi Island (significantly the inn’s personal small farm), former staff declare many of the elements really got here from mainland purveyors — and even from grocery shops, from time to time.
The “wild venison” the restaurant marketed as from Lummi was really farm-raised in Idaho, and “roasted hen drippings” in a single dish allegedly got here from poultry purchased at Costco. “On my first day, I used to be slicing frozen Alaskan scallops all the way down to the form and dimension of pink singing scallops,” Julia Olmos, a line prepare dinner who labored on the restaurant from 2017 to 2019, informed the Instances. Wetzel denied these claims, too, saying “we by no means misrepresent our ingredient sources,” however he did admit that many elements come from outdoors Lummi, together with natural chickens.
The Instances’ report arrives not lengthy after the Willows Inn settled a $600,000 class-action lawsuit associated to wage theft, through which former staff accused Wetzel and administration for “failing to pay minimal wage for all work carried out, extra time wages, and to offer or pay for relaxation and meal breaks beneath Washington legislation.” The lawsuit was associated to a labor violation discover the restaurant acquired roughly 4 years in the past, through which the restaurant allegedly violated labor legal guidelines by having its “levels” — culinary interns who typically work without spending a dime in fine-dining eating places — work for as many as 14 hours a day, with no extra time and day charges as little as $50.
In response, the restaurant nixed its staging program however denied any wrongdoing. A settlement was agreed upon by each events in October 2020. Wetzel informed Eater Seattle that the lawsuit allegations “are by no means correct” and claimed it was “a device that this specialised legislation agency makes use of to significantly exacerbate a quotation we acquired from 2016.”
Eater Seattle reached out to Wetzel and Johnson for additional touch upon the allegations within the New York Instances article, however didn’t hear again earlier than publication. We’ll replace this piece if extra data emerges.

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