It was pretty uncomfortable the whole time. The chef had that thing that a lot of people who are in a position of power have—he was really charming and really nice. He would do nice things for me. It felt like he expected that I would be quiet about anything bad that happened.
I was renting the basement of this commercial kitchen for my own business when he took over the lease. I was excited because he was vegan and my company was vegan. He said he was starting Sunday brunch service and I asked if he needed a server, as a way to get my foot in the door.
It’s very much kitchen culture, so I excused it as that at first. Chefs are always really vulgar and inappropriate — it’s kind of the nature of the business.
He would say things like, “Come and touch my stubby.” Since I’m gay, he would sometimes ogle women who came into the restaurant and say, “Kailey, check out the rack on that one,” or, “Check out the titties on that customer.” He would try to get me to bro out with him. He saw me more as one of the guys. I didn’t get sexual comments or harassment directed toward me; it was more that I could see it happening to other women. I did feel like I had to sort of keep quiet and play along because I needed some money.
The one thing that I did speak up to him about was his use of the N-word. It was vastly inappropriate, and I just thought I needed to say something. He’d lash out and scream. He also had a really short temper; he would blame a lot of things on the staff and get really angry about little things.
There was one time he tried to book us in one hotel room on an overnight thing. I told him, “I’m not comfortable with that.” He said, “I would never try anything.” I just told him, “Well, whatever. I don’t want to sleep in the same bed as you. That’s weird.”
I invited a friend to come work there at some point. I wasn’t really thinking it was so bad, but after a few weeks, she told me, “This is horrible, how do you work here?” That woke me up and made me see things differently.
After I went public, he tried to contact me a lot. He said, “I thought we were friends.” He tried on every platform to contact me. I blocked him on everything. I didn’t want to talk to him at all.
There was a team of us who came forward. The response was more or less very positive from the community, though I did have a couple people who I thought would have been supportive say, “No, I’m taking his side.”
People wrote me and said, “I had the same experience with this man,” or, “Thank you, it feels validating to have you talk about it.”
I’m happy I ended up speaking out about my experiences to the media a year later, but I wish I had done it earlier.