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Estela Co-Owner, Accused of Harassing Employees, Steps Away From His Restaurants

Category: Food & Drink,Lifestyle

The restaurateur Thomas Carter, who runs popular and acclaimed Manhattan restaurants including Estela and Flora Bar, has temporarily stepped away from them after allegations of systematic verbal harassment and psychological abuse by several former employees.

The claims, detailed in a report published Thursday night on Eater.com, were based on interviews with 30 former employees, none of whom were named. (Eater said each claim had been independently verified.) Five people said they had resigned because of Mr. Carter’s insulting and offensive language.

With his business partner, the chef Ignacio Mattos, Mr. Carter also runs Cafe Altro Paradiso in SoHo, and Flora Bar and Flora Coffee in the Met Breuer, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After Eater published its report, Mr. Carter announced that he would leave the restaurants for several months “to reflect and continue the leadership and workplace training that has resulted in vast improvements in my choice of words and in our culture over the past year.”

On Friday, in response to a question from a New York Times reporter, Mr. Carter issued a statement: “Ignacio initiated conversations with me over a year ago about professionalizing the work environment in the front of the house, including improving upon respect in the workplace and how we speak to our employees. It forced me to critically look at how I communicated with staff and the necessity to foster change in my leadership style.”

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Mattos said: “I am devastated about any crude and inappropriate comments made by Thomas to some staff members. I apologize to anyone who was the recipient of such harsh language. There is no excuse for such comments, despite the contention by some that the industry is awash in this type of banter. We have a respectful and professional workplace. I have spent significant time discussing these matters with Thomas over the past few weeks. He is deeply remorseful and has apologized to the staff and particularly those he offended. During his absence, we will continue to serve the finest and most innovative food, and provide fine service, as has always been our hallmark.”

Before opening Estela in 2013, Mr. Carter worked at Le Bernardin, and was in charge of the beverage program at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

As a manager and owner at Estela and the other restaurants in their Matter House group, Mr. Carter projected a smooth, polished image in the dining room. The restaurants’ signature is a kind of sophisticated, understated modernism that informs both the back of the house and the front. Compared with some restaurants run by men who have been accused of mistreating employees, like the Spotted Pig and Babbo, the Matter House restaurants are notably lacking a chaotic, anything-goes atmosphere.

Ken Weine, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Museum, said in a statement Friday: “Flora is run independently of Met Breuer. To our knowledge no Met employees were subjected to this behavior. We have made it clear we expect the management team to address this issue.”


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