Man, this one's fucked up, guys.
Earlier this week, a young woman -- who wishes to remain anonymous -- sent us an email about her experience interviewing for a job as a server at 5th Avenue's Juvenito. While meeting with head chef Juvenito Avila, she claims that he mentioned the existence of a blog that some former, disgruntled employees had created in an attempt to sour his reputation. On this blog, titled "Juvenito Disclosed," 22 former restaurant employees accuse the 39 year-old restaurant runner of public berating, grueling 17-hour work days, and sexual harrassment.
Here's the full story from the Juvenito Disclosed blog:
You may have stumbled upon, passed by, or regularly dined at an establishment in Park Slope, Brooklyn known formerly as Get Fresh Table & Market, and currently Juventino.
If you’ve stopped in to dine you have likely enjoyed a meal that incorporates fresh, seasonal ingredients in a quaint and comfortable setting. We know how enchanting this place can be, because these elements attracted us to the restaurant too. We are the servers who, for the past four years, have helped offer a dining experience worthy of the restaurant’s exceptional food and charming aesthetic.
Yet appearances deceive. Each of us, while working in this environment, has experienced an intolerable level of abuse from the owner who shares his name with the restaurant. The cycle begins with the interview, when Juventino tells each applicant that his methods are “different” than she may be used to, but that the financial gain will justify the means. It’s not a coincidence that most of the new hires at this restaurant are young women with no experience in the industry, and who, more often than not, speak English as their second or third language. These factors make the initial appeal of monetary rewards even more persuasive, and the incentive to endure the abuse greater.
Public berating is commonplace, usually stemming from Juventino’s inconsistent and severe communication style, which is often exacerbated by drinking. Intelligent servers are made to feel incapable, and feedback is confusingly encouraged, discouraged, and ultimately dismissed. Employees are expected to become beholden to Juventino – to the point where everything else, including family and relationship commitments, must be put aside. This fosters an environment in which, at its least injurious, 17-hour workdays without breaks are expected, and at its most despicable, young women are subjected to unwanted sexual advances behind the closed and locked doors of Juventino’s office.
The mental and physical toll on the staff is palpable. Former employees have experienced nightmares and anxiety for an entire year after leaving their posts. Others have lost unhealthy amounts of weight or gotten sick from the sheer exhaustion of making a constant effort to avoid Juventino’s moodswings. Almost all of us have remarked that it was the most abusive workplace they have ever experienced.
We understand that it is bold to write a public letter of this nature, and it is not an action we have taken without serious thought and deliberation. Many of us have confronted Juventino about his misuse of authority, giving him the opportunity for dialogue and most importantly, change. Yet, he has consistently refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his actions, even choosing to spread falsehoods about former employees who left after feeling mistreated.
We acknowledge that mistreatment is not unheard of in the restaurant industry. This issue, however, is particularly pernicious in a small business such as this, where power and control is not distributed beyond the owner. Without a system of checks and balances, the terms of abuse can be improperly justified as a managerial style of choice and continue for years without accountability or consequence.
We are writing you today in order to give you the informed choice of your patronage.
In a community concerned with workers’ rights and conscious consumerism, we feel it is only fair to enlighten you to an environment that exists in your very neighborhood. We believe Juventino is doing a disservice not only to his servers of the past and present, but to his incredibly hardworking and honorable cooks, and ultimately to you, the unwitting guest whose patronage sustains his business and misbehavior.
We thank you for your time and support,
22 Former Juventino Employees
"When he was talking about the letter," the interviewee explained, "he didn't seem to take it seriously, like it was everybody else's fault and that he didn't need to change a thing about himself."
Jezebel recently spoke with Avila about the allegations, which he adamently denied. "If I have done something, I'm guilty of being aggressive and strong minded," he explained, adding, "But I have a mom, and I have sisters, and [sexual harassment] is something I would never condone or be a part of. I know it's common at restaurants, but I don't accept it." Jezebel also spoke with Juvenito's owner, Rebecca Uberti, who called the sexual harassment allegations "100% unfounded and untrue" and said they were "detailed lies from disgruntled employees who may or may not have been terminated for poor job performance." It's worth noting that Uberti has been in a relationship with Juvenito Avila since 1996. And though both Avila and Uberti claim that no formal complaints about these allegations of abuse were ever lodged, many of the former employees claim that they spoke up about the abuse in their exit interviews, which took place with Juvenito Avila himself.
While we're still waiting to hear back from some of the 22 employees who are behind the blog (almost all of whom are female -- only one male signed the petition), Jezebel did speak with a few of them, who regaled horrific stories of a power-hungry man who would lock himself in an office with young women and try to kiss them or ask for massages. Daily attempted gropings are described, as is verbal abuse, like one girl who claims that Avila called her a "dirty slut" after showing up for work with a cold sore on her mouth.
Of the six former employees that Jezebel spoke with, only one is considering taking legal action against Juvenito Avila. The rest claim that they want other servers suffering from the same abuse to know that they're not alone. "We want to start a dialog with other women in the industry so they know that they can come forward, too," one woman explained. "Just because lines get blurred doesn't mean it's ever okay to experience harassment in the workplace."