Last year, as an onslaught of harassment allegations were leveled against industry titans, some of the most chilling were aimed at Ken Friedman, who, with female food pioneer April Bloomfield, owned beloved New York City restaurants like the Spotted Pig, the Breslin Bar & Dining Room, and White Gold Butchers. Among the accusations were public groping, forced kissing, and enabling famous friends—including disgraced celebrity chef Mario Batali—to assault female staffers at Friedman’s restaurants. Friedman publicly apologized. (“Some incidents were not as described, but context and content are not today’s discussion,” he stated. “I apologize now publicly for my actions.”) Then he took a leave of absence from his restaurant group, but the damage was done: Bloomfield dissolved her business relationship with him, and staffers reportedly made a mass exodus.
Two high-profile departures were Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura, Bloomfield’s protégés and the faces of White Gold Butchers (which was publicized by food media as a feminist clapback to testosterone-fueled meat markets when it opened in 2016). According to foodie digest Eater.com, the partners—in work and in life—“became increasingly uncomfortable with the stories that unfolded about Friedman” and the way the company dealt with the crisis.
Beyond welcoming their first child in October, the couple also birthed their own product line, J & E SmallGoods. “When you say ‘crazy year,’ it’s, like, a really crazy year,” says Guest. “We want to step out and be a part of the world in a different way,” says Nakamura. The line puts organic, nitrite-free deli meats and packaged foods into the hands of more consumers, including those without access to whole-animal butcheries like White Gold.
“For me, there’s a lot of political value in doing the work that I do, from the perspective of sustainability, zero waste, spending your money locally—that is all super important to me,” says Nakamura, as is the significance of being a female mentor in the meat world. “When people are like, ‘Look, you’re a role model,’ it clicks—you realize your own responsibility in all of this,” she says. “There’s a future generation of women and queer folks and marginalized folks who all work so hard to get through every day, and the value of what we’re doing makes an impact. Giving them a voice to really be creative in their own space and to experience their own power within the workplace—there’s nothing better than that.”