Cosmo Goss, the executive chef of Chicago’s popular and award-winning Publican restaurants, was fired after ownership said he failed to take disciplinary action when a “personal” and “inappropriate” photo of a female employee was shared among staff without her permission. One Off Hospitality Group, The Publican’s parent, said Goss should have reported this instance of harassment to human resources or fired the employee who shared the photograph. One Off hired a legal firm to investigate the matter before firing Goss and a second employee — Antonio Molina — the general manager of Wicker Park’s Publican Anker.
The two were fired for helping foster an atmosphere where women felt uncomfortable working at the restaurant, according to One Off. The initial incident happened in late 2016 at Publican Anker where another employee showed Goss the photograph in question. While One Off maintains Goss and Molina didn’t take the employee’s concerns seriously, Goss said she never approached him with those concerns. The employee eventually reported the incident to One Off’s corporate HR offices. The company hired outside legal counsel to investigate the claim the day the employee spoke with HR, according to a One Off rep.
“Throughout the investigation, it was vital for us to understand the full scope of the allegations to ensure the team member’s wellbeing and security,” a prepared statement from the company read. “One Off has an open-door policy, and it’s our responsibility to address instances of inappropriate workplace conduct thoroughly and with zero tolerance.”
The Publican is a Beard-winning restaurant and One Off’s Donnie Madia won the Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2015. Goss had spent seven years at Madia and chef Paul Kahan’s company. Goss was just named executive chef of The Publican brand last year — he was in charge of the menus at all five restaurants that carry the Publican name. Back in 2012 — when he was 23 — he opened Publican Quality Meats as the restaurant’s head butcher off Fulton Market.
While Goss wouldn’t comment directly, he confirmed the incident and firing in a statement that expressed regret. He admitted that he “was in a position to make a difference, and did not to rise to the occasion.” According to Goss, he only viewed the photo for “a few seconds” and that he didn’t “escalate the incident.” Incidents like these “were not the norm,” the statement added. While neither Goss nor One Off provided a detailed description of the photo, Goss did call it an “inappropriate photograph.”
“In retrospect, I understand that this seemingly fleeting moment was wholly unprofessional and unacceptable,” Goss’s statement read. “As a leader at One Off Hospitality, I regret not doing enough to address the issue, and I am deeply sorry to the woman portrayed in the photograph and the other individuals whom these consequences have affected.”
Molina was Goss’s front-of-the-house counterpart. As the GM, he also had a responsibility to report the incident and failed, One Off contends. Goss is also credited as a co-author on the new Cheers to the Publican cookbook. He was quickly taken off the book’s promotional tour. Goss’s position was created for him, so it could go unfilled. The restaurant is in the process of replacing Molina, a spokeswoman said.
There’s additional fallout from the firings as One Off needs to make some decisions. Goss and his good friend Erling Wu-Bower are planning to open a new River North restaurant with One Off’s support. A spokeswoman said the firing won’t affect the opening timeframe for Pacific Standard Time, a collaboration between One Off with Goss’s and Wu-Bower’s new company, Underscore Hospitality. Nationally, it’s one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the fall. However, One Off is reevaluating its support of the project and Goss’s role at the restaurant. Goss’s own statement mentioned that he looks forward to collaborating with One Off. Wu-Bower was not reached for comment.
Goss’s future with Pacific Standard Time is in doubt, according to a spokeswoman who represents One Off and Underscore. Despite that uncertainty, Goss writes that he will be a positive influence on the upcoming restaurant and that he has a “responsibility to be an advocate for immediate change.” Goss wants to establish a stricter, better set of standards for reporting harassment. One Off already mandates managers to participate in anti-harassment training, according to the same spokeswoman.
The firings come against the backdrop of women coming forward with their stories of sexual harassment using the #MeToo hashtag — which is bringing awareness and acknowledgement of rape culture. The restaurant industry is hardly immune. One prime example is the 25 women who have alleged sexual harassment while working for the Besh Restaurant Group in New Orleans. On Monday, Besh resigned.
UPDATE: Molina said One Off never told him why he was fired, according to DNAinfo.
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