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Do you need a private chef for your next event?  Probably come cheap...

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Carrying hand-painted signs with slogans like “Take Sexism Off the Menu!” and “Racism is NOT a Local Ingredient,” about 50 protesters gathered Friday night outside the Willows Inn, a world-renowned restaurant on this tiny island near the Canadian border.

The protesters, mostly island residents, were calling for the resignation of Blaine Wetzel, the restaurant’s chef, who has been accused by 35 former employees of creating a workplace riddled with homophobic and racist language, verbal abuse, sexism and sexual harassment.

Mr. Wetzel, 35, who built his reputation touting the Willows’ pristine ingredients as coming from Lummi and its environs, is also accused of deceiving customers — who pay at least $285 for dinner with tax and service, not including drinks — by regularly using supermarket and commercial ingredients, and ordering restaurant staff to lie about it.

 

PROTEST

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Another attempt at damage control:

Hello Friends, 
 
Thank you for your concern and encouragement this season, we want to give you an update of the process we are going through and actions we are taking in response to a recent NYT article. Regardless of the article’s polarizing narrative, it was absolutely heartbreaking to read that there had been previous employees who felt negatively about their experience working at the Willows Inn. In the time since we have been focusing on reacting to it in the best way possible and have been taking every possible action to create a better environment and better impact our community. 
 
We would like to share with you where we are right now in this process and be transparent about the steps we are taking to identify and address issues or opportunities for improvement in order to make sustainable changes. This is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort, examination and time. We are thankful for the support from our team, our guests and community and we are looking forward to sharing some of the positive accomplishments in our workplace and community along the way. 
 
Our first step has been supporting each other, listening, learning, reflecting on the past and taking immediate actions towards growth. We are so fortunate to have a collection of some of the most caring, talented and diverse individuals on our team and hearing from everyone’s personal experiences has been one of the most meaningful steps to learning and understanding how to grow better together. 
 
We have been working with several professionals to help us coordinate this process and to identify where we have made missteps in the past and learn how to improve and grow as leaders and as a team. 

Our new HR specialist - Suzan Sturholm - has completed an in-depth review of ownership, management and culture by employees and defined areas for change and improvement. We are beginning on-going training to help our leadership team grow in the areas that have been identified. Leadership, management and all staff have completed harassment and discrimination training to help us set appropriate standards and react accordingly to our teams needs. They are also completing an audit of our Human Resource practices and policies to ensure clear communication of employee’s rights and goals for our workplace culture. Our HR manager is available onsite for all staff to provide a safe outlet for any issues that might arise and provide a reliable resource on how to properly handle those areas as managers.
 
We have created more diversity amongst our management team, specifically in the restaurant and kitchen we have promoted women and people of color to management positions at each opportunity. A leadership focus group was created with representatives from each department that meets bi-weekly to monitor our development and find opportunities for workplace culture improvements in a safe and open discussion.

Loganita Farm is as productive as ever this season and we have integrated restaurant staff in daily and weekly harvests which helps to reiterate our product sourcing guides and ensure accurate descriptions of product sources. We publish a full sourcing list to our website to help give credit to the amazing producers we use from around the area.   
 
We have been reaching out within the community - meeting in person to listen and discuss, participating in island initiatives, and we continue to cook each week for those in need on the island in partnership with Meals on Wheels. We are always looking to find more ways to engage with our community. 

Our team has made it our collective priority to have fun, share happiness, support each other’s positive growth and put the most importance on the person next to us. We have been very encouraged with the positive effects from these efforts already and will pursue every opportunity for improvement and growth moving forward. We will keep you updated to our progress so we can celebrate this growth together. 
 
We hope to see you again soon so we can share more of our story, happiness and delicious food. 
 
Kindest regards,
 
The Willows Inn Team 

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