Fri. Oct. 26 was supposed to be an evening celebrating women who make beautiful, handcrafted, sustainable wares — The Shelter Collection, Alabama Chanin, State the Label, and artist Britt Bates were the featured artisans showcasing their work at One Broad restaurant's upstairs space during the event, Parlour: Charleston. On Oct. 18, Shelter Collection owner Erin Reitz posted on Instagram announcing the event: "Charleston friends! We're having a launch party for our new products next week! Please make an appointment during the day for a leisurely drop in...or join us for a cocktail for a jazzy party vibe!"
But the launch of these businesses' new collections was interrupted at around 8:30 p.m., when calls were made from One Broad to the Charleston Police. The caller reported that a man, according to the police report, entered the second floor of One Broad where the launch party was taking place and "dropped his pants around his ankles."
A woman at the restaurant in the vicinity of the man told police that she observed his "bare buttocks" which were "approximately five inches from her pelvic region." Another complainant identified the man as Michael Ray, the owner of Normandy Farms and One Broad. She stated that she knew Ray, that they had worked together before, and she had his phone number.
Ray fled the building before police arrived. He would tell Post & Courier food editor Hanna Raskin the next day, "You know I've always been the life of the party ... But this attempt didn't go over so well. I had a horrible lapse in judgment."
A statement from Ray was released Monday afternoon with an update on his role as Normandy Farms and One Broad owner. "Mike Ray is choosing to step down from day to day operations at Normandy Farms and 1 Broad. Mike is seeking counseling and is incredibly sorry for his actions on Friday night at the Parlour: Charleston event. 'I cannot apologize enough. I am sorry to everyone affected by my actions. I would like to apologize to everyone at the event, my staff, my family, and the people of Charleston. I know that I am better than my actions. I hope to recover and come out a much better and healthier person.'"
I genuinely hope that Ray gets the help he needs, if substances, circumstances, or whatever it may have been influenced his decision on Friday night. And I don't think we should focus all of our energies on lambasting one single person. It's not just one person. It's not just Ray. Just like it's not about Besh or Lauer or Louis or Spacey or Weinstein or the man who followed you down King Street for a beat too long. It's not just flashing. It's a variety of unwanted advances on innocent bystanders that happens every.single.day.
I'm tired. I think most of us are. We're tired of tight smiles. Of lingering strange bodies who don't understand personal space. Of being talked over and talked down to and eye balled for minutes at a time. Of 'lapses in judgment' being acceptable stand-ins for appropriate human behavior.
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Chef Cynthia Wong is tired, too. Last December, writer Enid Spitz interviewed the James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef nominee for our cover story about sexual harassment in the local restaurant industry. She recounted an incident where a vendor visited Butcher & Bee, where she was working at the time, to collect an order. "He came into the office and this was probably the second time I'd ever seen him in my entire life," said Wong. "I probably wouldn't have been able to recognize him in a lineup. He said 'Oh sweetheart, you look so stressed right now. Let me give you a kiss,' grabbed me by the hand, pulled me into him, and kissed me on the face."
On Monday, Wong made a plea on Instagram regarding the One Broad incident: "This is not a Had too much to drink at the holiday party and made some dirty jokes situation, it's not a Kept asking an uninterested person out and not reading signals thing, it's not even sending dick shaped baguettes to a chef who's made you mad, it's Indecent Fucking Exposure at a professional women's event for Christ's damn sake. Let that sink in for a minute."
Let that sink in. Ray's attempt at humor wasn't funny. And it wasn't a joke that "we just didn't get." And we don't need to "lighten up." This isn't high school, where a "don't ask for permission ask for forgiveness" situation worked when you snuck out to a party and were subsequently grounded for two weeks. This is real life, and we're sick of it.
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So what do we do, in Charleston, in the food and bev industry, in the great wide world where entitled men still think there are exceptions to the "please to god just leave women alone" rule? Do we continue to shake it off, to let these half-ass apologies become the pull quotes of our lives? Do we let these men step down from their positions and move on, figure justice has been served? Do we model ourselves after Wong and bravely continue to tell our stories of harassment in the workplace, at the bar, at the park, in line at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, "hey, hey! Nice jeans!"?
Or do we focus our attention on different stories, our stories, the lifeblood that keeps us going before, during, and after these terrible incidents? Because long before a man thought he was being funny, there were women hard at work.
Take Erin Reitz. Her Shelter Collection, which started as The Commons, makes homewares "inspired by the shape of a mud hut, the strongest shape in architecture using the least amount of materials." Reitz partners with North Carolina based nonprofit Starworks, producing the line in the town of Star, thus bringing sustainable business to the town. Last year, The Shelter Collection was featured in Martha Stewart Living.
And then there's Alabama Chanin, a zero-waste fashion company run by Natalie "Alabama" Chanin. Founded in 2000, the company is dedicated to locally sewn garments and education that merges "design, craft, and fashion." Artist and graphic designer Britt Bates is prolific in multiple mediums, with sign work, oil paintings, intricate paper goods, and textiles all in her repertoire. Nov. 2-March 2019 Bates will have work featured in the South Carolina Museum's 30th Anniversary Exhibition, "Celebrating the Diversity of South Carolina Art."
Small batch clothing company State the Label was founded on an alpaca farm in Washington state in 2010 by Adrienne Antonson. Now headquartered in the tiny town of Thomson, Ga., Antonson's biz uses sustainable, organic, recycled and reclaimed materials to make smocks, skirts, turtlenecks and more.
These women didn't ask to see a strange, naked man. They just wanted an evening to discuss their work with like-minded individuals over a glass or two of champagne. They probably thought they could relax, that they wouldn't have to think about the possibilities of what could go wrong until later in the night when they had to walk to their cars in the dark, keys tucked between middle and index finger. We've politely sat and listened to your apologies, your qualifying and rationalizing and down-playing. Our stories are getting louder, though. Soon it's all we'll be able to hear.