Scott Schroeder, chef and co-owner of Hungry Pigeon, indicated that he would part ways with the popular Queen Village restaurant after former staff denounced “his anti-black rhetoric as well as his recent lashing out at former employees" last week, leading to broader backlash in the Philadelphia community.
Meanwhile, his business partner, Pat O’Malley, is wrestling with the restaurant’s future, including its name, as he and Schroeder work out a separation agreement.
The statement from the former Hungry Pigeon workers was posted on Medium last Tuesday, as protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd continued in Philadelphia and around the country. It cited a string of posts on Schroeder’s now-deleted Instagram account, including one that read, “Thank you Black America. You had me at hip hop and fried chicken.” It also described the chef disparaging former employees and protesters on social media, which the former staffers wrote did not come as a surprise “given his bullyish behavior in the workplace.”
“I need to get away from the restaurant industry,” Schroeder said Monday. “I don’t know if that’s forever. I’m going to think about all that’s happened. For now, I’m going to do something more meaningful and helpful to underprivileged people.”
Schroeder’s planned departure, first reported by Eater Philly, was announced in an email sent to current and former employees on Saturday, June 6.
“I am sincerely sorry to anyone I have made feel this way," the email read. “But actions speak louder than words so Pat and I are currently working out the legalities of me leaving the restaurant permanently. I’m not going to pursue a chef job either. I’m going to think about all of this and what you have said and make a change. Including taking sensitivity training before I am anyone’s chef again. I have heard you and do not take this lightly.”
O’Malley said he expected the legal matters to be resolved quickly.
Last week, Hungry Pigeon said it would cease operations until further notice after news of Schroeder’s posts and the former staffers’ statement began circulating. In a message on its website, it encouraged readers to donate to groups for social reform, including Black Lives Matter and Justice for George Floyd, or to neighboring businesses that had suffered damage during the bouts of looting that occurred the previous weekend.
The comments also prompted backlash in Hungry Pigeon’s neighborhood. Late last week, a letter addressed to Schroeder and signed by the Queen Village & Meredith Elementary School communities was posted to the restaurant’s door. "Scott, please know that the world is watching us, and that your patrons have been watching you, too. Please know that racism against black Americans is real, despite the fact that, as a white person, you have not felt it.
“Lastly, Scott, please know that, above all else, racism will not be tolerated in this community,” it concluded. A larger sign read, “Not in our neighborhood.”
Below, someone scrawled “Scott Schroeder — owner of Hungry Pigeon — is a racist!!” on the bench in front of the restaurant.
Before the latest incidents, Schroeder had served as the pandemic-era face of Hungry Pigeon, posting frequent video updates to Instagram shot on his front porch, coffee mug in hand. The restaurant opened in 2016 as an all-day cafe and won local and national acclaim for its playful menus, croissants, and brunch offerings.
O’Malley wants the restaurant to continue but is on the fence about keeping the name. “We have a responsibility to meet our goal of feeding people, and in addition meet a goal of repairing and improving the workplace and the culture in general,” said O’Malley, who said he and some employees were at the restaurant on Tuesday to salvage food.
O’Malley said he did not see the Instagram story because “some time ago, I muted Scott on Instagram on my personal account.” Schroeder approached him the day after the post, and said: “Hey, we should talk about this thing that happened,” O’Malley said, adding, “I do think it’s in poor taste.”
O’Malley acknowledged “systemic issues” at the restaurant. "I’m not saying it was just one person and that getting rid of one person is going to fix the culture. ... Each of us had one hand on the wheel. When you’re in a partnership with someone, you are forced to make decisions together, but you also place certain responsibilities under certain operators’ roles. As a result, you tend to be less involved in every decision made, simply to stay out of each other’s way. Unfortunately, this can also create a dynamic of simply maintaining the status quo.”
O’Malley said he was reaching out to HR firms. He planned to incorporate better training, including improvements to the employee manual, “to create better expectations. The clearer you are with expectations, the easier it is for everyone. We pay them a decent wage. We also need to see what needs to be done for the employee to grow.”
Schroeder’s departure is the latest in a series of protest-related fallout in Philadelphia’s food scene. Most notably, Di Bruno Bros. has seen similar backlash after first offering cops free lunch, then rescinding the offer and apologizing after employees spoke out publicly and threatened to strike. In response, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby said cops would boycott Di Bruno’s.
Kensington brewery Evil Genius also issued a statement clarifying its standpoint and explaining its actions after firing its head brewer for social media posts expressing anti-police sentiments.