Under the best circumstances, working at a restaurant is physically grueling, at times surreally fast-paced, and at others completely dead, giving one plenty of time to wonder how to make rent and tuition on $2 an hour after a shift of no customers, as it is also a job that forces one to rely on the generosity of the general public, who are monsters at every given opportunity. Yes, I’m still bitter about my time as a server. And this lingering bitterness is coming from someone who had a great manager that let me smoke cigarettes in her office when it was raining, nothing even vaguely comparable to the employees of Mission Chinese—one of Manhattan’s most celebrated restaurants of the past decade—who say they were routinely physically and mentally abused by allegedly racist, sexist superiors.
Former employees of Mission Chinese’s Manhattan location, which was permanently shuttered in September, recently told Grub Street that, despite constant glowing reviews touting celebrity chef Danny Bowien’s and executive chef Angela Dimayuga’s policies of LGBTQ-friendliness, stance against sexual harassment, and other ideas that set them apart from the traditionally male-dominated and purportedly toxic kitchen environments, working at Mission Chinese was a nightmare. When no reporters or camera crews were around, former kitchen workers and front-of-house staff say that Bowien and Dimayuga left the restaurant under the charge of chef de cuisine Quynh Le, who allegedly treated workers brutally:
“One night in 2016, [Le] instructed a sous-chef to heat up a spoon by dipping it in hot oil. Le then took the broiling silverware and approached a dishwasher, who was Black. Le had been picking on the dishwasher since he started at the restaurant, calling him “Pimp Hand” and referring to Black employees as “boy.” Now he took the red-hot spoon and placed it directly on the man’s arm, searing his skin and causing him to cry out in pain. As employees watched in horror, Le looked a line cook straight in the eyes and asked, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
Black and Latinx employees say that they routinely heard disparaging racial remarks in the kitchen, including Le reportedly assuming a Black worker was also a drug dealer and telling a Mexican food runner that he was looking forward to Donald Trump winning the presidency so “you can’t come back to this country.” A line cook said Le also called her “a sad excuse for an Asian person” after she couldn’t properly use a broken rice cooker.
After Bowien and other restaurant owners insisted Dimayuga fire Le, with whom she had previously worked with at Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill House, his replacement, sous chef Angelo Kinget reportedly engaged in similar bad behavior. In one memorable incident, multiple employees say he showed up drunk to the kitchen threw plates at staff.
For her part, Dimayuga says she did not know of the spoon branding incident and kept Le on longer than she should have: “I got reports from other upper management of his bad behavior,” Dimayuga told Grub Street. “I admittedly—what I have a lot of remorse for—I struggled objectively navigating this, because I wrongly hoped he would reform.”
Kinget denies that he threw plates or that he was drunk but says kitchen staff were “moving really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really slow” the night employees described, adding “I came up in kitchens where I was just used to stuff being thrown at me. Like I said, maybe they were just too sensitive about it.”
In a lengthy Instagram post, Bowien acknowledges the abuse, his part in ignoring it, and the harm of the industry at large, writing “It’s true I abandoned the people who worked for me the second I could. It’s a horrible industry that only exists off the abuse of everyone involved.” In the post, he outlines some of the mistreatment he suffered in the restaurant industry and writes that he accepted the abuse as normal after surviving childhood sexual trauma and complex psychological abuse. And though Bowien says that he is “truly fucking sorry,” the post also says that he was “terrified” of Angela Dimayuga, his employee, and that many of the accusers in the Grub Street report were “active participants” in the culture at Mission Chinese.
“It sucks I made money off this industry,” Bowien writes, “I guess it will be cleansing to hear I walk away with nothing but debt.” Mission Chinese’s San Francisco and Brooklyn locations remain open, which has rebranded as Mission, though Bowien says he is currently “barely holding on to one place that will most likely close.”