News broke Tuesday that chef Charlie Hallowell, who has kept himself out of the news for the past five years, is planning to open a new restaurant in Oakland's Laurel neighborhood — an offshoot of the 19-year-old Pizzaiolo. Former employees who accused him of an array of bad behavior and harassment are already speaking out.

Hallowell, 50, has maintained his ownership of Pizzaiolo, but he sold off two of his restaurants to employees six years ago — the former Boot & Shoe Service and Penrose — which have been turned into different restaurants. That was in the wake of a 2017 #MeToo scandal, one of several to erupt in the Bay Area restaurant world during the height of #MeToo revelations around the country.

Dozens of female employees told stories of egregious and inappropriate behavior by Hallowell while on the job, including commentary and groping — the initial stories came from 17 women, but after the first were published, over 30 ultimately came forward with similar tales. A subsequent Chronicle piece in 2018 suggested that Hallowell had been aware for years that his behavior had offended employees, and that multiple women had quit because of it.

Hallowell immediately agreed to step away from the operation of his restaurants. In October 2018 he put forth a 12-point plan for his return to work, which included the too-cute-by-alot suggestion of a dunk tank in back of Pizzaiolo where employees could punish him if need be. All that led to more outcry, he then sold the two restaurants — and later opened another, Western Pacific, in Berkeley, which has since closed.

In October 2019, he was again seeking to sound more contrite, speaking to NPR about the "searing, soul-searching work he's been doing, with the help of his therapist, a social worker, an array of women advisers and a men's group." But that coincided with the promotion of the new Berkeley business.

"It was like a mule kick," Hallowell said of the scandal breaking, two years after. "Like I had my head pretty far up my ass, and I didn't even realize until I got hit over the head with it."

Now, Oaklandside caught wind of Hallowell's latest expansion effort, an unnamed new restaurant at 3724 MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland's Laurel neighborhood — currently the home of World Ground Cafe. The building has been purchased by Hallowell and business partner Donna Insalaco — the female managing partner Hallowell promoted as part of the 12-point plan, who theoretically has the power to fire him.

Knowing that this news might trigger more reminders of the many allegations against him, Hallowell tells Oaklandside, "I’m not perfect, but I believe so much in people’s capacity to change. And I’ve really changed. I’ve worked hard to try to make amends to people who were willing to let me try to do that."

Hallowell adds, "I’ve gone through years of therapy and working in a spiritual community."

This may not be good enough for some of those former employees and accusers, who are already talking to the Chronicle.

"I don’t think he should be able to open and operate restaurants," says Madeline Janning, a restaurant PR person who helped the new owners of the Boot & Shoe and replacement restaurant, Sister. Janning adds that she lives in the neighborhood of the new restaurant, and says, "The thought of driving past his establishment kind of makes me sick."

"I don’t wish him harm,” says former employee Sara Mizner. "But I think it’s clear he shouldn’t be in a position of power. He shouldn’t be anyone’s boss."

As the Chronicle discusses, all this raises the question about whether people should be considered irredeemable after scandals like this, and whether they should be allowed to continue their careers or operate businesses. Critics and diners are free to boycott those businesses, but it has seemed like fans of Pizzaiolo have been able to move past the allegations and continue eating the pizza — though Hallowell's subsequent business ventures haven't had such longevity.

The new restaurant, which Hallowell confirms will be modeled after Pizzaiolo, is still probably many months if not at least a year off from opening, which gives Hallowell more time to address his PR problems. World Ground Cafe still needs to find a new location where it's looking downsize, and the space will need to be renovated.

The plan is to bring in the current executive chef at Pizzaiolo to oversee it, Anthony Lee.

"We want it to be pretty down-home, not fancy, with delicious food," Hallowell tells Oaklandside. "We want to serve that community."

A neighboring business owner, Andrew Vennari of Sequoia Diner, tells Oaklandside, "I stand with the people who were negatively impacted by him. I would ask those people. It is up to them to decide if Hallowell has been able to get redemption and done enough work to remedy."

Previously: New Chronicle Food Critic Will Not Be Reviewing Charlie Hallowell Restaurants