Many of the employees that talked to VICE World News allege the sexually charged, toxic culture is particularly harmful to young women, like Bromke, who enter the service industry in high school, university, or college to help pay their bills. They say the company goes out of its way to minimize or hide workplace complaints and moves abusive employees from location to location instead of firing them. As a result, these women have suffered long-lasting effects, with one former bartender saying she’s had to seek therapy for on-the-job mistreatment.“It’s a man’s world in SIR Corp.,” one former manager, who was with SIR Corp. restaurants for six years, said. “They don’t care how the women are portrayed.”Many of the people who spoke to VICE World News asked to remain anonymous as they are either still employed by the company or worry about the consequences of speaking out. In some instances, current and former employees fear for their safety, as some of their former co-workers are known to be violent or verbally abusive.
“It’s a man’s world in SIR Corp.”
Fowler did not respond to questions about workplace investigations, but said in his statement that the company began making changes to its culture in July, including conducting a third-party review of workplace behaviour policies and making revisions based on that review.Fowler also said SIR Corp. has since implemented an anonymous third-party hotline for staff, began mandatory “respectful conduct in the workplace training,” and had the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion facilitate a virtual “executive bootcamp” for all senior leadership. “As the head of this organization, I am committed to leading the charge and taking the necessary steps to address these issues and shift the culture of our organization to create and maintain a more positive, safe, and thriving environment for all of our employees,” Fowler said.
“As the head of this organization, I am committed to leading the charge and taking the necessary steps to address these issues.”
Jack Astor’s has dozens of locations across Ontario as well as restaurants in Quebec, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. It brands itself as being a fun restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously, between its “Sorry we’re open” sign above the doors to the paper tablecloths customers can draw on with crayons.“We specialize in delicious food and drink and are a lot like a reverse mullet—we’re a party in the front and all business in the back,” the restaurant says on its website. Meanwhile, SIR Corp. markets SCADDABUSH as a more sophisticated, contemporary Italian restaurant and bar, where “tables crowded with friends and family” are welcomed. The chain has locations in and around Toronto. While SIR Corp.—which stands for Service Inspired Restaurants—is known for Jack Astor’s and SCADDABUSH, it has 59 restaurants in Canada within seven restaurant brands, including the Loose Moose and Duke’s Refresher and Bar in Toronto. The company says it employs nearly 4,800 workers, and that its “brave, bold and results-driven culture inspires and creates new opportunities for everyone.” The company started in 1990 when the first Jack Astor’s location opened in St. Catharines, Ont., by Fowler.
Four other women, who worked at Jack Astor’s Ancaster location at various times over the last six years, told VICE World News about the behaviour of the bartender Bromke said sexually harassed her when she was 15—all alleging they either experienced sexual harassment themselves or witnessed it. The women say this bartender made inappropriate sexual comments and would use any opportunity to grab women’s hips or rub his genital area across their bottoms as he passed them in a cramped kitchen or bar.
“I would constantly cry in the bathroom at work because I hated being touched by him.”
The SIR Corp. line cook says she was unprepared for the sexism she experienced when she started working for SIR Corp. about four years ago. She has worked in various locations for several SIR Corp. brands. When a manager told her that her restaurant’s general manager “doesn’t hire fat or ugly people,” she said her jaw dropped and she told him that discrimination is illegal. Despite that, she saw this “policy” play out in practice: when a larger-bodied woman came in for a trial shift, the general manager reportedly said that “she was too big for the kitchen and we aren’t to hire her.”
Comments about women’s bodies are commonplace by both managers and staff, multiple employees said. Even after a CBC investigation into sexist uniforms at Jack Astor’s and other Canadian chains in 2016, staff told VICE World News they routinely got called out for dress code “violations,” and that one set of rules are enforced for women, and another for men. One SCADDABUSH bartender said she essentially begged to wear a sweater in the winter because the restaurant was so cold.
“Women were told that we needed to ‘look like we were going to a party, not coming from one.’”
This year’s surge in protests over systemic racism forced restaurants and bars across Canada to face their own implicit bias and discriminatory practices, while the ”ChangeHospitality” hashtag took off on social media. In some cases, leaders resigned; Jeff Stober, the CEO of the popular Toronto hotel and restaurant Drake Hotel, stepped down after former employees accused him of anti-Black racism. Multiple current and former employees told VICE World News that they personally experienced or witnessed incidents of discrimination or racism while working at SIR Corp. restaurants.One former manager at a Toronto SCADDABUSH location allegedly asked a Black staff member if her hair was real multiple times, then touched it because he believed it was a weave. The same manager allegedly asked the same worker in 2019 if she had herpes when she told him she was sick.
There’s a saying among managers at SCADDABUSH locations: fit in or fuck off, or FIFO, a former manager said. This saying was printed on T-shirts and given out to managers by Mike Cappiello, the VP of operations at SCADDABUSH, two former employees familiar with the matter said. (Cappiello did not respond to a request for comment.)