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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Logan Square Restaurant Mishandled Sexual Assault, Former Employees Say

Italian restaurant Testaccio is facing criticism for allegedly mishandling the sexual assault of an employee — which former employees say led to additional assaults.

Testaccio, 2456 N. California Ave.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — Management of a Logan Square restaurant is under fire for its handling of an employee sexual assault and months of fumbling that former employees say led to additional sexual assaults.

At the center of the controversy is a November 2021 incident at the neighborhood Italian restaurant Testaccio, 2456 N. California Ave.

Sarah, a former server at Testaccio, detailed the attack and its aftermath in a widely shared Instagram post. Block Club is using a pseudonym to protect the woman’s identity.

Sarah slammed restaurant management for failing to properly act when a drunk coworker pushed her into a stairwell, forcibly removed her mask and shoved his tongue down her throat “to the point where I lost my breath, all against my will,” she wrote in the post.

Credit: Facebook
Testaccio serves Southern Italian fare.

Sarah reported the attack to her manager but later left the restaurant, frustrated management did not take more action against the employee who attacked her, she said. In the months since, the same employee assaulted two more former Testaccio’s workers, the women told Block Club.

After Sarah detailed her experiences on Instagram, Testaccio’s owner Aldo Zaninotto fired the accused employee, and hired a third-party investigator to find out what happened and prevent similar incidents from occurring, he said.

But Sarah and other former employees say it’s too little, too late. They’re furious Zaninotto only took action after a damaging social media post, a full year after Sarah was attacked.

Attempts to reach the accused employee were unsuccessful.

Additional Victims Come Forward

Sarah reported the assault to management a few weeks after she was attacked.

Her manager asked if she wanted the attacker fired, but Sarah said no, worried about how a firing might impact his life, she said.

In giving Sarah the option, the manager was “hoping to give her the power to make the decision that would make her the most comfortable,” an outside investigator hired by the restaurant said in a written report provided to Block Club.

But Sarah said the decision shouldn’t have been left up to her so soon after the traumatizing incident.

“They should have been able to stand up and do the right thing without my permission,” she said in the post.

Her manager ultimately recommended Sarah and the accused employee work different shifts, a “temporary” solution, according to the report.

Sarah agreed to the plan, but ended up quitting a few weeks later when the manager asked if she could cover a bartender shift at the restaurant, a job she wasn’t prepared to do, she said.

Sarah also said her attacker kept getting better shifts than her.

“I said, ‘I’ve only served for you,'” Sarah said, referring to waiting tables, not bartending. “She was like, ‘If you don’t come in and bartend, I’m writing you up.’ So I said, ‘Through everything that’s gone on, I really don’t feel supported by you guys … I told her I thought it was handled poorly, that I can’t work for you guys. That was my last interaction with them.”

Months after she left Testaccio, her attacker was promoted.

Zaninotto said he promoted the man because he was “performing well for us” and “the restaurant was getting busy.” At the time, management felt the situation had been handled, he said.

The move left Sarah disheartened and angry. After months of stewing over the issue, she posted about the experience on Instagram. She hoped to raise awareness about sexual assault in the workplace and the mistreatment of restaurant workers, issues that were prominent during the social and racial reckoning of 2020 but have since faded from the public discourse.

Sarah’s post received more than 2,300 “likes” and sparked dozens of angry comments on Testaccio’s page.

“The issue is they put money over people,” Sarah said. “I was joking to my friend that if every restaurant had someone like me speak out against them, most of our restaurants would be closed.”

In an emailed statement prepared by the investigator, Zaninotto said while they’ve “never had an incident like this occur and remained in good standing with both our staff and the community,” they’ve “certainly made missteps along the way.”

Zaninotto said he should’ve stepped in to help with Sarah’s incident, rather than allowing another manager handle it.

The now-fired employee sexually assaulted at least two other coworkers after attacking Sarah, according to interviews with the victims.

Beth, another ex-employee, told Block Club she was raped by Sarah’s attacker several months after her colleague quit. The rape happened last summer after work hours. Beth said she didn’t report the incident to restaurant management, but she quit soon after.

“I felt so ashamed. I felt like people would take his side … I didn’t think [reporting] it would bring me anything that would be helpful,” she said.

A third former employee, Charlotte, said the coworker sexually assaulted her in December 2021, about a month after he attacked Sarah.

(Beth and Charlotte are not the victims’ real names. Block Club is using pseudonyms to protect their identities.)

After a night of drinking, Charlotte said he pushed her up against the wall, made out with her and proceeded to grab her vagina after she pushed him away.

Charlotte reported the incident to another manager, but that manager blew her off, she said. She didn’t force the issue for fear of losing her job, she said.

None of the victims filed police reports.

“I loved working at that restaurant. I had two close friends that really made my experience,” Charlotte said. “I honestly needed it. I had no other jobs at the time. I was working at a gym, but this was my stability job.”

All three former employees interviewed by Block Club said the now-fired employee was known for making inappropriate sexual remarks to women coworkers and patrons.

“Anytime a woman walked in, he would come to one of us and say, ‘I’d hit that,’ or, ‘She’s gorgeous,'” Charlotte said.

Testaccio is rolling out several new policies in the wake of the scandal, such as increasing training for all staff members, strengthening the company handbook’s sexual harassment section and setting up an anonymous tip line for employees to safely report incidents, Zaninotto said.

Zaninotto, who also runs Osteria Langhe, another Italian restaurant in Logan Square, said management was not aware of the additional attacks.

“The investigation has yet to confirm any additional allegations against this employee with anyone within or outside of our staff,” he said in the report.

Beth said she’s so haunted by the rape — and the culture within Testaccio that kept her rapist employed — that she avoids walking past the restaurant on the way to her new job.

She said she will never work in the restaurant industry again.

“I can never escape the lingering anxiety and fear that this incident has brought me,” she said.

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