We need to talk about Win Son
Today’s newsletter is a bit different. Last week, Trigg Brown, Chef and Co-owner of Win Son stepped away from day to day operations after allegations of workplace abuse. Eater NY covered it here and Rafael Joson, a veteran bartender at Win Son, first shared the allegations on his Instagram story starting on July 3rd.
While this is not the first or last restaurant to have a toxic culture, it’s one I feel a special responsibility to address. I’ve been a regular at Win Son for over 3 years, I’ve hosted events there, recommended it to countless friends, and covered it in my work in local media. When I posted about this on Instagram, I got multiple messages from people who now order on a weekly basis after trying the restaurant on my recommendation.
Julia and I emailed Trigg last Tuesday, asking him to step down and take responsibility for his actions (which allegedly included throwing a meat cleaver in the kitchen, according to a story shared on Joson’s Instagram). We no longer feel comfortable supporting the restaurant as long as he stands to profit. His co-owner Josh Ku, has been praised by current and former employees for fostering a positive culture but it seems that he failed to stop Trigg’s behavior in the kitchen.
In addition to the behavioral issues, Brown was also buying two of the restaurant’s popular appetizers: the scallion pancakes, which contained pork fat and were labeled as vegetarian, and the pork buns (this practice is probably more common than you think). Recipes “from Win Son” for scallion pancakes have appeared in Bon Appetit in 2017 (lol). The labor issues come first, but it’s also very upsetting and dishonest to lie on a menu (I’ve dedicated lots of space to these scallion pancakes and I’ve been a vegetarian for over seven years).
As many others have written about (read everything from Alicia Kennedy), restaurants are based on very exploitative, hierarchical systems and people go to them in part to feel powerful. The brigade system in kitchens is based on the French military and the tipping system is derived from slavery. Trigg has also received many accolades for his work, from Eater, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the James Beard Foundation and more.
The response to this has been disappointing, to say the least, and it’s been a week. An issue with jam at Sqirl is also an IP issue, a collaboration issue, a labor issue and a gentrification issue (more context here). Food media needs to stop glorifying chefs and start talking to staff (though it’s not that simple). To some, the Win Son situation might seem fairly run of the mill— another abusive kitchen, another white guy cooking Asian food that turned out to have anger issues. None of that means it’s okay. Many of Win Son’s biggest fans, many of whom work at prominent outlets and can’t go a week without instagramming a crowded Win Son table with bottles of chili crisp and natural wine, haven’t said a word. The Eater article included only a few of the allegations and didn’t have many details. I know I have some freedom by being independent but there surely could be something you can do. Walking by the restaurant and bakery this weekend, I saw the same long lines of guests waiting for fan tuans and sesame noodles.
This (obviously) hits close to home. I’ve been that person in line waiting for sesame noodles (or waiting for a barstool) and I feel foolish. Abusive men are often charming and friendly to some and nightmares to others and that’s certainly been the case in my interactions with Trigg. Losing a neighborhood restaurant is a tough thing and in some ways an inevitable part of growing up. Whether you move, the restaurant shutters, or you find out that the side you saw was hiding something darker, nothing lasts forever. I feel sad for the other employees who worked so hard to create a special atmosphere for customers and each other in spite of this toxicity and I hope everyone who Trigg hurt gets the help and support they deserve.
If you’ve gone to Win Son and enjoyed it and want Trigg out, you can email him at Trigg@winsonbrooklyn.com. Tell a friend to do the same or don’t, but do it because it’s the right thing to do. You can also help by sharing today’s newsletter with a friend or on social media. After talking with other members of the team, I know they care about each other and believe there could be a path forward with a different chef at the helm (and an HR department).
I’ll be back later this week with our usual recipes, reads, and restaurant recs as well as a Q&A with Rafael. Thank you to Rafael and the entire Win Son team for your time and work and thank you to you all for reading.