The owner of Societi Bistro stepped down with immediate effect following ballooning revelations of a culture of sexual harassment at the popular Cape Town restaurant.
This comes hot on the heels of an exclusive Weekend Argus article which detailed how former waiters and patrons reportedly fell victim to “hugely embarrassing” workplace abuse.
The restaurant, nestled in the heart of Gardens in the city bowl, run by Peter Weetman, is confronting the most tumultuous moment of its nearly 20 years of existence.
Weetman’s high-flying career dramatically crumbled roughly three days after the initial article appeared as he decided to step down.
However, Weetman attributed the move to “suffering from arthritis” and ailing health.
“I suffer from RA (rheumatoid arthritis) and have had a severe flare-up in most of my joints, including my hands and jaw,” he said this week after Weekend Argus sent him a fresh set of questions.
“With immediate effect as of today (Wednesday) I have stepped down from all daily operational duties until such a time my coaches feel my evolvement (sic) process is complete, and my physical health is restored.”
A meeting was held Saturday afternoon where Weetman’s decision was relayed to staffers.
A handful of disgruntled men and two women accused Weetman for cooking up a “toxic” workplace culture that’s grounded in alleged sexual abuse, assault, humiliation and discrimination.
The cooking pot has now boiled over with anti-semitism added to the mix of allegations.
Since the article appeared, more men have contacted Weekend Argus to share their stories and one person resigned.
It also spurred a youngster who last week spoke on condition of anonymity, to reveal his identity in a plucky attempt to give a stentorian voice to those who are “too afraid to speak up”.
Tony McPherson told Weekend Argus that it is not only Weetman who did him dirty by allegedly hiring him a slew of “escorts,” but that a man called Björn Salsone “viciously groped” him.
“On a Friday evening in March, I was standing talking to a couple of friends when I felt someone touching my ass,” McPherson said, adding that he at first thought it was his boyfriend.
“I then turned around and was like ‘hey baby girl’, and to my surprise it was actually Björn,” he said, choking back tears.
“I asked him ‘what the f*** are you doing?’ and he replied ‘don’t lie, you liked it’. The truth is I never liked it.”
McPherson, 22, said he “immediately” walked away “feeling embarrassed, angry and sad”.
He then informed Societi Bistro’s erstwhile PR consultant, Natalie Jardine, of the whole ordeal which triggered a sense of “what felt like numbness in my hands”.
“Natalie then walked with me to Peter and the manager where we asked them to remove Björn from the premises. (But) Peter told me I should just stay away from Björn as he can’t ask him to leave.”
Weetman apparently informed them that Societi Bistro embodied the ethos of a so-called “Switzerland policy”.
“I then left of my own accord,” McPherson said.
Salsone vehemently denied the allegations, and said he was mulling legal advice.
“I dispute any allegations made against me,” he said.
Prior to this, Weetman would allegedly order McPherson escorts even though this had not been requested.
“He sent escorts to my table, unwarranted.”
He took the alleged act as an overture to sexual harassment.
Jardine, who severed ties with the restaurant earlier this year, said she was aware of the so-called incident with Salsone.
“I was told after the event was over and I reported it to Peter Weetman and the MOD (manager on duty). Both said that the policy of Societi Bistro is Switzerland – neutral – but if I feel strongly, I should speak to him.
“I set a meeting which was cancelled at the last second. In the weeks following, Peter confirmed to me that he was social with Björn and quite liked him and his approach. I was discouraged to pursue the conversation further,” she said.
McPherson opened a criminal case against Salsone this week.
“Kindly be advised that the circumstances surrounding the incident you are referring to are under investigation,” police spokesperson Ndakhe Gwala said.
“According to reports, the complainant alleged that he was at a business premises in Gardens on Friday March 25 2022 at around 5pm, when a man known to him touched him inappropriately. Cape Town Central police are investigating a case of sexual assault.”
Another former employee, a Jewish man, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Weetman, whom he described as an arbitrary whip-cracker, made several derogatory remarks.
“He told one of my former colleagues that she should sleep with a less good-looking person as the person would try harder in bed,” he said.
“I once had a meeting with him and he said I suffer from the Jews curse. I asked, ‘Sorry, what?’ and he replied, ‘The staff is the Jews curse.’ I found that extremely inappropriate.”
He said Weetman explained that “Jews are not loving people and that they are, to a fault, more so than others”.
“He then asked if he could give me a hug and I said ‘absolutely not’.”
He added Weetman would call staff to his office “and ask us to reveal our greatest weakness. He asked me to stand separate from the group and, made each person ask me questions. I don’t know if that was because I’m Jewish, but it was so weird.”
Staff meetings, Weekend Argus were told, were called “wraps” and new employees were called “fluffies”, a derogatory term used to describe those who were unmanly.
Another man, whose dream to work in the gastronomic world was shattered when he too apparently had to weather the “toxic” work environment, said he sometimes had to play bouncer, occasionally throwing people out of the Bistro, and also carrying heavily inebriated people to their cars.
In another bizarre incident male waiters were reportedly paid to remove their shirts.
Weetman then apparently emptied a bucket of water over their heads.
Celebrity chef and Come Dine with Me star Aubrey Ngcungama was accused by a waiter of harassment.
Ngcungama has since apologised.
“I definitely did some stuff my mother would not approve of. I drank a lot (of alcohol) and I apologise.”
Samantha Versfeld, who used to work as a waitress at the restaurant said she sometimes had to stand in as a handywoman, fixing washing machines and tumble dryers.
Versfeld had to do the dirty work of fixing toilets and clogged drains to boot.
Though having no experience in the kitchen, Versfeld also had to swap her waitress apron for a chef's cloak, baking sweet treats at 4am in the morning.
“One time he (Weetman) had a boy toy over at the restaurant, I had to arrange this guy’s Uber to get him back home to Pretoria.”
On Instagram this week, Innes Maas, former waiter, corroborated the sexual harassment culture at Societi Bistro.
“Today there are some stories I would like to corroborate,” Maas said.
“He (Peter) treated everyone very poorly to be honest and I never really spent time with him, I don’t think I f***** with his energy.
“That’s not the way things should be done, amend your policies, say sorry for sexually abusing people and don’t do it again.”
A picket for 100 people has been organised for Tuesday outside Societi Bistro.
In a memorandum, the workers ask for a public apology, and for staff and Weetman to go for counselling and the appointment of an external human resources company.
Another demand is that Ngcungama and Weetman be banned immediately.
“It is with disbelief that we take cognisance of the scandal,” said owner of queer lobby group Out & Proud, Chris de Villiers.
“The allegations against Peter Weetman are quite alarming, and if true, we hope that he will avail himself for a public discussion, followed by a sincere apology.”