Popular Winnipeg restaurant chain Stella’s has recently come under fire on Instagram over allegations of sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, and unfair labour practices. Over the last few days, an Instagram account (@notmystellas) has been sharing stories of former and current Stella’s employees.
Three former Stella’s employees, Christina Hajjar, 27, Kelsey Wade, 22, and Amanda Murdock, 36, met with the press on Saturday afternoon. The women contextualized their role as representatives for the group of current and past Stella’s employees making allegations, laid out their demands for the company, and outlined how the community can help affected employees.
The three women were also part of a larger group that has been trying to bring attention to the allegations against the restaurant chain for over a year. “There have been complaints made with the Labour board, there have been human rights complaints made, and nothing has ever really come of it, and I think it was just time for people to know what the environment in Stella’s is like for employees,” said Wade. A change in strategies was needed.
Last Sunday, on her 1-year anniversary of being fired from Stella’s, Hajjar posted about her own experience with Stella’s on her personal Instagram page. When she received a large influx of responses from former and current Stella’s staff sharing their experiences, she created a separate Instagram account to share these. Since its creation Thursday evening, @notmystellas has gained upwards of 10,000 followers. Multiple accounts of sexual harassment have been submitted to the Instagram page, as well as incidents of racism, gaslighting, and illegal labour practices. The Instagram page proved to be the ideal platform for affected individuals to voice their own stories, anonymously or not.
Hajjar described the incidents of abuse and harassment at Stella’s as a “not-so-hidden secret”. The allegations against the restaurant had been piling up for years. “Everyone you talk to knows someone at Stella’s who has had a negative experience… We knew that the stories were out there, we just needed to provide the platform to get those stories out.”
Fear of retaliation has prevented many affected individuals from speaking out. “The whole experience is terrifying… It brings up a lot of trauma, the trauma that you’re trying to protect, that’s why it’s hard,” said Murdock. The Instagram account was created with the goal of giving other affected individuals a platform for sharing their experience, and an opportunity to connect with a supportive community.
While sexual harassment and unfair working conditions are rampant across the restaurant industry, this does not mean they should not be addressed. “We are also here to say that just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it should be normalized,” said Hajjar.
Grant Anderson, CEO, and Brad Burrows, regional manager, feature in several of the @notmystellas anecdotes. The two men are also accused of sexual harassment, misconduct, and negligent responses to claims against the company. The hashtag #bradgrantgone now accompanies some of the captions and stories on @notmystellas’ Instagram page. “[Brad and Grant] have a complete lack of empathy and respect for their employees… They are abusive, they are manipulative, there is the most unhealthy power dynamic within that company, and they are honestly very scary,” Wade said, “I can honestly say I don’t think the company can move forward positively with Grant and Brad in charge.”
These allegations contrast harshly with Stella’s branding; the restaurant portrays itself as a wholesome, hip local business. “We’re also talking about something very specific here. We’re talking about a local chain that feeds on this image of great quality, cheap prices, and it is at the expense of front line workers,” said Hajjar.
Stella’s has hired People First HR Consultants, a private human resource consulting firm to address the accusations. Stella’s response to the allegations can be read below:
The restaurant’s response, signed by co-owners Tore Sohlberg and Lehla Abreder, was met with dissatisfaction. “We do not accept their publically issued statement, because it lacks remorse, accountability, and fails to address our demands,” said Murdock.
The @notmystellas team has released a list of demands on their Instagram page directed at Stella’s owners and upper management. The group hopes this will open up a constructive dialogue between the employers and individuals who have been subjected to the alleged abuse. Their demands including the removal of Anderson and Burrows, a public acknowledgment of accountability, a formal apology, and monetary restitution for affected employees.
Wade, Murdock, and Hajjar also outlined how Winnipeggers can get involved and show their support to current and former Stella’s employees.
Concerns should be directed to Stella’s Administration, not to the restaurants themselves. The contact information for Head Office, Tore Sohlberg, Grant Anderson, and Colleen Anderson is available on Stella’s website.
The Instagram page is also receiving numerous messages from current Stella’s staff. “We felt it very important to create a message of solidarity with the current staff there, and reiterate that we are not calling for a boycott, because we know that their employment is very important to them, and they need that for survival,” Wade explained. Stella’s customers are encouraged to buy small purchases but tip well (using cash).
@notmystellas has also prompted other restaurants to reach out with job opportunities.
Unsure of your rights as a worker? Check out The Employment Standards Code, Siloam Mission’s legal resources, or the monthly drop-in clinic for legal questions at the Millennium Library. If you are looking to make a labour-related complaint, here is the claim form. If you are interested in filing a human rights complaint, contact the Manitoba Human Rights Commission (MHRC). You can also contact the Employment Standards Office at 204-945-3352 or [email protected] for legal advice and help filing a claim.