The former executive chef of Millers All Day alleges she was let go last week for voicing her opinion of adjustments to the downtown Charleston restaurant, including the addition of happy hour specials and to-go service.
"So often in this industry men are embraced for being tough and outspoken," Madison Tessener says. "Women are viewed as a problem, and that is a problem."
Nathan Thurston, who co-owns the five-month-old restaurant with Greg Johnsman of Geechie Boy Mill, declined to comment on personnel issues. But in response to the issues raised by Tessener in an interview with The Post and Courier and an earlier social media post, Thurston strongly disputed that women are subject to different treatment at his restaurants.
"If you look at my track record in my other businesses, I have female leaders in place, and that's because they’ve been the best candidate for the position," he says.
At Millers All Day, Thurston says women hold a majority of the salaried management positions, including manager Heather Evans, assistant manager Free Bradford, retail manager Sheri Wiggins and pastry chef DaVee Harned.
With Tessener's departure, the number of women in executive chef positions at high-profile Charleston restaurants is approximately halved from the start of the year.
Although they left for various reasons, Butcher & Bee's Chelsey Conrad, goat.sheep.cow's Amalia Scatena, Felix's Elizabeth Schultenover, Old Village Post House's Antonia Krenza and Basic Kitchen's Air Casebier are also no longer with their respective restaurants.
Among the women still serving as executive chefs are Charleston Grill's Michelle Weaver, Chez Nous' Jill Matthias and The Getaway's Emily Hahn. Scatena was succeeded by Bev Harrell, but Harrell's title is kitchen manager.
Tessener says she was shocked and disappointed at being pulled out of Saturday service. She says she was told, "I didn't drink the Kool-Aid. I was told I wasn’t a team player."
She contends that she was simply focusing on what she was hired to do, but she thinks they saw her as being adversarial.
Thurston says it was simply a difference of philosophy.
"In a situation like this," he adds, "I don’t think it’s necessary for either party to air their dirty laundry. We are interested in moving forward. There's not a need to focus on what happened in this situation."
Tessener decided to speak publicly because, she says, it's the only way to change how women are perceived in the workplace. "I think that women will be viewed less as problems the more we step up and the more we share our knowledge and experience."
Now that she is no longer with Millers All Day, Tessener says she's going to pursue the path she was on when they recruited her for the job: Finding a spot in Raleigh and opening a family-oriented restaurant.
Ultimately, Thurston says they wish Tessener the best and will continue to focus on providing "brunch-centric food and beverage while providing a memorable experience to our guests."