Joe Rosenthal and the Instagram Feed seek to save the restaurant industry from itself

Joe Rosenthal did not expect to become a veritable confessional of restaurant abuses.

The Minnesota-based applied mathematician “was just taking pictures of food. My wife said to me, ‘Joe, your pictures are rubbish, take better pictures.’ So I started doing that and creating a network of people I knew in the food world. I started to learn what was going on, who the players were and the wrongs that came with it. And so I would talk about that too.

23.8k followers later, Rosenthal has pretty much stopped posting food photos.

Using anonymous sources and publicly available information, Rosenthal broke the news for top restaurants, and her Instagram stories are a seemingly endless carousel of injustice. In July 2020, he reported on abusive labor practices and lax food safety standards at the famed LA restaurant squirrel. In January 2021, a single Tweet prompted him to delve into Yelp’s 1-star reviews of Prince St. Pizza, where he found outrageously racist and harassing statements from owners Frank and Dominic Morano, ultimately leading the restaurant’s management to resign. His website Richard Eaglespoon is a treasure trove of information about pizza, steak, and bad actors.

Rosenthal has been called a troll, a bully, and a lot of other less savory things since he started posting about restaurant dramas. To be fair, he doesn’t fire shots.

Rosenthal is a self-proclaimed food antagonist, and, “It’s not that I haven’t done things to pick on people as part of what I do. It’s kinda hard not to exist on the internet in 2021. But overall, I’m seriously trying to change things. Calling me a troll is incredibly reductive and dismissive of the things I’ve done.

Since Rosenthal isn’t a leader, his followers don’t have to worry about retaliation for sharing stories of abuse, and since he’s not a journalist, he thinks he has to watch out otherwise. The restaurant industry is notoriously prone to abusive labor practices, and recent high-profile food scandals chinese mission to the Los Angeles Time barely made a dent in changing its culture. Therefore, “people are afraid. They want to keep their jobs if they have any. They need to keep those jobs and they don’t want to rock the boat at this point in their careers. I mean, I talk to people on all levels, but… there’s a pervasive idea that if you talk shit, you’ll get yours.

Angelo Womack, a mixed-race pizza consultant who worked at the famous Brooklyn’s Roberta’s Pizza from 2008 to 2013 and entered into a non-disparagement agreement with former colleague Anthony Falco, echoed that sentiment, noting that, “A lot of people in the restaurant business feel marginalized…I have been through this for so long I agreed not to go to the labor board for working so many hours a week I dealt with my superiors saying racist, sexist or abusive bullshit and laughing a I’ve been there before… It’s traumatic.

Womack, who also runs the pizza meme account @radtimespizzasaid that when he worked there Roberta was a broey”lord of the flies” environment. Although he never felt it was a racist work culture and has fond memories of the place, Womack says it was very toxic. “He is time to say ‘Yeah, that was wrong. It wasn’t cool’… It’s different there now, though. It’s pretty awesome because it’s not “fun” anymore.

Getting rid of this particular type of pleasure on a larger scale may seem like a lofty ambition, but Rosenthal doesn’t care: “I’m in a mad rush. Everything I do is a fool’s errand… I could destroy worlds if I put my notes there, but I won’t because [people talk to me] under the assumption that it is not registered. The anonymous nature of these conversations is hugely important to Rosenthal, especially when writing about people and restaurants in power in the form of attorney fleets and public relations.

However, it is also difficult for the stories he covers to catch the attention of mainstream audiences. “I had to shout about Prince Street Pizza to cover it up. Nobody wanted to cover it. I made three vaguely viral posts on Instagram. One of them has been shared something like 7,000 times. That’s what it took. Rosenthal shouted about several other stories that didn’t get the same kind of coverage, recently focusing on dangerous canning and fermentation tips at Brad Leone It’s alive videos and access control behavior by Clarence Kwan, a social media chef and influencer whose Chinese protest recipes cookbook received tons of media coverage in February.

When asked why he thought that was the case, Womack put it bluntly, saying of Rosenthal that “everything Joe has shared has been in the form of email, message live or even court documents. So, it’s like, what are we trying to hide here? If someone has a really awful past, why shouldn’t we be allowed to talk about it apart from someone trying to take advantage of it? It’s actually kind of evil, in all honesty.

I asked Rosenthal how he would go about fixing restaurants and the all-consuming, broken public relations machine of the food media, and he pointed out that while the problems in restaurants are particularly extreme, workers at all levels are not well protected at the moment, and larger societal issues – from health care to the wage gap – are having a significant impact on what is rotten at the heart of the restaurant industry.

Rosenthal recently contributed to a paper on the massive issue of COVID-19, so he was troubled to learn that almost 8% of those who received a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine do not return for their second. Rosenthal believes that a sizeable number of these people are restaurant workers terrified of missing even a single shift, and feels great empathy for them: “These are people who maybe living paycheck to paycheck. If they miss work, they may not have a job to return to.

And that attitude, that determination not to treat human beings as disposable, is at the heart of why Rosenthal continues to post: “My mission with all my Richard Eaglespoon presence is to try to move us forward towards a world where I don’t need to exist. … I wish I could see people being able to talk about this stuff to reporters without the threat of lawyers arresting it or feeling like you’re going to lose your job… To answer your question of why I’m doing what I do, I feel like I have to.

He doesn’t see that happening anytime soon, but if and when it does, he’ll be happy to shut up.

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Cecil N. Messick