Savannah restaurant protesters demand accountability in the restaurant industry

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) — More than two dozen people protested the owner of a new Savannah restaurant outside the establishment Wednesday morning.

The protest took place in front of The Haunt, located off Abercorn Street in downtown Savannah. The organizer told the WTOC that the group seeks accountability, and more broadly, to end a certain culture they believe exists in Savannah’s restaurant industry.

“I think it’s important that we come out and support all the women who have come forward. We are here to simply say that we believe in women and that it is important that cycles of abuse end in this city,” said Maeve Browne, who organized the protest.

The charges were brought against The Haunt’s owner, Clay Ehmke. The WTOC has contacted the Savannah police, and so far no official report, complaint or charge has been filed against Ehmke, and no case has been brought against him in court regarding the charges heard at the Wednesday demonstration.

When the WTOC contacted Ehmke for comment, we received a statement that said in part, “Our restaurant is committed to supporting our employees and providing a safe work environment. Unfortunately, we have been victims of negative statements from disgruntled former employees. None of the allegations have credibility.

The statement continues: “Despite numerous egregious posts on FB and Instagram, there have never been any legal proceedings, criminal or otherwise, initiated by an assault accuser against our landlord Clay Ehmke. All allegations remain unsubstantiated.

As well as addressing the owner of The Haunt specifically, the protest’s message was an indictment of a culture that protesters say exists within the restaurant industry as a whole.

“There are so many cases of drug abuse, assault, sexual assault, rape in the restaurant industry. It’s really important that people are held accountable, and it’s really important that people feel their voice is heard when they come forward and say they’ve been wronged,” Browne said.

As of Wednesday, no official report, complaint or charge had been filed against Ehmke.

The WTOC will continue to follow this story and provide updates as they become available.

You can read Ehmke’s full statement below:

“We opened the Haunt on July 27, 2021 to deliver a world-class, forest-to-table dining experience in Savannah, Georgia. Our restaurant is committed to supporting its employees and providing a safe work environment. Unfortunately, we have been victims of negative statements from disgruntled former employees. None of the allegations have credibility. Despite numerous egregious posts on FB and Instagram, there have never been any legal proceedings, criminal or otherwise, initiated by an accuser of assault against our landlord Clay Ehmke. All allegations remain baseless. Mr Ehmke was made aware in April 2021 that a group of people wanted to ruin his reputation and he was warned not to even open his new restaurant. The negative posts coincidentally surfaced the same week as The Haunt opened. Our doors remain open to the Haunt. Please visit us at thehauntsav.com

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Cecil N. Messick