'We have let you down': Stella's owners post video, take out full-page apology ad after harassment complaints

The owners of Stella's Café have taken out a full-page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press and posted a video online to apologize to their employees and customers, four weeks after allegations of workplace harassment, unfair treatment of staff, racism and sexual assault surfaced on social media.

Owners apologize to customers, acknowledge they failed to support, protect staff in online posts, newspaper ad

The owners of Stella's Café have publicly apologized to their employees and customers in a full-page newspaper ad and online video, four weeks after allegations of abuse and harassment at their restaurants surfaced on social media. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

The owners of Stella's Café have taken out a full-page ad in the Winnipeg Free Press and posted an online video to apologize to their employees and customers, four weeks after allegations of workplace harassment, unfair treatment of staff, racism, and sexual assault surfaced on social media.

The text of the ad, which was also posted to the restaurant's social media accounts, says the company grew too fast and did not put proper systems in place to guide its management, and protect and support its staff.

"We regret this," the ad says in bold type.

The ad is signed by Tore Sohlberg and Lehla Abreder, owners of the Stella's chain, which includes seven restaurants in Winnipeg.

In early November, an Instagram account called "Not My Stella's" began posting accounts from people who said they are past and current employees of the chain.

Many of those stories detailed allegations of abuse of staff, but also a culture of fear about reporting transgressions to management and cases where people have been fired for doing so.

"When we learned of the allegations being made in a social media campaign, our hearts sank," the full-page ad in the Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press says.

"It is wholly unacceptable for any of our staff to have been treated unjustly, or hurt by the wrongful actions of any Stella's manager, employee or patron.

"To our current and former staff: we are so sorry for any distress you experienced working at Stella's. To our customers, friends and the community: we are sorry to have shaken your confidence in us."

In a video statement posted to Facebook, Sohlberg said that while the company has already released other formal statements, "we felt we needed to personally apologize to anyone adversely affected."

See the Stella's apology video:

The ad goes on to say that Stella's is going through a review of its practices with People First HR services.

CBC has reached out to the creators of the Not My Stella's Instagram account for comment.

A spokesperson for Stella's declined an interview request from CBC News, saying the statement in the ad speaks for itself. The spokesperson said any new information found during an independent review will be made public, once the review is completed.

Demands to management 

During a Nov. 10 news conference, three of the spokespeople for Not My Stella's demanded a formal public apology, and acknowledgement that Stella's was responsible for allowing violations to occur.

Left to right: Christina Hajjar, Kelsey Wade and Amanda Murdock, who helped create the Not My Stella's campaign, at a Nov. 10 news conference. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Earlier this month, two executives from Stella's Café were placed on an indefinite leave of absence in response to some of the allegations. Removing vice-president of operations Grant Anderson and regional manager Brad Burrows was another one of the group's demands, though at least one former manager involved with Not My Stella's has said a leave of absence is not good enough.

The group has also said Stella's should pay for mental health services for those affected and create of a human resources department within the company.

A post to the Not My Stella's Instagram account earlier this week said that even though there are policies to protect people, "it is on upper management to enforce the rules."

"In a small chain with a relatively bureaucratic structure, weekly manager meetings, and top-down power, the attitudes and values of those at the top impact the entire workforce," the post says.

"We can only hope that this investigation by People First HR will create positive change for frontline workers."

With files from Holly Caruk, Austin Grabish and Ian Froese


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