Former kitchen worker at Poole’s Diner alleges sexual assault at the restaurant in 2017

A former kitchen employee at award-winning chef Ashley Christensen’s Poole’s Diner alleges she was sexually assaulted three times in seven months while working at the restaurant.

Kaylin Fulp, who granted The News & Observer permission to publish her name, started working at Poole’s Diner in 2017 when she was 19 years old. She spoke Sunday at a meeting held by the Raleigh chapter of the North Carolina Safety Alliance, a group that shares stories from victims of sexual assault and harassment.

“I was sexually assaulted three times within my seven months of employment at Poole’s Diner,” Fulp said at Sunday’s meeting, according to videos of the meeting live-streamed on the group’s Instagram page.

Fulp attended a year of culinary school, but dropped out due to finances, she said during Sunday’s meeting. In Poole’s she hoped the acclaimed kitchen would be a replacement for a classical training.

At that time, Christensen had won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2014. More recently, she won the 2019 James Beard for Outstanding Chef in the country. In 2017, she was also Eater’s Chef of the Year and the News & Observer’s co-Tar Heel of the Year, shared with chef Vivian Howard.

While sharing her story Sunday, Fulp said she had been proud to be hired at Poole’s, calling it Raleigh’s pedestal, and said that it felt great to be picked from among other applicants at the James Beard-winning restaurant. She said that she worked hard to prove herself in the kitchen.

Sexual assault, bullying allegations

In that kitchen, she alleges she experienced three instances of sexual assault by two different employees, as well as bullying and verbal abuse. She said that she took the allegations to the restaurant’s human resources department.

“I tried to do the right thing, I tried to go through HR,” Fulp said Sunday. “When they found out I told on their buddy, (other kitchen employees) bullied me out of my job.”

Fulp referred to the kitchen as a “boys club” and said she left the job despite not wanting to.

On Tuesday, Christensen and Kait Goalen, her wife and AC Restaurants executive director, posted an open letter on the company’s website responding to the allegations. That letter acknowledges complaints in 2017, but said that details shared by Fulp on Sunday were new information to them.

“We respect and appreciate Kaylin so much for what she did when she came forward, and how she helped us and our company grow to be better,” Christensen and Goalen said in the letter. “We are devastated that it came at such great personal cost to her — it shouldn’t have had to. The trauma she experienced while working at Poole’s is not her fault. We are deeply regretful that we failed Kaylin during her employment with our company. We are so sorry.”

Christensen and Goalen declined an interview request, but did submit an additional emailed statement. In that statement, Christensen said Poole’s was unaware of a sexual assault complaint.

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