Grill’d co-founder Simon Crowe apologises for wearing Native American headdress to party

·4 min read

The co-founder of the multimillion-dollar Grill’d burger chain, Simon Crowe, has apologised for wearing a Native American headdress to an end of year staff costume Christmas party.

In a social media video that has since been taken down, Crowe appears among a crowd wearing a feathered headdress and a gold jacket, speaking to a man dressed as Sesame Street’s Count von Count.

Crowe said he “didn’t give too much thought” to what to wear to the event.

“Grill’d had a costume party as part of our end of year staff Christmas celebrations,” he said.

“I didn’t give too much thought to what to wear and grabbed a sparkly gold jacket and headdress at the last minute.

“My intention was in no way to offend or ‘dress up’ in Native American costume, however in hindsight I understand the offence this may have caused and for that, I’m truly sorry.”

Related: ‘Never happened before’: lack of hospitality staff forces Melbourne bar to close its doors

Crowe, who founded Grill’d, also owns Australian chocolatier Koko Black.

In the original video, the TikTok user posted text saying “my workplace had a Christmas party … and I dressed as an eshay [a slang expression associated with an Australian urban youth subculture] and muzzed [a type of dance] at the company owner”.

In the comments of a later TikTok, the user wrote: “The video was posted with no intention to insult Simon or the Grill’d company … I was just having fun at a work Christmas party and Grill’d can’t hold me responsible if someone else chose to wear a ‘questionable’ outfit.”

The Native American headdress has been critiqued as an act of racial stereotyping and cultural appropriation with a string of performers from Adele to Kesha seen sporting the costume in the past decade.

Several commenters took to social media overnight to critique Crowe, labelling the outfit “absolutely foul” and “racist”.

“We hate companies who think cultural appropriation is acceptable,” one user wrote.

“Nah guys, why is your … CEO wearing such an inappropriate costume?” another questioned.

“Hi, why is the company owner using culture as a costume? It’s 2021 and I’m pretty sure even children know it is wrong to appropriate culture. Shame on you,” a third wrote.

Grill’d was yet to publicly respond to the posts.

The Grill’d empire has been subject to controversy in the past. It was embroiled in a wage scandal in 2015 which resulted in a confidential settlement and, later, an enterprise agreement.

A year later, 5,000 current and past workers signed a petition suggesting the company’s training program was a form of wage theft, and, in 2019, the burger chain was accused of keeping young workers in underpaid roles through its traineeships program.

A Grill’d spokesperson said the company was proud of its traineeships program, which had provided “qualifications and a pathway for thousands of Australians across hospitality and other industries”. The spokesperson said only 31% of Grill’d employees were currently trainees.

Grill’d agreed to setting a hard time limit of 18 months for completion of all traineeships as a result of the claims.

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Last month, a Grill’d advertising campaign was found to have breached standards for its presentation of violence and sexuality. The ad, titled Grill’d v Plastic Toys, depicted McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald opening a trenchcoat to children in a darkened alley. In response, Grill’d stated that it would modify the advertisement to take into account the panel’s concerns.

A week later, the company released a content series advertising their plant-based Impossible burger on subscription service OnlyFans – used heavily for sexually explicit material – in partnership with Australian comedy duo The Inspired Unemployed.

Crowe said of the content series: “We’re fiercely passionate about creating healthy, sustainable and most importantly delicious burgers, so we’re thrilled to be one of the first restaurant groups in Australia to offer Impossible burgers and we can’t wait for everyone to taste it for themselves.”

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