City

Philly CEO Nate Mell Accused of Sexual Assault

"I have never sexually assaulted nor sexually harassed anyone," says the Felt + Fat co-founder, who has never been sued or criminally charged.

Felt + Fat co-founder Nate Mell. (Photo by Jennifer Kerrigan Photography.)

On a Friday in October, with the #MeToo campaign in full effect in the wake of the explosive Harvey Weinstein allegations that had just emerged from Hollywood, a curious message turned up in the email accounts belonging to a host of restaurants in New York and Philadelphia.

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The email, sent from an anonymous Gmail account to recipients like Fork, Martha Restaurant, and the Rittenhouse Hotel, concerned Nathaniel “Nate” Mell, the 31-year-old CEO of trendy Kensington-based ceramics company Felt + Fat, which provides high-end custom-made tableware to chefs and restaurants that can afford to buy it.

The email began with an excerpt from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Board of Governors’ statement regarding its expulsion of Weinstein from the prestigious group:

We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society.

The remainder of the email consisted of screenshots from the social media accounts of two women who know Mell personally.

The first came from a former acquaintance of Mell’s who asked not to be named in this story. In a Facebook post attached to the email, she claimed that Mell had sexually assaulted her at her home in California, where he was sleeping on the couch during a visit. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

I came home black out drunk… I woke the next day naked in bed without recollection of falling asleep… That morning, I was confronted by this person on my way out the door, asking if I remembered the night prior and having sex. I did not, but quickly responded otherwise out of shock, shame, guilt and a hungover embarrassment.

I found the used condom stuffed between my mattress and the wall the next day. He left that morning without goodbye… I know this was a boundary crossed from prior conversation when I had explicitly expressed that I was not interested in having any sexual interaction during that visit.

I reasoned that this was a drunken blunder in the days after. My fault, my mistake. Explaining this story to my therapist and friends, I slowly realized, it was rape… There is no consent with a black-out drunk person, especially when you had already, soberly, communicated no interest in being sexual with said person… I need people to know he is a sexual predator.

The second post was from 29-year-old West Philadelphia resident Althea Holmes, who had worked at Felt + Fat. “…I quit my job at felt+fat this year because multiple women have accused my boss, Nate Mell, of sexually assaulting them,” Holmes wrote on Facebook. “I believe these women.”

Holmes wrote her post on October 16th. The email to the restaurants — it is not known who sent it — came four days later, just before noon on October 20th. And then, within hours of the email going out, Mell took to Felt + Fat’s company Facebook page to make a statement (you can read the full statement here), in which he acknowledged the California woman’s allegation.

I (Nate) find the current #metoo campaign to be pretty gut-wrenching… I also recognize that I have been complicit in this. There are plenty of excuses I can give surrounding culture, circumstances etc. but at the heart of the matter is the fact that I have failed many times in the past to call out others and to check my own words and actions towards women.

This past spring I was accused on social media by a former friend of having taken sexual advantage of her in a situation where she was too drunk to know what she was doing. At first I was aghast and incredulous, I felt defensive and couldn’t understand how this person could have felt the way she did as my recollection of the events were so dissimilar. That feeling quickly turned into a time filled with a lot of self-reflection. I thought about the situation and of other past relationships in which I may have made mistakes.

We reached out to Mell for comment shortly after he made his public statement on Facebook, but he refused to speak on-the-record about the matter at the time. Over the next couple of weeks, Philly Mag spoke with several women — some of whom had worked for Mell at Felt + Fat — who had stories to tell about Mell, stories that ranged from allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace to claims of sexual assault. Mell has never been sued or criminally charged.

After speaking with these women, we again reached out to Mell for comment. He refused to speak on-the-record about any of the allegations against him. Instead, his attorney sent us a written statement for publication.

“I have never sexually assaulted nor sexually harassed anyone, and have never continued an act after being asked to stop,” he wrote. (The full, unedited statement appears at the end of this article).

Meanwhile, several key personnel at Felt + Fat have jumped ship in the wake of the growing tensions surrounding Mell.

One sent her resignation letter to Mell and other management figures in September, explaining that she was leaving Felt + Fat because of the allegations against Mell.

“These allegations are not limited to a single instance or accuser, though they are limited to a sole individual accused,” she wrote. “The majority of this information came to me unsolicited. I have since asked around in hopes of finding redeeming information and have found nothing to boost my confidence. I am no longer comfortable placing myself in such an environment.”

And Mell’s partner, Wynn Bauer, has separated himself from Felt + Fat as well, four years after the two founded the company together. In an interview with Philly Mag, Bauer said that while there was no one reason why he decided to turn his back on the company, the allegations certainly played a part in it.

“For my own wellbeing, I stepped back,” says Bauer. “I am no longer a part of it… If there was a lineup of people to pick friends from, I wouldn’t pick him.”

The full on-the-record statement from Nate Mell provided by his attorney:

I have never sexually assaulted nor sexually harassed anyone, and have never continued an act after being asked to stop. I do not wish to embarrass anyone by discussing the specifics of the events in question publicly, but I will note that they took place in my personal, not professional, life with non‐employees outside of work hours. At the same time, I am deeply troubled to learn there are women who feel I hurt them. Even before these allegations started circulating in the spring – on social media and as “word on the street” – I had begun to closely examine my personal life and approach to relationships, welcoming the opportunity to hear others’ perspectives. I have consistently offered to speak with anyone directly or indirectly affected by these allegations, and emphasized my openness to others’ points of view.

While the allegations concern private interactions that took place outside of work, recognizing my employees’ concerns, I provided (in March and April 2017) a series of support services to allow them to safely and openly address their concerns about any topics. These support services included company‐wide and employee‐only sessions with a mediator and, at the employee’s’ option, one‐on‐one sessions with a psychotherapist. Finally, the company has made and will continue to make contributions to leading women’s organizations.

Felt+Fat is a young organization, founded in 2014 on a collaborative model. As we have grown, we have taken steps to professionalize our operations. For example, earlier this year, we created an official employee handbook, with formal policies including a sexual harassment policy, personnel reviews and guidelines for appropriate workplace behavior. These are standard steps for any growing business to take and will enable Felt+Fat to continue to thrive both as a creative enterprise and a business.

I am a strong believer in the rights of women and have always strived to provide my female employees with opportunities to succeed as well as a safe, open and collaborative work environment in the context of a successful business. Felt+Fat prides itself on providing sound jobs to all of its employees, while enabling them to foster their creativity.