Twin Peaks ‘breastaurant’ chain under #MeToo fire from within
Crystal McBride didn’t mind wearing a crop top and shorts to work.
She wasn’t bothered by flirty banter with customers — she’s practiced at deflecting comments with a playful, “Oh, I haven’t heard that one before,” or an exaggerated eye roll — and she enjoyed the hustle for tips.
But McBride, who until recently worked at Twin Peaks locations around North Texas, did mind what she and other former employees of the Dallas-based “breastaurant” chain described in interviews and documents as a toxic work environment, where women employees were routinely pitted against one another, ranked based on arbitrary “tone scores” — evaluations of their bodies — and subjected to verbal harassment from customers and bosses alike.
“It’s taxing, it’s exhausting,” said McBride, a 30-year-old Frisco resident. “Twin Peaks has a way of making you feel like you’re backed into a corner.”
The lodge-themed chain has been expanding rapidly, growing to about 80 corporate-owned and franchised locations around the country — including locations in Austin and Round Rock — since it was founded in 2005.
Its marketing highlights madefrom-scratch bar food, big and omnipresent TVs — the location at Dallas’ Mockingbird Station even has them in individual booths — and beer served at 29 degrees in frosty mugs.
What sets Twin Peaks apart, though, are the “Twin Peaks Girls” — servers who make up the “most talented and best-looking waitstaff in casual dining,” according to Twin Peaks’ website.
Now, as the #MeToo movement forces employers across the world to reckon with harassment women often face on the job, claims like McBride’s raise questions about whether the very notion of a breastaurant can survive the seismic shift.
Can such businesses adapt? Can they address concerns of the women whose work and bodies form the foundation of their success?
Twin Peaks executives, including founder Randy DeWitt, who is CEO of Front Burner Restaurants, declined to be interviewed.
In an emailed statement from the chain’s attorney, Clay Mingus, Twin Peaks executives denied wrongdoing.
“Twin Peaks does not tolerate sexual harassment and we have strict policies and training programs in place to ensure every employee is treated fairly and with respect ... to disparage our entire company based on unsubstantiated allegations from a few disgruntled former employees is unfair and irresponsible,” the statement said.
McBride is among more than two dozen women who have filed discrimination complaints against Twin Peaks with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Chicago-based attorney Tamara Holder said she’s representing about 50 women total who made similar claims.
The Dallas Morning News reviewed 27 complaints, the majority of which contained little detail but alleged discrimination on the basis of sex, race and disability. Women also claimed they were retaliated against for speaking out.
The Morning News spoke with five former employees, three “Twin Peaks Girls,” one female manager and one male manager. Their stories paint a picture of a workplace rife with favoritism and abuse. The environment, the workers said, wore them down, eroding their sense of self day by day.
The ‘tone scores’
McBride first got a job at Twin Peaks late in 2015. Once she started working, she said she learned about an unusual part of the Twin Peaks experience: Preshift rankings, which determined when and where in the restaurant servers would be able to work, which affected how much money they could make.
The women were awarded “tone scores,” where the fat on their backs, stomachs, arms and legs was evaluated. “Corporate” demanded to see photos of women before each shift, which McBride said often came back with criticism.
Twin Peaks said in an emailed response that while “we recognize that the concept may not be for everyone, the essence of Twin Peaks is based in large part on female sex appeal and maintenance of certain image guidelines related to costume, makeup, hair, nails, and tone.”
Performance, too, factors into the rankings.
McBride and other former employees, however, said “tone scores” seemed to become more important following a brief period with a woman CEO, Starlette Johnson, whom the former employees said seemed to be at the forefront of chain-wide efforts to dial back some of the more overtly sexual elements of the job.
But when current CEO Joe Hummel took over in 2016, dress-up days came back — and, employees said, they were made to believe they were mandatory.
Anna Jacobs, a 21-year-old who worked at Twin Peaks in Greenville, S.C., until she quit a few months ago, said before Hummel took over, there was some logic to the grading system. Coming into work on time mattered, knowing the menu mattered.
Afterward, none of it did, she said.
“I had always been at the top, I have a good work ethic, but once I had to talk about my weight, I was always at the bottom,” Jacobs said. “It un-motivates you to work.”
The problem for the women hoping to take legal action, said Joanna Grossman, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, is that to prove sex-based discrimination, it helps to have a male workforce for comparison. But in this case, all the servers are women.
Going forward, Grossman said there’s room to push the law forward for industries that seem to “institutionalize harassment” or bake it into their business models — like breastaurants or professional sports cheerleading squads.
But for now, she said, “nothing’s happening in the law that’s reflective of what’s happening in the culture.”
Pedestrians walks past the Twin Peaks restaurant in Mocking Bird Station in Dallas. The “breastaurant” chain has about 80 locations nationwide.
Crystal McBride, 30, of Frisco, worked for Twin Peaks locations around North Texas. She is one of dozens of women who allege that the Dallasbased company fostered a toxic work environment in which women were ranked based on arbitrary body evaluations and subject to harassment from customers and bosses alike.