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Wine Country Restaurateur Faces Allegations of Sexually Harassing Employees

Plus, the oldest restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf is being sued for unpaid rent and more intel

Peter Lowell’s Peter Lowells
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

Welcome to a.m. Intel, your bite-sized roundup of Bay Area food and restaurant news. Tips are always welcome, drop them here.

Nearly a dozen former employees have accused Sebastopol restaurateur Lowell Sheldon — who’s been involved a number of wine country restaurants and bars including Handline, Fern Bar, and Khom Loi — of sexual harassment and creating a toxic work environment, primarily at his now-closed restaurant Lowell’s. The SF Chronicle spoke to 11 former staffers who shared a range of disturbing stories: six women alleged Sheldon engaged in a “pattern of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments,” while all 11 described a work environment in which staff were fearful of being “subjected to harsh criticism” by Sheldon.

According to Jesse Hom-Dawson, former communications director for Sheldon’s three restaurants, Sheldon once invited her to “come sit on daddy’s lap” while she and other employees were drinking at a bar after work. The incident, which occurred in 2019, spurred Alexandra Lopez, who was then a manager at Fern Bar, to send a letter to Sheldon and his business partners “accusing him of abusing his power and sexually harassing employees.” Other women told the Chronicle that Sheldon would “press his body against” them while reaching for glassware or pots; one woman told the Chronicle Sheldon pushed her against a counter and “forcibly kissed her.”

In response to the letter, Sheldon’s partners hired an investigator to look into the allegations and ultimately worked to buy him out of two businesses, Fern Bar and Khom Loi. At Handline, the restaurant’s ownership has been “unable to reach an agreement for terms” but say Sheldon has been removed as a managing partner. Lowell told the Chronicle he “regrets” the “daddy’s lap” comment but denied all other allegations. He’s currently working to open a bed-and-breakfast inn at the Freestone Hotel in Sonoma County. [SF Chronicle]

Castagnola’s is being sued for $300K back rent

Castagnola’s, the longest continually running restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf, is being sued for more than $300,000 in back rent, the SF Business Times reports. The two-story restaurant space is owned by the Port of San Francisco and has sat dark since March 2020, though its owners have not publicly announced its permanent closure. Now, in a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court by the City and County of San Francisco on behalf of the Port of San Francisco, the city says owner Katherine Higdon made no effort to take advantage of “any of the financial relief the Port offered” and has “allowed the property to fall into disrepair.” [SF Business Times]

Sacramentans are sick of being overlooked by Michelin

In a lengthy report from Sacramento Bee writer Benjy Egel, Sacramento restaurant owners expressed frustration with scope of the Michelin Guide’s coverage of the city’s restaurants. Even Visit Sacramento CEO Mike Testa says he wishes Michelin inspectors would venture beyond the Sacramento city limits to try restaurants in surrounding areas such as Granite Bay and Davis. [Sacramento Bee]

And here’s a short history of ‘the longest’ bar in San Francisco

File this away under interesting SF history: “Bradley’s 5 and 10, a watering hole on Fillmore Street, was 167 feet long,” and billed itself as the longest bar in the world. SFGate dives deep into the bar’s history including how it once served a huge sandwich aptly named “Gigantic” for a mere 20 cents and advertised itself as employing “tallest and shortest bartenders on Earth.” [SFGate]