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Staff Allege Bounced Paychecks and High Turnover Plagued Oakland Restaurant Hi Felicia Ahead of Sudden Closure

Hi Felicia owner Imana says Hi Felicia closed due to a recent burglary, but workers say there were persistent issues at the restaurant

Hi Felicia Patricia Chang
Dianne de Guzman is a deputy editor at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, upcoming openings, and pop-ups.

Oakland restaurant Hi Felicia closed suddenly on May 24 citing a destructive break-in that apparently left the business in disarray, but now former employees tell the San Francisco Standard that issues have been brewing at the ambitious restaurant for months. Employees allege that as a result of owner Imana’s mismanagement, paychecks bounced, working conditions were strained due to lack of heating and leaks in the kitchen, and that Imana was rarely in the kitchen at all. Several employees left over these issues, the outlet alleges. The guest experience was also apparently impacted, leading to various one-star Yelp reviews and complaints from diners during the restaurant’s one-year tenure.

The Standard spoke to two employees, including Hi Felicia chef de cuisine Selasie Dotse, who says their paycheck bounced three times while working at the restaurant. Dotse and a former cook, Erica Castillo, told the outlet the kitchen was freezing in the winter due to a lack of central heat, forcing them to wear hoodies and beanies during work. A roof leak in the kitchen wasn’t fixed for months, which meant staff couldn’t use the flat-top range during rainy months, they allege.

In response, Imana told the Standard some of the delays in pay were due to employee bank accounts and that she sent advances on “a couple of occasions,” the Standard writes. As for issues around the lack of central heating, Imana says the landlord was responsible, and that the roof leak was eventually addressed. She insists the closure was not related to employee turnover rate, but that it was something she was already considering when the burglary happened. “It didn’t work out on all ends for a lot of reasons,” she wrote in an emailed statement to the Standard. “I will take this moment, publicly, to apologize for actions that made my team feel upset and uncomfortable.”

Walnut Creek gets a new membership-based wine club and bar

The team behind Lafayette’s Hideout Kitchen is set to launch a new wine-and-beer-centric spot in Walnut Creek, after dabbling with a wine club at Hideout Kitchen during the pandemic, the Mercury News reports. The new business is called the Library Social Club, and it’s set to open this month. Memberships range from $100 to $150 a month, in exchange for one to two bottles of wine, access to the space, plus tastings and discounts.

This winemaker is creating his own brand of vino from his Oakland home

East Bay Nosh has a charming profile on Don Henderson, the founder of Hendersons’ Harvest winery, who makes wine in his Oakland home. It began as a hobby after a revelatory trip to Bordeaux, where his wife’s family makes wine in their home garage, 15 years ago. The hobby turned into an official business in 2019 and he now sells a cabernet sauvignon and a sangiovese rosé.

A cocktail bar set to open in Napa

Napa is more traditionally known for its wine, but a cocktail scene is blossoming downtown and new spirits-driven bar the Warren is set to open later this year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The Warren’s trio of owners all have previously worked for celeb chef Jose Andres, and now they’re opening a cocktail bar with inventive drinks and a bites menu spanningshumai, scallop ceviche, and more. Co-owner Michael Iglesias, meanwhile, has been the defendant in two restaurant lawsuits in 2016, the Chronicle notes; he was previously accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit against chef Michael Chiarello and a wage theft claim against Calavera, which he previously co-owned. He denied both charges against him to the paper.