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What Happened at Alderwood: Employees Speak, Restaurant Still Closed

Police investigate what some say was a hate crime

Alderwood says it had no choice but to fire an employee. Others say the employee was defending himself in the midst of a hate crime. PHOTO: JACOB PIERCE

It’s been nearly three weeks since a fight erupted at the downtown Santa Cruz restaurant Alderwood and more than one week since outrage boiled over on social media over the fine-dining establishment’s firing of a chef whom critics believe was targeted by a hate crime.

In the aftermath of the controversy, at least half of the business’ staff walked out. Now, Alderwood is closed. Its website is down, and so is its Facebook page. The restaurant has not posted anything to its Instagram profile since June 23, when management shared a brief account of the fight in response to online criticism and insisted that Alderwood does “not support racism, bigotry or prejudice in any way.” The restaurant has been closed ever since.

There has been no publicly announced timetable for reopening.

Former Alderwood employee Gabby Rokeach—who recently resigned from the restaurant due to the events and was working as the manager on duty the night of the June 18 incident—says she’s been troubled by the way her former bosses handled the situation, both publicly and within the company. She didn’t like, for instance, that Chef Jeffery Wall told KION both sides were responsible for the fight. That wasn’t the way she viewed the events.

As a matter of fact, the two men who went on television to explain Alderwood’s version of the events were not actually at the restaurant on the night of the incident, she says, nor were they proactive about reaching out to those who witnessed it. 

“It feels twisted,” says Rokeach, who is also the girlfriend of the fired chef and victim. That employee, who asked to remain anonymous, was at Alderwood on June 18 with his friends dining on a company gift card—something management encouraged employees to do, Rokeach says.

Before the fight broke out, one of the two involved parties—a large group that had been drinking heavily, Rokeach says—carelessly knocked over a wooden and glass divider onto the off-duty chef, who is Filipino, and his friend group on the other side three times. The chef on the other side grew more vocally frustrated. The group walked over to the other side of the divider, with one of the men telling the off-duty chef and his friends “We’re spending more money than you,” Rokeach says. The chef and the restaurant staff asked the group to be more careful, and the group walked back to their table, Rokeach says. Then, almost immediately after, the group knocked over the divider a fourth time—this time on purpose—Rokeach says, prompting the off-duty employee to yell at the larger group.

Rokeach says the group walked back to the other side and started crowding around the employee and yelling “White America,” as well as a homophobic slur. 

After three men closed around her boyfriend and pressed their bodies up against his, Rokeach says her boyfriend spilled his water on the larger group, and they retaliated by punching him. She says her boyfriend tried to defend himself but that they pulled him out of his chair and threw him on the ground. Rokeach says a woman, who was with the group, continued to yell, “White America!”

The chef tells GT he’s confident that racial bias played a role in how the large group behaved. “There was absolutely a racial component to it,” he says.

A different employee, who was working that night—another person of color, who shielded his coworker from many of the blows—was badly hurt and got taken to the emergency room in an ambulance, Rokeach says.

The incident comes at a time of racial reckoning in the U.S., as people call for action to address systemic racism in the country and locally. There have been several suspected hate crimes in recent weeks in Santa Cruz.

Rokeach says she and others tried to calm tensions earlier in the evening when the group repeatedly knocked over the divider. She regrets that she was not able to further de-escalate the situation.

“I’m 23, and I was a manager, and I was the only one on duty,” she says. “I had never encountered situations like this, and I’ve apologized deeply to my staff for not knowing how to deal with it. I didn’t know how to de-escalate this correctly.”

Rokeach says she was disappointed that Alderwood management never held a company meeting about the incident after the fact, despite repeatedly telling her they would. Management also has not released any video footage of the events.

Police responded to the incident, but no one has been charged.

Although GT has been unable to reach the restaurant’s management, Alderwood investor Ahmed Hamdy told KSBW that the team decided to ban both parties involved in the fight from the restaurant because the incident got out of hand.

He also told the KSBW reporter that the restaurant, which first opened in late 2018, decided to close for the safety of the remaining staff.

“We have to think about what’s next and how we can reach out to the community and have a dialogue with the community,” Hamdy said. “We feel we’ve been treated unfairly in this whole situation.”

Lt. Warren Barry of the Santa Cruz Police Department, whose officers responded to the June 18 disturbance, says police are investigating the matter.

On the evening of the incident, Barry says the department separated the two parties and collected statements. He says some of those statements conflicted with one another and that some of the participants in the fight did not wish to press charges. Barry says the department is waiting on an additional piece of footage from an individual in hopes that it will help determine what happened.

“There is plenty of second-hand information and commentary. We are really working on getting the facts, and statements from people who actually witnessed the event before the fight, to determine the crime and applicable charges,” Barry says via email.

Anyone with footage of the incident, a witness account, or factual information may contact the department at 831-420-5800. 

Although Barry says hate crimes can be challenging to investigate, he stresses that the department takes them seriously.

“The Santa Cruz Police Department does not tolerate hate crimes, these cases are taken seriously,” he writes, “and once determined we will work with the District Attorney’s Office to ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

A fundraiser is underway to support the Alderwood workers who have been displaced from work. It has raised more than $5,000.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Mikey

    July 26, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    Just now reading about this disgusting cowardly act by drunk racists at Alderwood. To me the instigating and beyond is a by-product of (1) the Pandemic and people unable to cope sanely with unprecedented results of it everywhere but more importantly (2) this President for the last 3.5 years and his Instigation of this kind of conduct by his MAGA philosophy and his daily denigration of non whites, Dems, Women who speak up against him, and anyone PERIOD who speaks up against him.
    Three Drunk Cowards on one Filipino. I am white and married long ago into a large Filipino family all of whom were born in this county. If they were eating as a group there and the confrontation happened it would have been Hell to pay for the whiteys.
    But I’m quite sure that cowards wouldn’t have instigated anything in that situation drunk or not. Hell to Pay needs to come swiftly from law enforcement serving up a Big Can of Justice. 🤞🤞🤞

  2. Mack Markus Eldon

    July 10, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    The “Woke White”….
    That is the script I am currently working on. It revolves around a group of pale white Santa Cruz citizens who will do whatever it takes to “cancel” a business they consider to be racist.
    Just kidding. “Us”, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to “Get Out” already took place in Santa Cruz….
    I’m thinking my film can center on a group of pale skinned revolutionists from………. Scotts Valley? Felton maybe?
    Moving on: Have any of you “enlightened” locals considered that shutting down Alderwood means that many people of color (with families) are now unemployed?
    I doubt it. And that-my doubt- is the reason I moved away from Santa Cruz. I have seen this whole debacle unfold during a family visit.
    Those of you who write in and complain that the restaurant management is racist for the decision they were forced to make….shut up. Just shut up.
    You do not know the ethnic background of all who have been impacted by Alderwood’s closure, nor do you realize the pain it has caused for those (non-white) employees who now have to figure out which employer is next to help support his/her family.
    I get it. Growing up in Santa Cruz, I saw plenty of whiteys- blonde dreads, flip-flops, many of whom have never had a real relationship with a “person of color”, but so quick to claim injustice only to satiate their own white guilt flare-up.
    Bottom Line:
    Management is not racist, the chef could have made a better decision of how to react AND I hope those who started the trouble are held accountable. That’s about it. If you have a problem with my viewpoint, go ahead and reply-I always enjoy a debate with someone who refuses deodorant.

  3. Stephen Foster

    July 9, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    @Karen. 100% agreed! Justice needs to be served.

  4. Stephen Foster

    July 9, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    @John. If the deplorable customers hadn’t instigated, none of this would have happened. I’m not going to get into a debate with you about the definition of “root cause”. And besides, the entire point of my comment was to defend the poor on-duty manager; that last sentence you cherry-picked from the rest was meant to take away inappropriate attention from her and point it back at the bigoted customers.

    While I disagree with management’s decision to terminate the employee, given the abhorrent provocation by the customer, it is not necessary to respond to violence with violence. Sure, we can all understand why he reacted the way he did. Many of us would probably react the same way (for the record, I would have fought back as well and gotten my butt kicked in the process). However, that doesn’t mean it was the only option. There are consequences to the choices we make. Right or wrong, we have to be accountable for those choices and the consequences that follow. But just because he was fired makes him no less a hero. In reality, the fact that he put his livelihood on the line to stand up to racism makes him even more of a hero. And his coworkers who left in protest and as a gesture of solidarity and support…they’re heroes, too.

    Owning a business and managing people is not easy. Please consider this:

    Per California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), under Misconduct MC 390 | Relations with Coworkers and Customers, “… even if “goaded” or “baited,” the employee owes an obligation to the employer to remain courteous. Failing that may result in a discharge for misconduct.”

    https://www.edd.ca.gov/UIBDG/Misconduct_MC_390.htm

    Yes, there is a gray area here (there always is). I stand with the employees who chose to quit in solidarity with the terminated employee, though it deeply saddens me, because Alderwood will never be the same (the people make the place!). At the same time, I also stand with the head chef, who is taking a very unfair public beating. He has stated multiple times strong anti-racist and anti-homophobic statements, and even admitted on KSBW that, “The security footage shows both sides escalating the situation, and perhaps not an [sic] equal measure, but it’s important to note it was violent.” Note: “perhaps not in equal measure”. He also admitted, “What we messed up on was we didn’t communicate more openly with the staff about what had happened in a timely matter.” But despite his strong statements condemning racism on social media, he has been viciously attacked with profanity-laced, hate-filled rhetoric, and even accused of being a racist. That is polemic. He is in an awkward position and he too, is a hero for standing up against racism in a public forum that is attacking him.

    While I (and we) may disagree with the ultimate decision to terminate the employee, he was terminated within the boundaries of EDD law, as quoted above. Unfortunately, the inciters that evening have caused the entire Alderwood family to make very difficult decisions; decisions that are far too easy for the rest of us to chime in with our opinions on what we would have done had we been there. We weren’t there.

    Our empathy and support should be extended to ALL of them.

    I hope and pray the perpetrators (all of them, but especially the burly white male) are charged with a hate crime under California Penal Code 422.55 and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  5. S. Anonymous P.

    July 9, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    I’ve been the victim of racism SO MANY TIMES in Santa Cruz. Someone at Trader Joe’s in Capitola yelled at me “Look at her! She’s SICK! She has it!!!” is the latest example because I’m Asian. I’ve heard many times the word “Mulatto,” used by locals here as well as “Are you even from here?” “Go back over the hill!” I was BORN HERE.

    Racism is everywhere.

    We need to bind together. We are 1 race. The Human Race!

  6. John

    July 8, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    @Stephen Foster
    The “root cause” of the problem that resulted in the closure of the restaurant is NOT the repugnant behavior of the white supremacists who assaulted the employees.
    It is the repugnant response of the owners to this incident, particularly the firing of the employee who was attacked, that is causing the outrage and will hopefully result in a new business with new owners opening up to take its place.

  7. Roy Jordan

    July 8, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Trumpster Sheeple Unite!
    As long as the: “Tweeter In Chief” is P.O.T.U.S. this will be an ongoing problem everywhere.

  8. Karen

    July 7, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    The injured employee who received medical care should definitely press charges and lawyer up!!!

  9. Stephen Foster

    July 7, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Hey, please don’t drag the manager down. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but she actually lived through this traumatic event and as you can see from her statement, she is still beating herself up. Hindsight is 20/20 and in my opinion, it is indecent to double down on her when she is already punishing herself. The staff, including on-duty management, was obviously slimmer than normal due to the pandemic and lower customer count. Let’s keep our focus on the root cause: the malevolence of the customers who started the brawl.

  10. Stephanie little wolf

    July 7, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    This is a simple hate crime and a racist bigot caused it, with a cheering section yelling white American white power. That is insitgating a riot I’m afraid. Gross. They instigated the whole thing and restaurant management should have asked them to leave right away after they knocked down the divider the fist time. Its hard to imagine she hasn’t dealt with drunks before if she is a manager. She also could have moved the other group with the Chef. Poor untrained management and a bunch of drunk racists. Shame on the ownership for firing the chef. WTF That’s just a racist.

  11. Stephen Foster

    July 7, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    When will the inciting customers come out from their hiding place and publicly apologize for this tragedy? Oh yeah, you probably won’t, since it appears you have the mental capacities of poorly raised and unsupervised 5-year old bullies. Sure, there are a few things at play here, but you, acting as abhorrent perpetrators, are ultimately responsible for (a) unspeakable bigotry and violence, (b) getting yourselves banned from a restaurant where you allegedly “spend a lot of money”, (c) getting all of the patrons banned from a beloved restaurant due to the indefinite closure (yeah, I also spend “a lot of money” there and my wife and I consider every gracious and wonderful employee part of our extended family), and (d) putting every single employee out of work, at a time when they were just beginning to return and desperately need the income. Even with your low-to-no level of integrity and self-awareness, you now need to donate “a lot of money” to these out-of-work employees. You can do that here if you have even the slightest shred of decency:

    https://gf.me/u/ydms7b

  12. Robyn Marks

    July 7, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Ah yes, “liberal” Santa Cruz, unless someone with money causes trouble, then the person they attack is the problem. Management at Alderwood is as mealy mouthed as trump talking about “blame on both sides”. The manager should have called the cops and had the unruly group escorted out before it got to this stage.

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