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.

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