LAist dropped a report this morning about sexual harassment allegations, spanning from 2006 to 2014, against current Cafe Stella owner Gareth Kantner. LAist spoke to multiple people, some of whom agreed to go on record and be named, and — in one case — accrued documentation from the California Employment Development Department to back up a claim.
Per LAist’s reporting, the accounts include alleged nonconsensual physical contact with multiple women and one man. One former employee says that Kantner has spent years engaging in “wildly sexually inappropriate” behavior with staff. “Pretty much from the beginning, there was touching,” one source told LAist, “You never knew if you were going to get a man who was going to verbally abuse you or say something wildly sexually inappropriate.”
Kantner, through his lawyer Andrew Brettler, “vigorously denied the accusations” to LAist. He calls one account “highly suspect” and all of the allegations collectively “false and defamatory,” while warning LAist and parent company KPCC of “significant liability” in the wake of the report.
Brettler works at law firm Lavely & Singer, which has previously represented Bill Cosby, Ryan Adams, Bryan Singer, Brett Ratner, and others involved in #MeToo controversies.
The story includes an account from a woman named Julie Grimm Espinoza who filed an unemployment claim with the state of California in 2006 after leaving her server job at Cafe Stella. In the paperwork (obtained by LAist), she claims to “have endured constant sexual behavior, innuendo, erratic rages and been denied compensation of my overtime hours by Mr. Kantner.”
A male employee named Jake Demaray spoke to LAist about his own sexual harassment by Kantner, alleging that the Cafe Stella owner once grabbed his crotch at the restaurant. Demaray also alleges that he confronted Kantner about his behavior towards staff, but that Kantner brushed it off, saying that he “had insurance for that.” Kantner’s lawyers called Demaray’s claims “false.”
In the report, former server Hanne Steen says that Kantner “would kiss my neck,” breathe on her, and whisper things to her, in addition to giving “unsolicited hugs from behind.” The aspiring actress began working at Cafe Stella in 2011, and showed alleged dated journal entries to LAist from her time there that discuss the alleged harassment. Steen reportedly wrote in 2012 that she felt “vulnerable” and “powerless” in the face of the harassment. Kantner’s lawyer described one of Steen’s journal anecdotes as a “self-serving alleged entry,” per LAist. Photographs of the diary and many more details about other allegations and corroborations are included in the report.
Cafe Stella first opened in Silver Lake in 1998, quickly becoming a hit in the changing neighborhood. It continues to draw in crowds thanks in part to its prime location at Sunset Junction — property which is also owned by Kantner (making him the landlord of Intelligentsia next door as well). Kantner also owns Dinette in Echo Park, and has for years been working on an expansion there, as well as a separate restaurant in the back.