Former Employees at Taqueria Nueve Describe Workplace Harassment

“There’s so many small things that he’s done that are not cool. When you add it all together, it’s revolting.”

(Brian Burk)

News of bad behavior sweeping Portland's restaurant industry since June now includes a Buckman neighborhood favorite whose customers are so loyal they once raised $30,000 to bring it back to life.

In the past two weeks, WW has interviewed three former female employees at Taqueria Nueve. They shared similar stories about the restaurant and Brent Richford, its current owner. None of the women has filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries or sued him. But all allege harassment.

One former employee WW spoke to is Bee Filko, 31, who got a job as a server at Taqueria Nueve in July 2018 and was employed there until COVID-19 shut the restaurant down in March.

Filko recalls an incident in which she was taking customers' orders when Richford came up behind her and put his hand on her back. While he was talking to the customers, he unfastened her bra. She had to excuse herself to fasten it back together as she held onto her chest.

She told co-workers and friends about it later that night after they saw she was clearly upset by the incident.

Filko says Richford regularly made what she considered unwanted sexual advances.

"When you're standing at a computer taking an order, he would come up behind me and try to rub my shoulders as he was pulling my waist into his," she says.

Filko says Richford often drank mezcal on the job and his behavior would worsen after a few drinks. (His driving record includes a DUII in 2011 for which he completed diversion.)

Kensey Anderson was 22 when she started working at Taqueria Nueve in 2014. She had moved to Portland from San Luis Obispo, Calif., to pursue a master's degree in contemporary art.

She worked at Taqueria Nueve for almost four years, but after about a year there, in the summer of 2015, Anderson claims Richford physically assaulted her at the nearby Lovecraft Bar.

After a few drinks with Richford and several other employees after work, Anderson says she was dancing with then-Taqueria Nueve manager Lisa Barrett when Richford started grinding on her from behind. He put a hand around her neck, whispered in her ear and then suddenly grabbed a handful of her hair and bent her toward his chest and navel.

"I was shooing him away but trying not to yell at my boss," Anderson says. "The next few years, I felt so much shame that I never spoke up to him."

Barrett, who managed Taqueria Nueve from 2015 to 2018, tells WW she witnessed the incident.

"It was horrifying to watch," Barrett says. "She was frozen in fear."

About a week after the incident at Lovecraft, Anderson says Richford assaulted her again.

"One day during service, I did something he didn't like so he grabbed me around the throat and he shook me and laughed as he was doing it in front of customers, and I just seized up," Anderson says. Anderson quit in March 2018 but says her treatment by Richford still haunts her when she thinks about it.

"Just a bubble that starts here," Anderson says, pointing to her lower abdomen, "and sends chills down the back. If I hear his voice or think I see him, I get pale."

Barrett, 38, says Richford never targeted her, but she felt powerless when she witnessed Richford assaulting Anderson and throughout her time working at Taqueria Nueve, even as a manager.

"I worked there for a lot longer than I ever wanted to, not only because of the financial situation but because I felt like I was the shield trying to protect people from him," Barrett says. "There's so many small things that he's done that are not cool. When you add it all together, it's revolting."

Taqueria Nueve was established in 2000 by Billy Schumaker. Richford was then an employee. The men met in 1998 working at Paley's Place, a fine dining establishment in Northwest Portland.

In 2008, Taqueria Nueve shut down abruptly, leaving loyal customers dismayed. The closure was highly publicized, leaving fans of the restaurant devastated.

In 2014, the business reopened with the help of a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign. Schumaker and Richford posted the names of generous donors, whom they called "La Familia," on the restaurant's soaring pink walls. Schumaker sold his share of the restaurant to Richford in 2017, according to Barrett, and moved out of the country.

Richford would not speak directly to WW but responded in writing to a number of specific allegations. He says there is truth in the allegations.

"In the past, our industry has welcomed a culture where we work hard, party hard and play hard," Richford wrote. "What I recognize now is that what might have been a good time for me wasn't shared by all."

Richford says he will behave better in future and added that he is getting training in management and human resource issues.

"I have lacked professional boundaries with my team. I was insensitive in ways I interacted with people in the moment." Richford wrote. "Going out drinking and partying with our team became more important than running a professional business."

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