Cutting Ties

Handline parts ways with Lowell Sheldon

Sebastopol’s Handline shared on social media Friday, Oct. 1, that Lowell Sheldon will no longer be a partner in the restaurant.

The news came  less than a week after original reporting by the Bohemian and the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Sheldon is accused by more than a dozen people of sexual harassment, assault and creating a toxic work environment. 

“Today, after more than a year of negotiations, we are relieved to share that Lowell Sheldon has finally agreed to separate from Handline,” Handline’s Oct. 1 Instagram post reads. “We are not, and have never been, indifferent to these issues.”

Days earlier, on Tuesday, Sept. 28, the restaurant made a separate post acknowledging the allegations and said they were, “taking steps to better prevent and address such issues in the future.” That post was met with dozens of comments by the restaurants’ fans expressing disappointment that Sheldon remained an owner.

Handline, which specializes in “Coastal California” cuisine, was opened in 2016 by Sheldon and Natalie Goble, who was also Sheldon’s romantic partner at the time. Sheldon was a venerated restaurateur whose first restaurant, Lowell’s, was loved for its farm-to-table fare and community ethos.

While Lowell’s was 10 years old before Sheldon opened Handline, his next two Sebastopol partnership ventures followed in quicker succession: Fern Bar, in 2018, and Khom Loi, in 2021. The latter is housed in the former location of Lowell’s, which closed in late 2019.

This year, after former employees of Sheldon’s restaurants spoke publicly about quitting because of him, all three restaurants moved to end their partnerships with Sheldon. At Fern Bar, employee complaints about Sheldon prompted a 2019 HR investigation. While remedial actions were taken, Sheldon was not removed as a partner until April 2021.

On Thursday, Sept. 30, Alexandra Lopez—one of Sheldon’s accusers—wrote on her personal social media, “In the time between the HR investigation in 2019 and the articles coming out this month, Lowell has sexually assaulted AT LEAST one person. I cannot help but think that this could have been prevented if the businesses had made public statements from the beginning.”

Lopez called for the restaurants to share “what policy and structural changes have been made to prevent harassment and toxic behavior.” 

Sheldon has plans to open a bed and breakfast at the Freestone Hotel, a historic landmark in West Sonoma County.

In response to a request for comment, Sheldon wrote the following statement to the Bohemian: “I wish my partners at Handline continued success as we move quickly to conclude our business relationship. Natalie has always run Handline with the utmost care and integrity. I trust that the community can feel that and will continue to support her and all the employees that find meaningful work there. As I step away, please know that I hear and feel the pain that my past behavior has caused. Thank you to all those who spoke their truth. And thank you to my community for holding me accountable.”

Read about how Sheldon created a toxic work environment at Bohemian.com/rotten-core.
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