Swan’s Market, a meals vacation spot in Oakland, has been hit by battery fees and harassment allegations
In the center of Swan’s Market, chefs sell crispy fish tacos, oyster buttocks, Japanese beef curry and colorful cupcakes in a shared space that is always busy. More than 10 food companies operate in the same building, creating one of the most popular restaurants in Oakland.
However, with this tight configuration, the ability to create tension between neighboring companies increases. That summer, battery, sexual harassment and stalking allegations swirled through Swan’s Market, leaving two popular restaurants in a stalemate. Now the entire food hall is feeling the effects of an incident that has grown into something much bigger. A restaurateur worried about her safety, a neighbor worker worried about prison time, and other Swan workers wonder how they can all get ahead.
At the center of the conflict are Dominica Rice-Cisneros, owner of the Mexican restaurant Cosecha, and Oscar Duran, a waiter in the neighboring Japanese restaurant B-Dama. Rice-Cisneros said Duran physically assaulted her over lunch in late June, but other workers at Swan’s Market say it was wrong.
“This is just another example of women not being taken seriously in business,” said Rice-Cisneros. Following the incident, Rice-Cisneros pushed battery charges against Duran and filed for an injunction. Duran denies anything resembling an attack happened while waiting for a court date.
Rice-Cisneros is one of the most famous food personalities in Oakland. A former Chez Panisse chef who often sparked the revitalization of the historic Food Hall by opening her Mexican cafe in 2011. She has built her reputation on community activism and vocal support for both women in restaurants and immigrants.
Still, several people at Swan’s Market say that Rice-Cisnero’s behavior is aggressive towards workers. When asked about such interactions, Rice-Cisneros pointed to the open floor plan of her restaurant.
“The market has no doors,” said Rice-Cisneros. “I am not hiding from anyone.”
On July 22nd, both parties appeared at the Hayward Hall of Justice, where a judge recommended four-month mediation between the two restaurants and suspended the restraining order until November. Duran will return to a court hearing on Aug. 30 regarding the battery charge misconduct.
What has become known as “the Incident” at Swan’s Market today took place during a busy Friday lunch on June 28th. Rice-Cisneros was clearing a table in a central dining area shared by the four companies surrounding it and was chatting with customers when Duran approached from behind and two loaded trays for a party two tables behind Rice-Cisneros wore.
Jen Fedrizzi / Special on The Chronicle 2016
This is where the accounts begin to differ. Rice-Cisneros said Duran yelled at her to get out of the way and shoved her in the back.
However, Duran said he poked her lightly with a tray when trying to get around her and all he said was “Sorry, in the back” in Spanish.
On July 23, the owner of the Swan’s Market building released security materials for the police and the two restaurants. B-Dama owner Chikara Ono believes the video shows Duran never touched Rice-Cisneros.
Rice-Cisneros didn’t want to see it, however. “I don’t have to see it. I was there, ”she said.
Cosecha owner Dominica Rice-Cisneros accused B-Dama server Oscar Duran of the battery for this interaction on June 28 at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland. Video: San Francisco Chronicle
The security video of the incident reviewed by The Chronicle does not appear to show any pushing or pushing – the two barely appear to be touching. DaMaris Sanagu, the chef for the cook and her farmer, said she could see the interaction and did not see any contact between Rice-Cisneros and Duran.
“I didn’t see any aggression from either,” she said.
After the incident, Rice-Cisneros said she hoped B-Dama owner Ono would take disciplinary action – but Ono believed his employee’s word that he had done nothing wrong.
Rice-Cisneros called the police in dismay the following Monday. The officers came and cited Duran as the battery, finding on their police report that he appeared hostile.
The next week, Rice-Cisneros filed for an injunction. The court document contains other allegations, including sexual harassment and persecution of a Cosecha cashier.
In court on Monday, the judge read a letter from the cashier saying she was not comfortable working in the same room as Duran. He’s been overly friendly since February, tried several times to hug her goodbye, stared hard at her, and once insisted on giving her a piece of chocolate according to her letter.
Duran denies sexually molesting or persecuting the cashier when he actually tried to give her chocolate. Even so, Rice-Cisneros told The Chronicle that Duran’s presence posed a safety risk to young women at Swan’s Market.
“I don’t feel safe taking out the trash or using the bathroom because I have to get past B-Dama,” she said.
Tensions have spread to all restaurant staff.
Jen Fedrizzi / Chronicle Special 2016
Rice-Cisneros said she wanted all B-Dama employees to receive sexual harassment training and that Ono took the matter seriously.
Meanwhile, B-Dama employee Basilia Domingo said in a written statement telling The Chronicle that Rice-Cisneros once dragged her shirt collar across the market asking her to pick up a stray bottle.
“I felt very bad in front of the customers. It was a great shame for me, ”wrote Domingo in Spanish.
Rice-Cisneros denies this but said she is well aware of her reputation as a “mean boss”.
Duran, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, said he was extremely stressed and feared someone would call immigration. He worries about his mother and sister, whom he supports by working 50 to 60 hours a week, including at night in a second restaurant.
“I’m in a panic situation because I think the police will come and take me to jail,” he said.
The conflict has spread to other swan workers who say the atmosphere feels tense.
“It’s not the same anymore. Everyone is calm, ”said Sanagu, the chef at Cook and Her Farmer. “You are scared.”
Janelle Bitker is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker