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It should have been easy. The restaurant had put on the same themed dinner three years in a row, even re-using the same advertising. In an alternate reality, chef-owner Patrick Ryan and his staff might have been on autopilot. But in this one, everything was falling apart. Ryan was in a particularly foul mood. After Wright left, server Megan Brigance watched Ryan toss out a chile relleno, thinking he had one too many. When he finished plating the course, he came up one short.

Beneath them, someone was eating food from the trash. Staff who had worked the dinner were shocked, and some discussed quitting. In text messages between Ryan and Wright reviewed by The Pitchthe chef acknowledged the incident.

Party’s over: port fonda’s “cool kid” reputation masked years of sexual harassment, fear, and abuse

They can either quit or get over it. For Wright, that dinner was a turning point. And that all went out the window. At night, the music would pulse loud enough to bury all conversation. Every night felt like a party. Over the past two months, The Pitch spoke to 17 former Port Fonda employees—line cooks, servers, bartenders, managers. Their complaints ranged from sexual harassment to racism to psychological and verbal abuse, primarily from Ryan and his co-owner Jamie Davila.

Jamie Davila could not be reached for comment. After initially agreeing to an interview, Ryan did not return calls or s seeking comment on specific allegations. I feel for all the people who had a negative experience at Port Fonda and genuinely apologize for all the things that did happen. For all the things that were said that did not happen, there is nothing I can do or say or argue to make this situation better.

What I can do is make sure I move forward with integrity and purpose as a person and for the industry. Ryan did not respond to a follow-up requesting clarification on which things did or did not happen. From the early days of the restaurant, Port Fonda felt more like a nightclub than a workplace.

Staff say Ryan and co-owner Jamie Davila would frequently pour staff members shots before service—sometimes, as early as a. Employees say Ryan was also frequently intoxicated while on duty. When he was working the line during brunch shifts, bartenders would pass him quarts of vodka on ice.

When he was out in the restaurant, he would pound shots of Altos tequila. Some employees took it as a cue. One bartender who spoke to The Pitch on condition of anonymity says they felt pressured to participate. He witnessed Ryan and Davila high often and says both Davila and guests of the restaurant had offered him cocaine during shifts.

Caitlin Corcoran, who worked as the bar manager from tosays Ryan would throw plastic containers at her head when he was angry, but the abuse was more often verbal. And for the most part, these were women.

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Rama recalled a particularly brutal incident after the restaurant debuted a new menu. Dixon, who worked at the restaurant for more than five years, saw those incidents as some of the biggest red flags. What I do know is that I try to be better each and every day of my life—some days are easier than others, but the intention is always present. Andrea Peterson, who worked as a server and bartender for about two and a half years, says Davila could be just as volatile at times.

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He says he felt physically threatened by Ryan on multiple occasions. Reynolds drank heavily during shifts to get through the stress of the job.

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That was a turning point. Two months before her due date, he put in his notice. Most certainly ruined my love of the career. Absolutely, absolutely destroyed it. Reid Smith, a kitchen manager from —, recalls a tense atmosphere where, at best, Ryan would deliberately intimidate his staff. At worst, he would lash out in profanity-laden tirades. Many employees, like Reynolds, stayed at Port Fonda for years despite the stress and abuse.

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The money could be good. The staff leaned on each other through the challenges. And on good days, Ryan could be charismatic and fun. He had regulars who loved him. He knew how to make diners feel like the center of the universe. One server, who asked to remain anonymous, worked at Port Fonda for more than six years. She says she knew she should have left sooner, but felt bonded to her coworkers like family.

But somehow, some way, I had Stockholm syndrome and would always come back. If Port Fonda was hostile to employees in general, it could be even more hostile to certain demographic groups. Multiple employees say they heard Ryan express anti-Black sentiments in particular during their tenure. Definitely by Patrick. Was that actually said? Young women had an easier time getting hired at the restaurant—but that could be its own curse. Looks-based discrimination is common—even tolerated—in the restaurant industry. The Civil Rights Act prohibits employee discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, but not based on appearance in general a loophole that keeps places like Hooters in business.

Employees say they witnessed rampant sexual harassment, primarily instigated by Ryan and Davila but occasionally by other male staff. The harassment occurred both inside and outside the restaurant via social media and included sexual innuendo, offensive or crude sexual remarks, sexist comments, and unwanted physical contact. Peterson recalled a sexually charged atmosphere, where degrading comments about women—both staff and patrons—were constant.

The rise of social media has blurred the line between work and personal life in many industries, but in restaurants—which typically lack HR departments—the line can seem especially hazy. Cusick, who was 21 at the time, thought it was strange when Ryan followed her on Instagram from both the Port Fonda and his personal.

Then the DMs started—friendly at first. Once, while closing, Ryan brought a t downstairs and offered it to Cusick while rubbing her shoulders.

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Her response was warm and polite. At the time, getting a job at Port Fonda was a really big deal. Patrick had a lot of connections and if you worked there, you could go work for a bigger-name restaurant. It was a good networking position. But when the business is an independent restaurant with an influential chef-owner—and no clear protocol for reporting harassment—the balance of power is enormously tilted. In a tightly connected industry with high turnover, employees are often afraid to speak out publicly. They never know who their next boss might be.

I was the one that was going to turn it around and how I was going to put people in line. InRyan was nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest—an accolade the restaurant frequently referenced in its advertising. And it just was never clear what he wanted.

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Still, Wright stayed at Port Fonda for five years. After staff finished cleaning that night, Wright says she and Ryan cried together. They hugged. Then he ran both of his hands up the back of her sweater. The restaurant had offered curbside pick-up orders throughout May and had briefly reopened for patio dining in June, but within weeks, a staff member had tested positive for COVID On Sunday, June 21, Ryan met with three managers, including Wright, and informed them that as soon as enough staff tested negative, Port Fonda would reopen for full service, including indoor dining.

Ryan delivered an ultimatum: Staff could get on board with the plan, or he would find new people that would. As of this writing, the restaurant has not yet announced an official reopening date.

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