Crispin Mejia, the ex-chef and co-founder of Crispin’s at W52nd Street and 10th Avenue — which rebranded as Sesamo last month — is being sued by his former partners, who say that he ran the business into the ground, Law360 has reported.
Nikita Levitan and Sabrina Gao filed the lawsuit in state court earlier this week, accusing Mejia of a series of problematic behaviors, including sexual harassment, repeatedly showing up to work drunk, and serving expired food.
The trio took over the restaurant in September 2019 (it was previously Decimo from 2018), with each partner owning a third of the company. Gao and Levitan invested $100,000 each but Mejia had no money and instead proposed to invest via “sweat equity.”
According to the lawsuit, the problems started in February 2020, when Mejia was in charge of a construction project that ran both over time and over budget. After a brief closure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant opened up again in June 2020 and Mejia’s behaviors became increasingly erratic. He showed up to work around 4pm and only worked four or five hours a day, frequently forgot to update the restaurant’s inventory — leading to wasted and spoiled food — and was in the habit of letting his friends dine and drink for free, without even tipping the staff.
Mejia also regularly drank on the job and once got so drunk that he “suddenly told all customers that they must leave the restaurant at once.” “More outrageously,” the lawsuit states, Mejia “committed potential sexual harassment against customers, exposing the restaurant to various liabilities.” The complaint describes an instance around February 14, 2021 when Mejia “got visibly drunk and slapped the bottom of a female customer while she was walking to the bathroom.” On March 6, security cameras caught Mejia visibly intoxicated, trying to put his arm around a female customer. After she moved away, he persisted in trying to get close to her until her friend was forced to intervene.
The three partners discussed his behavior in July but after Mejia continued to get drunk, mismanage the restaurant’s day-to-day activities, and overspend on his friend’s tabs, he was officially fired in October.
His partners temporarily closed the restaurant in order to start over from scratch. They’ve since hired a new chef and rebranded as Sesamo, featuring an Italian Asian fusion menu.
“It’s been a crazy 1.5 years at this corner of 52nd and 10th Ave,” Gao told W42ST. “The new brand launches with an Asian-influenced Italian menu with many old Crispin’s favorites but with fresh and new Asian twists. We have a brand new Asian fusion cocktail program with some first in NYC offerings such as boba tea cocktails.”
In a statement, Mejia said the allegations against him were “lies,” and accused his former co-owners of scheming to push him out of the business.
“I’ve been in Hell’s Kitchen for 20 years and this neighborhood knows me and the type of person I am,” Mejia said. “We restarted Crispin’s during Covid and I built it in every way – with my name, my menu and my reputation.“
THIS STORY WAS UPDATED ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2021 AFTER RECEIVING A STATEMENT FROM CRISPIN MEIJA.