Historic Wine Country hotel moves forward with restaurateur accused of sexual misconduct, despite calls to sever ties

Two partners in the historic Freestone Hotel said they will not sever ties with prominent Sonoma County restaurateur Lowell Sheldon, despite calls that he step down after nearly a dozen former employees accused him of either sexual misconduct or creating a toxic work environment.

Co-owner Jeffrey Berlin said he and his partner, Noah Churma, have decided to keep Sheldon at the helm of their redevelopment plan for the nearly 150-year-old landmark, but Sheldon will not be involved in day-to-day operations. Berlin will oversee them instead, and the partners intend to hire a third-party human resources organization for the project, which includes an inn and wine-focused restaurant.

Berlin said that he has witnessed Sheldon working toward “addressing the mistakes he’s made in the past” and called allegations such as a pattern of unwanted touching “agenda-based press.”

“While I believe wholeheartedly in the dismantling of the patriarchy and shining a spotlight on every manifestation of misogyny in our society, I am not the kind of person that turns his back on a friend when they have made mistakes and are genuinely trying to learn from and correct them,” Berlin wrote in an email to The Chronicle.