Featured photo: Reno Brasil, the manager at Embur Fire Fusion in Greensboro is being accused of sexual harassment, racism and verbal abuse by multiple former employees. (photo illustration)
UPDATE 7/29/2021: This article was updated to include the account of Frances Harvey, a former female employee at Embur who said she had sexual relations with Brasil and was retaliated against once she stopped having sex with him.
CORRECTION 7/29/2021: According to Mikel Leka, the owner of Dolce & Amaro Artisan Bakery, Koco Tamburi has not been associated with the patisserie since 2019. We have updated this information in this article.
Jei Sanchez remembers waking up and feeling physically sick one morning in mid-March. The night before, their manager had taken them outside of Embur Fire Fusion, a Peruvian Italian restaurant they worked at and yelled at them while furiously kicking boxes. Sanchez, who is gender nonconforming but often presents as female, is one of six former employees who are speaking out against Renato Brasil, otherwise known as Reno, the front-of-house manager at Embur in Greensboro. Sanchez and others spoke with Triad City Beat about their experiences working with Brasil who they say exhibits a pattern of verbal abuse, sexual misconduct and racism towards co-workers and customers. The employees also allege a culture of acceptance by owners Koco Tamburi and Jorge Castillo, who own Embur and the fine-dining Italian restaurant Osteria.
Sanchez, who quit working at Embur after the incident in March, was initially hired by Brasil in December 2020 as a server. In the beginning, Sanchez says that they were excited to be working for the restaurant.
“When I first got hired there, I remember being really happy because everyone was so nice and kind and it seemed like such a great place to work,” Sanchez said. “And I remember thinking how lucky I was to be at a place that was so welcoming and thoughtful. But that idea quickly changed.”
Over the next few months, Sanchez said that Brasil worked to develop a relationship with them that made Sanchez feel uncomfortable.
“From the beginning, Reno was very affectionate with me,” they said. “At first I didn’t think much of it because I’m used to being close to my managers, but I noticed fairly quickly that it was like he was trying to earn my trust or make me trust him. It felt like he was going easier on me when hard things happened. He would be very sweet to me like, ‘Oh Jei, you look so lovely today.’”
Sanchez also noted that Brasil would often put his hands on their lower back or on their shoulders during their shifts with them.
Brasil would tell Sanchez about interactions he’s had with women, including former female Embur employee, Frances Harvey.
UPDATED 7/29/2021: Harvey, who is currently 22 years old, told TCB that she began a brief consensual sexual relationship with Brasil shortly after she began working at Embur in November 2019. Harvey was 20 years old at the time while Brasil was about 33. According to Harvey, she and Brasil started hanging out and having sex roughly once a week until she left to study abroad in Argentina in February 2020.
“All of our interactions would lead to sex,” Harvey said. “We would just hang out. It was a hookup.”
However, when she came back from studying abroad, Harvey said that her relationship with Brasil changed. Earlier this year, when the pandemic forced Harvey to return to the US, she said she considering seeing Brasil again. She hadn’t come back to work at Embur yet when she went over to his house some time in late May or early June. She said that the two were hanging out and watching a movie, fully clothed. She remembers lying on her stomach when Brasil pulled her pants down and started having sex with her. He never asked for consent, Harvey said.
“I was kind of just laying there the whole time, and I remember feeling like, This is what it feels like to not want to do this right now,” she said. “I just remember being like, I cannot imagine not asking consent. He had to know that I was not interested. The body language is off; the whole thing was off.”
A few days later, Harvey said she returned to Brasil’s house to tell him how she felt. She said she didn’t feel the sex was consensual and told him that she “didn’t like the way [they] had sex last time” and that she didn’t want to see him anymore.
“It felt very different from the relationship we had before,” she said. “I remember just being more of an adult in the situation. He just brushed it off like it was nothing. The whole situation felt immature, and he’s 13 years older.”
Harvey quit Embur earlier this year.
Sanchez, who was hired after Harvey, said they have never had any relationship outside of work with Brasil but that he regularly made explicit comments about female coworkers and customers, particularly when other male employees were around.
“He would make comments about women, mostly derogatory things about people he was sleeping with like, ‘Oh yeah, I fucked this girl,’” Sanchez said. “It just showed that he didn’t have any respect for the women he was seeing or sleeping with.”
As TCB has reported in the past, sexual misconduct is not uncommon in the restaurant industry.
According to 2017 analysis by Buzzfeed, there are more sexual harassment claims filed in the restaurant industry than any other industry in the US, with as many as 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men reporting some form of sexual harassment. Other reports cited by the Harvard Business Review make the case that because men make up the majority of management and higher-paying roles, that often, young, female employees that work under them do not feel empowered to speak out when they face sexual harassment.
And just in the past year in North Carolina, multiple cases of sexual harassment and even assault have surfaced from prominent restaurants. Last summer, former and current employees at Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana in Raleigh spoke out against a culture of sexual misconduct and an abuse of power at the restaurants. Employees accused co-owner Van Nolintha, beverage director Jordan Hester and front-of-house manager Casey Hester of a variety of misconduct. As of November 2020, all of the restaurants’ upper management has resigned or been fired. Jordan Hester is facing criminal peeping charges unrelated to his conduct at the restaurants and Casey Hester is no longer at the company, according to reporting by Eater.
In another instance, an employee who worked at Ashley Christensen’s flagship restaurant, Poole’s Diner, posted publicly on social media about being assaulted by two different employees during her time working there, according to reporting by Indy Week. And more recently, a waitress who formerly worked at a Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Durham is suing the restaurant chain for “unwelcome suggestive comments, sexual advances and other forms of sexual harassment” by coworkers and customers, according to the News & Observer.
Like with Poole’s Diner, the allegations against management at Embur first surfaced publicly on social media.
On Sunday, former employee Jeff Love, who began working at Embur as a bartender in November 2019, posted on Facebook about his experience working with Brasil. Love worked his last shift at Embur on July 23, after getting tired of working with Brasil and finding another job.
“Almost every shift, he would speak about employees or customers,” Love told TCB. “Pretty much any young woman who would come in he would talk about, and he would also talk about customers he had slept with. He would talk about their breasts or butts or their body shape or if it was someone very young, he would say something like, ‘As long as they’re legal; come on we’re men right?!’”
Another former female employee who worked with Brasil in the past year said he would touch her on the back or shoulders when he came up to talk to her. According to the employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, Brasil didn’t touch the male employees the same way. The former employee also echoed many of the other employees’ remarks that Brasil would speak explicitly about female customers, pointing out their body parts. One time, the employee remembers, Brasil said, “I like girls that look like a bitch.”
After Sanchez and a female employee were hired last year, Love said Brasil began talking about wanting to have sex with the new employees.
“Reno was always talking about these two new servers sexually to anyone who would listen,” Love said. “He would say things like, ‘Oh my god her tits, her ass, I don’t know which one I want to fuck more. One or both of them?’ And he would only say this when there were other men around.”
Roland Burnot, who worked at Embur from Aug. 2020 until Feb. 2021, was one of the male employees who was present when Brasil made the remarks about Sanchez and the other employee.
“After I started working there, we got a couple of new hires because some people had left and at the time, that’s what Reno was talking about the most,” Burnot said. “I’ve heard countless things whether it’s like, ‘Look at this person’ or ‘Look at that body part.’ It was definitely just objectifying their like rear end or chest.”
Burnot said that he heard Brasil make comments about female customers as well. He felt that Brasil was trying to promote a “locker room” culture.
“There was this a large atmosphere of objectifying women and him coming after you if you weren’t saying anything,” Burnot said. “He would be like, ‘Right? This is fine right?’ like looking for confirmation or justification…. The biggest thing was that there was a sort of egging on type of thing where you were encouraged to like objectify women. You were encouraged and cheered on; it was just a very weird environment.”
Burnot left in February after finding another job.
‘Why aren’t you talking to me?’
In addition to making remarks, Sanchez and others allege that Brasil exhibited a predatory, possessive attitude towards some of the female employees. Over the course of the three months that Sanchez worked at the restaurant, they said that they became increasingly uncomfortable with Brasil’s treatment of them from the sexual comments he made to the physical touches. At one point, they made it a point to tell Brasil they had a romantic partner but that didn’t stop Brasil from trying to get close to them. When Sanchez and their partner broke up a few months later, Sanchez made the decision to stop being friendly with Brasil in the hopes that he would leave them alone.
“I had broken up with my partner and Reno knew, and at that point, I had decided to back off in my friendliness with him,” Sanchez said. “I knew he was going to keep making advances towards me, so I was just trying to strictly be professional and not be friends with him.”
One afternoon, Sanchez said they went into work and responded to Brasil’s greeting with a short reply. No small talk, more stoicism. Shortly afterwards, Sanchez said Brasil approached them and asked them if they “needed to be sent home.” When Sanchez asked what he was talking about, Brasil responded that they “needed to get their shit together” and threatened to send Sanchez home again. Throughout the shift, Brasil’s mood worsened and led to him nitpicking Sanchez’s performance. He commented on how they were putting wine glasses away too loudly and criticized them for their wine pour.
“He was harassing me the entire night because I wasn’t being friendly enough with him,” Sanchez said.
UPDATED 7/29/2021: According to Harvey, Brasil also began critiquing her at work after she told him she didn’t want to have sex with him anymore.
“He would get extremely angry at me for small things and reprimand me,” Harvey recalled.
She also noted, like with Sanchez, that he used the threat of reducing her hours as leverage.
“The final straw was him threatening me to not put me on the weekday schedule,” Harvey said. She told TCB she quit shortly afterwards.
According to the female employee who worked with Brasil in the past year, they quit after finding working with him to be uncomfortable.
“It was never anything super obvious but it was subtle flirtations that I felt I had to adapt to to keep my job,” she said. “He is very quick to get offended if he gets rejected. It’s like you can feel the storm inside of him brewing. I felt like I had to make myself less and fall into that helpless woman role to keep myself safe.”
According to Sanchez, as Brasil’s mood soured that evening, he started making mistakes like serving the wrong wine or putting in the wrong food orders, which he then blamed on Sanchez. Towards the end of the night, while Sanchez was talking with Jeff Love, who was working at the bar that night, Brasil approached Sanchez and asked them to come with him outside.
Confused, Sanchez followed an angry Brasil through the kitchen, out the back of the restaurant into the back parking lot where they say Brasil began yelling and kicking nearby boxes and trash.
“He started getting really, really angry and starts yelling at me and telling me how gross I am,” Sanchez said. “And then he asks, ‘Why are you all up Jeff’s ass? You’re not talking to me, but you’re talking to Jeff? Why aren’t you talking to me? I’m your manager.’”
Sanchez said that Brasil then made them sit on the curb while he towered over them and continued to yell. He became red-faced and started to laugh while shouting. Sanchez said at that point, they were afraid that Brasil would get violent.
“He kept coming closer and closer and getting in my face and telling me off and insulting me and telling me how disgusting how I am, and I was like, Oh my god, is this guy going to touch me? I don’t know what I’m going to if he touches me,” they recalled.
Then Brasil threatened to cut their hours. Sanchez said they started to cry, and that made Brasil berate them even more.
“He started saying, ‘Do you even want to work here? I’ll stop scheduling you until you can’t work here anymore,’” Sanchez said. “And I’m like shaking and crying and he says, ‘Don’t do that; don’t give me that. I don’t give a fuck; go ahead and try it.’”
After about 10 minutes, both of them went back inside.
For the rest of the night, Sanchez said that Brasil followed them around as they continued to work. If they poured wine, Brasil would come up to them smirking and say, “See, that wasn’t so hard was it?”
Love, who was manning the front of the restaurant alone during the incident, said he remembers hearing Brasil shouting when he went to the kitchen to retrieve something from the walk-in cooler. He also recalls seeing Sanchez upset after they came back inside. At the end of the shift after Sanchez left, Love said Brasil came up to him and explained why he was upset.
“He admits that he was upset because [Sanchez] was talking to me,” Love said. “He says to me, ‘I know that you’re handsome and charming and have the gift of gab, but I’m the manager here.’”
The next day, Sanchez called owner Koco Tamburi and quit.
The former female employee said that they have witnessed Brasil’s fluctuations in mood, too.
“There were many times where I walked into a shift and I could tell he was in a really bad mood or he would flip a switch suddenly,” she said. “When he’s upset, he totally shuts down and he will disrespect you in front of anyone at the drop of a hat.”
While Brasil declined an interview with TCB for this article, according to one former employee, Brasil has worked with Tamburi for years.
The employee, who worked at Osteria in 2016 and spoke to TCB on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that Brasil has been with the restaurant group since they opened Osteria in 2013.
“He has worked with Koco the entire time Koco has been in business,” they said. “He was definitely one of the more well-established people there.
Based on photos posted on his Facebook page and his LinkedIn profile, Brasil graduated with an associate of arts in the culinary arts as well as in hospitality administration/management from Guilford Technical Community College. He attended the school starting in 2018 and graduated this year. His LinkedIn profile also notes that he has been working as the restaurant manager at Embur since May 2019. In a News and Record article from 2010, Brasil is cited as having worked at Chili’s in Greensboro. In the article, Brasil is noted as being 24 years old which would put him at around 35 years old today. According to Love, who is also in his mid-30’s, the two are around the same age. Brasil’s Facebook profile also shows that he is currently in a relationship with a woman.
After his outburst with Sanchez in March, Tamburi told Sanchez that he would pay for Brasil to attend anger management classes. To that, Sanchez replied that they wanted to see receipts as proof. To date, Sanchez said they have not seen any evidence that Brasil has taken such classes.
‘He just wanted to tell me I was lying’
When Jei Sanchez told Tamburi they were quitting, Tamburi asked Sanchez if they had been in a relationship with Brasil. When Sanchez responded that they had not, Tamburi seemed unconvinced that Brasil would act that way.
“He said, ‘Well Reno would never do this,’” Sanchez said.
As Sanchez told Tamburi what happened, they said the owner would then hang up and call Brasil to get his response. Tamburi would then counter Sanchez’s account by sticking up for Brasil.
“The entire time that I’m trying to tell him that your manager has been harassing people, he would not believe me,” Sanchez said. “He just wanted to tell me I was lying.”
Love, who said that he often got into arguments with Brasil at work, said he, too, was repeatedly dismissed by both Tamburi and Jorge Castillo when he brought allegations against Brasil to them. More recently, Love told Castillo he was going to go public with his story and asked Castillo to remove Brasil from a management position.
“He kept saying, ‘I don’t know anything about that, I just do my job over here and I don’t worry about it,’” Love said.
On July 23, Love sent a group message to his co-workers outlining many of his grievances against Brasil, including the instances of sexual misconduct. In the message, Love states that he has spoken to Castillo, but that Castillo said “he didn’t know about these things and this is why Reno has been allowed to continue working at Embur.”
While both Love and Sanchez’s allegations are from the past two years, the former employee who worked with Brasil in 2016 said that the culture of accepting Brasil’s problematic behavior is not new.
The employee said that they witnessed Brasil’s sexist remarks when they worked as a server at Osteria. At the time, Brasil was also a server there and had not worked up to manager yet.
“Any time any woman would walk by, he would talk about their bodies,” they said. “He would almost comment always on their ass like, ‘Oof’ or ‘I wonder what she’s doing later.’
“When it came to customers and women especially, he never showed an inkling of respect,” they continued.
And despite Brasil’s regular comments, the employee said that Tamburi never reprimanded him for his behavior. And that’s likely due to the close relationship the two have.
“It’s unfortunate that Koco allows it,” they continued.
The former employee said they can understand not wanting to speak out against Brasil, who they said has a “very, very short temper.”
“It didn’t take much to set him off at all,” they said. “He’s very rough around the edges…. If Reno didn’t have things the way Reno wanted them, he didn’t care about other people thought of him, he would just do whatever he wanted to do.”
‘Not a single redeeming quality in that race’
In addition to the allegations of sexual misconduct, Love stated that Brasil made racist comments about certain customers and that he would apply the auto gratuity to groups based on race.
“He’s very racist against Asians,” Love said. “One time he said something about how there was ‘not a single redeeming quality in that race,’ and I just looked at him, mouth open. I didn’t even know how to respond.”
The anonymous employee who worked with Brasil in 2016 said that when the High Point Furniture Market came to town, many Asian customers would come to Osteria. They said they too, witnessed Brasil making derogatory remarks about Asians and how they didn’t tip well. Both Love and the former employee said that Brasil would often apply an automatic group tax to groups of Black or Brown customers but would not do so for white parties. According to both employees, the company policy was to apply an auto gratuity to groups that had at least eight customers. But on more than one occasion, Love said he witnessed Brasil applying the tip to a smaller group of Latinx customers.
“It was clearly a lot of just inconsistency in his autogratting policy and that seemed to be the theme that it was generally based on race from my observation and things that he would say,” Love said.
The former employee reiterated Love’s assertion.
“Koco would allow [Brasil] to autograt tables of people of color, pretty much anyone who wasn’t white,” they said. “[Brasil] expected a certain kind of people to be there and if they weren’t he was really rude to them to their faces.”
Sanchez also noted that they witnessed Brasil speaking disparagingly about Black customers, particularly when they asked for extra things like more sauce. They also remember Brasil stating that Black customers don’t tip.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Brasil stated that he and the owners were “taking legal action.” Owner Tamburi declined to comment and instead, directed questions to Stanley Hammer, an attorney with the Wyatt Early Harris Wheeler firm in High Point. Hammer specializes in commercial litigation and is representing Embur Fire Fusion Restaurant. During a phone call on Tuesday, Hammer stated that they were going to do whatever they needed to protect his client and that they want Love to retract his statement and apologize.
“I would respond by asking what he thinks I should apologize for specifically and if anyone is claiming that the statement is untrue,” Love said.
In a letter sent to TCB, Hammer wrote the following: “Please be advised that my client vehemently denies the statements made by a former employee who maliciously alleges that a manager engaged in unwarranted and allegedly illegal conduct. I caution you that republication of any false statements made by Mr. Love or others would be in reckless disregard of the facts, and subject your publication to liability for defamation.”
During the phone interview, Sanchez, whose voice broke with emotion towards the end of the call, said that they’re scared to speak out but that it’s important for them to do so to protect others.
“As much as it scares me to put my name out there and talk about it, it scares me so much more to know that this man could continue to do this to other people and continue to make them feel like they’re crazy or hurt them or make them feel like they don’t matter,” Sanchez said. “He’s a raging narcissist; he doesn’t care about other people. I hope that one day, he can realize that his actions were not acceptable.”
Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.
We believe that reporting can save the world.
The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.
All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.