An iconic Walla Walla business may soon shutter it’s doors, as scandal and legal issues continue to mount against The Olive Marketplace and Cafe. The artisanal restaurant, which features a locally-sourced American menu, is located in the historic 1885 Barrett building. Locals often refer to it simply as “The Olive.”
The restaurant was owned and operated for several years by Jake & Tabitha Crenshaw. The Crenshaw’s also owned and operated The Saint and The Sinner, a bar in downtown Walla Walla. Last year, they decided to sell both businesses. Employees of those businesses tell us that the decision could not have come soon enough.
“Despite a steady stream of customers, they mastered presenting a fake facade that hid the fact the restaurants were struggling to keep the doors open,” one employee told us on condition of anonymity. “Servers were having payroll checks bounce, some vendors refused to deliver goods for lack of payment and utility disconnection notices were a common occurrence,” the employee added. The Crenshaw’s made an announcement about the sale of their businesses in December, in an interview with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
“Knowing that a great majority of our staff are able to retain their positions and grow in new ways as new owners and perspectives take the helm, makes this bittersweet moment easier,” Tabitha Crenshaw said in a prepared statement in November.
However, employees say that’s not how things went at all. The Olive and it’s catering component was sold and new ownership took over in March of this year. The transition, however, was nothing the way Crenshaw had described. Employees reached out to Rise News shortly after the transition, which is what sparked this investigation.
“The new owner claimed to have purposefully been flaky and missed paydays in order to get certain employees to quit,” an employee of The Olive told us. Many of those employees were Latinx. “Finally they had enough and almost everyone walked out.”
The new owner, Erik Davis, is a Walla Walla native and claims to have two-decades of industry experience in every corner of the country. He previously worked as a cook at The BRIK Bar & Grill in Walla Walla and eight-years as a manager of a night club in Park City, Utah. He also claims to have worked in Nantucket and Seattle, prior to returning to Walla Walla.
In our investigation, we obtained statements from several sources close to Davis who say his mother, a registered nurse, mortgaged her home and used her life savings to acquire The Olive for Davis. In fact, Davis’ mother was often seen running the counter at the restaurant following the employee walk-out.
Around the same time, the City of Walla Walla posted a 24-hour disconnection notice for unpaid utilities to the restaurant’s door — leaving the restaurant closed for over a week. During this time, Davis was attending the Coachella Music Festival and then reportedly took a motor bike excursion. Employees say that Davis’ mother was the only consistent fixture they saw around the restaurant. “She’s fighting to keep her investment from being flushed down the toilet,” an employee said.
Davis is also being accused of recruiting employees from other downtown businesses. One local business owner reached out to us after learning that one of their employees was reportedly paid $1,000 to walk out in the middle of a shift, on a busy “wine release” weekend, to go to work for The Olive. Davis reportedly was using that employee, to attempt to get other employees to walk out and go work for The Olive as well.
At least six employees of The Olive, that we connected with as part of this story, have or intend to pursue legal remedies with the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, Washington Department of Labor & Industries and/or civil action in court. At least two of those individuals are battling debt collectors and are at the point of losing their housing, from being unable to obtain wages they say they earned but were not paid.
Meanwhile, Davis’ prior involvement with another downtown Walla Walla business sparked controversy over the weekend. The Dacres is a performance arts venue and is owned by Erica Ramos. Ramos previously owned Lash Loft in downtown Walla Walla.
In a social media tirade over the weekend, Davis made personal and professional allegations against Ramos. Ramos told Rise News that Davis invested in shows at the venue but he “does not have any business ownership of the Dacres, nor is he an employee.” She called Davis’ public remarks about her “slanderous and defamatory” and went on to say that her business has ceased working with him at all. She is currently pursuing legal action against him, which is likely the cause of his recent social media outbursts.
Among the dozen individuals we interviewed for this story, the patterns we heard accused Davis of selling alcohol to underage employees, passing out random amounts of unreported money to random employees “as a bonus,” and “having a major drug & alcohol problem that cripples his ability to be an effective leader.” They say that Davis is rarely at the restaurant — often going weeks without showing up.
We also reached out Davis and his mother for comment. Davis exchanged several messages with us, offering to answer questions for this report. He claimed the file size of his response was too large to attach to an email and appeared to want to attempt to delay the publication of this report longer than had already been delayed. His mother never returned our requests.
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries and the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board told us that they do not discuss matters involving ongoing or potentially ongoing investigations.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This article has been updated, following an interview with additional parties involved. It is a developing story that will be updated as more details become available.