In a Jan. 7 story, it was reported that the Sherpa Dahal restaurant on Pearl Street in Essex Junction had closed its doors because of what a Dec. 25 Facebook post from the business said was a “harassing, abusing, and exploiting” individual.
Since then, the former owner of the restaurant, Simon Dahal, reached out to the Reporter to share his claim of what happened leading up to the closure.
Additionally, the Essex Police Department (EPD) contacted the Reporter to share law enforcement’s activity in the situation since last summer and state, despite rumors circulating on social media, race was not a factor in what transpired.
Police Chief Ron Hoague and Cpl. John Ruttenberg — the officer assigned to the case — could not disclose all the details due to the nature of the investigation.
Dahal’s account stated a business associate assaulted the restaurateur. The police investigation was turned over to the State’s Attorney’s Office in January, but it was determined that no criminal charges would be brought against the associate because of conflicting statements and evidence.
Because no charges were filed, the Reporter will not be identifying the business associate (BA).
Dahal spoke with the Reporter through a translator trusted by both himself and EPD. Here’s what we’ve learned through conversations with him and Essex Police.
Dahal, who is a Bhutanese refugee, said he had invested $15,000 years ago into another business venture with BA, thinking he was going to be a partner in that endeavor.
When Dahal needed to give his housing association something that showed income verification, he said BA did not help provide any information showing he was a partner or how much money he was making from that business. Instead, Dahal would then learn that he was not actually an official partner.
Dahal said when he wanted to leave and get out of that situation, BA convinced him to take over the 163 Pearl St. location and would earmark $5,000 of the money Dahal had originally invested as a security deposit.
When presented with a sublease agreement for the Sherpa Dahal, LLC building by BA in December 2019, Dahal was unsure of its content and wanted to have it looked over by legal counsel. Dahal said, however, that BA was insistent that he could be trusted and pressured Dahal into signing it. The document, which Dahal shared with the Reporter, did not specify how much money would be paid for rent each month and lacked other details consistently found in lease agreements. He said that, instead, BA simply told Dahal of the restaurant how much they owed.
Dahal said he thought BA was helping him sign a lease agreement directly with the property’s owner, but it turned out that he was actually entering into a sublease through the associate.
Dahal further claimed that following the January 2020 opening of the restaurant, BA prevented him from running the business how he wanted to and caused interference in operations.
July disagreement and alleged assault
Dahal said he, BA, and two others were sitting on the front lawn of the restaurant in July. That’s when BA asked Dahal to move out of the building, but Dahal thought he hadn’t done anything wrong to warrant that action. However, Dahal told BA he would do so if he received back his $15,000 investment.
At that point, Dahal alleges, BA swung a backpack, striking Dahal hard in the back of the head.
Dahal said he “blacked out” and was shaken up, unable to process what had happened. He then went home for the night. The next day, Dahal decided to report the incident and called EPD.
Ruttenberg confirmed that he responded to the Pearl Street restaurant July 21, the day following the alleged assault, and took a complaint from Dahal. Ruttenberg also confirmed that an ambulance was also called to the scene and transported Dahal to the hospital so that he could be examined for possible injuries sustained from the alleged assault the day before.
Months following the alleged incident, Dahal was issued a notice dated Oct. 2 from an Essex Junction legal firm representing BA and their associate. It said the commercial sub-tenancy was to be terminated for no cause effective at noon on Oct. 31, 2020 and that Sherpa Dahal, LLC was to vacate the property by that time.
Dahal said he chose not to leave right away because — again — he felt as though he had done nothing wrong, but the emotional toll and pressure from BA finally caught up with him in December. Dahal closed the restaurant and moved its furniture and equipment out with the expectation that he would be getting the security deposit back, but Dahal said he has yet to see that money or hear from BA or their legal counsel.
Ruttenberg investigated the matter and turned the complaint and findings to the State’s Attorney’s Office for it to determine if there was sufficient probable cause and grounds to prosecute BA. EPD was then notified Jan. 19 that no charges would be filed.
Ruttenberg said it was hard to orchestrate getting professional interpreters to be involved with interviewing witnesses, especially during the pandemic, which delayed the conclusion of his investigation.
“Cpl. Ruttenberg has been working hard on this case since July when it first came in,” said Hoague. “Like he said, he's had some difficulties as far as being able to set up communication with [the involved parties] with the use of an interpreter — and especially interpretation services that can be trusted and used in court. So that's why it's kind of taken us a while to get to this point.”
Hoague said police had not been aware of any other disputes or the nature of the relationship between Dahal and BA prior to the complaint being made. He also said he doesn’t believe there were any racial motivations behind the alleged disagreement and assault.
“Our understanding is that [BA] is Nepali,” he told the Reporter. “And that would indicate to me there was nothing race based out of this. This was — it seems to me — more like a business partner problem or dispute.”
Dahal said the alleged incident has taken its toll on him psychologically, at one point causing him to contemplate suicide. He is reminded about it daily when looking at all of the restaurant’s equipment that sits outside his house.
Hoague said that, in addition to investigating an alleged criminal matter, EPD is trying to get Dahal in touch with support services, such as the AALV.
“What we're trying to do right now is: we're more concerned about his well being — than anything — and trying to get him some help,” said Hoague.
Asked if he had thought about reopening another restaurant somewhere else, Dahal said he loves food but doesn’t think he would ever pursue another business venture in an ownership role after this experience.
When asked about seeking civil litigation to potentially receive relief due to damages suffered, Dahal said he had looked into it but could not financially afford to do so at that time. He has, however, been referred to Vermont Legal Aid for the issue of receiving back his security deposit.