Exterior of the Tribune Tavern. Photo by Scott Morris.

Tribune Tavern, restaurant at center of massive scam, suddenly closes

The Tribune Tavern, a restaurant founded by embattled businessman Tom Henderson at the base of the Tribune Tower, mysteriously closed late last week.

The restaurant appears to still be owned by Henderson’s company, San Francisco Regional Center, according to state records, and therefore under the control of a receiver appointed by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg. However, it does not appear from court filings that Seeborg ordered the business closed.

Reports on social media indicated the restaurant closed for good on Friday. It was closed and locked during lunch hours today, but nothing was posted indicating why it was closed.

Asked for comment today, Henderson’s attorney, Gilbert Serota, wrote in an email, “From what I hear, people are having lunch at the Tavern as we speak. Not sure where you are getting your information.” He did not respond to a follow-up email that included a photo of the empty restaurant.

According to records with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the current managing partner of the business is Robert Soviero. Neither Soviero nor the court-appointed monitor, Susan Uecker, immediately returned requests for comment. No one picked up the phone at the restaurant.

Henderson’s companies were put under federal court control as part of an action brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in January alleging that Henderson defrauded hundreds of investors seeking visas to the United States through the controversial EB-5 visa program, as this reporter reported last week.

Henderson used funds misappropriated from the EB-5 investors when he purchased the Tribune Tower, Oakland’s most iconic building, in December 2011.

In April 2013, Henderson opened the Tribune Tavern at the base of the tower as part of a partnership with respected restaurateur Chris Pastena, best known for founding Chop Bar in the Jack London district. The two had already partnered to open Lungomare, a high-end Cal-Italian restaurant, in February 2013.

According to the SEC, Henderson pumped $3.8 million raised from EB-5 investors into the restaurants, despite not disclosing to the investors that the funds would be used for that purpose.

Pastena sued Henderson in August 2014, accusing him of hiding key financial information. He also said that Henderson had been taking complimentary meals at the Tribune Tavern for himself as well as friends, family and business associates, causing the restaurant to operate at a loss.

By the end of that year, they reached a settlement giving Henderson control of the Tribune Tavern and Pastena control of Lungomare.

In a deposition with SEC attorneys last year, Henderson admitted that the Tribune Tavern hadn’t been paying rent at the tower until last year and said he had been taking meals there as frequently as five times a week and entertaining business associates there for free. His son and girlfriend were also eating for free.