PROVINCETOWN — Anton “Napi” Van Dereck Haunstrup, the late art collector and owner of Napi’s Restaurant, had no children. But Ellis Wilson, he often told friends, was “the son he never had.”
Wilson, 46, came to Provincetown from Jamaica for the first time in 2006 to work at Angel Foods. He got a second job as a dishwasher at Napi’s, and Van Dereck provided him with a place to live. Summer after summer, Wilson returned, eventually bringing his family with him in 2016.
In 2011, Napi helped Wilson apply for a green card, granted two years later, allowing him and his family to live permanently in Provincetown. Wilson worked his way up at the restaurant, eventually taking over maintenance of Napi’s dozen or more properties across town.
For decades, Napi helped many other Jamaicans establish lives in Provincetown. Now, less than two years after his death, those lives are being uprooted.
In May, Wilson said, he was fired by those in charge of Napi’s estate because he had taken a second job during the pandemic. He was told he would have to leave his apartment, where he lives with his wife and three sons.
Four other Jamaican employees, including three who worked for Napi for almost 20 years, say they also were fired.
Dan Sabuda, the current manager at Napi’s, refused multiple requests to be interviewed for this article. But Berni McEneaney of Marstons Mills, Napi’s longtime financial adviser and the executor of his estate, has denied that anyone was fired. In a phone call on Monday, McEneaney said, “Nobody was let go from Napi’s. Period.”
Instead, he said, the former employees voluntarily stopped working at the restaurant when it reopened in May. “In all cases, they were not available to come back,” he said.
The former employees all contradict McEneaney’s denial.
“We did not quit,” said Tony Cleary, the former kitchen manager and a tenant of Napi’s for 19 years. “We did not leave the restaurant. We were all fired and evicted.”
An Aug. 31 Deadline
Ellis Wilson began looking for new housing but found nothing. At the end of July, he received an eviction notice from McEneaney’s lawyer. He has until Aug. 31 to vacate his apartment at 5 Freeman St.
“I just want to protect my family and get out of there,” said Wilson. He said he doesn’t know what he will do if he can’t find housing.
Wilson is one of seven Jamaican employees who told the Independent they had already been or are currently being evicted from housing provided by Van Dereck. Of those, five say they were fired around the time the restaurant reopened last spring.
Napi and his wife, Helen Haunstrup, founded Napi’s in 1978. They built it from the remains of garages where the two ran a flea market on Freeman Street.
Napi was known for bringing Jamaican workers to Provincetown. He provided rental housing in more than a dozen properties he owned, including ones on Bradford and Freeman streets, next to the restaurant.
Napi died on Christmas Day 2019. His will specified that Helen assume control of all his property, including the restaurant, apartments, and a sizable art collection. A 2021 court document valued the Van Dereck estate at over $18 million.
Shortly after Napi’s death, a legal battle began over control of the estate, and over his wife’s care. Helen, 81, was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, according to court documents. In January 2020, her primary care physician stated that she was no longer able to manage the business or her finances. Judy Saffron, Napi’s half-sister, and McEneaney both sought legal control in probate court.
McEneaney won and was appointed conservator of the estate by Judge Arthur C. Ryley. The case regarding the guardianship of Helen Haunstrup, however, is ongoing.
Documents from the conservatorship case show that McEneaney argued that he understood and would adhere to Helen’s wishes better than anyone else. His representative made the case that McEneaney could run the restaurant in the same way that Napi and Helen had done for decades, in order to support Helen’s well-being as well as Napi’s legacy.
“It was important to them to provide folks in the community year-round employment and housing…. This is evident by the number of long-term employees they have,” reads one letter submitted in the conservatorship case. “They did not have children; their employees and customers are their family and community.”
‘Everything Is Lies’
The former employees were evicted because their housing was provided only as long as they worked at the restaurant, McEneaney said this week. That has always been the way it worked, he added, including when Van Dereck was alive.
McEneaney declined to comment on individual cases, citing the legal implications of divulging workers’ information and the fact that he is not involved with the “day-to-day operations” at the restaurant.
Responding to a phone call attempting to reach Sabuda, office assistant Lisa Meads said of the Jamaicans, “I don’t want to waste our time on those people. Everything is lies.” Anthony Alva, the attorney retained by McEneaney to carry out the evictions, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Independent spoke to nine former employees at Napi’s Restaurant who had recently left their housing or are now under threat of eviction, including Dwight Sangster, who worked in the kitchen. Wilson and Sangster both received letters ordering them to vacate their properties and stating that “your occupancy … was entirely arranged and contingent upon your employment by Napi’s Restaurant.”
The Independent also obtained eviction notices and other letters from four of the former employees. Only one — sent to Delroy Brennan, who worked in the kitchen for 19 years — cites a cause. Brennan’s notice stated that he was $1,200 behind on rent and that he had 14 days to vacate his apartment at 7 Standish St.
A June 17 cease-and-desist letter sent by attorney Alva to Sangster alleges that he was illegally subletting his unit without permission and living with Kay Spence, who had worked as a dishwasher since 2016 and is in a relationship with Sangster. Spence disputes this: she says that Sangster had allowed several family members to stay with him briefly, and occasionally stayed with her.
An eviction notice sent to Sangster, dated July 30, does not mention this allegation or any other cause.
Eviction Moratorium Could Help
A new federal eviction moratorium announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Aug. 3, replacing the previous moratorium that expired Aug. 1, protects renters living in communities experiencing substantial or high transmission of Covid-19. That includes the Outer Cape.
According to attorney Michael Pierce of Hyannis, who specializes in landlord-tenant disputes, the moratorium should protect tenants from eviction in almost all cases, unless “they endanger the health and safety of other tenants.” But “the moratorium is new and open to interpretation, and so there is a lot up in the air,” he said.
Several long-tenured employees say they were informed in May, when Napi’s reopened after being closed since December 2020, that they were being let go. Brennan was informed by phone in May that he was no longer on the schedule. Spence was asked about her availability in May but was never contacted again.
Kevin Linsey learned he had been fired from a notice left on his car, which was parked at Napi’s. It read: “Private Parking. After today You will be towed.”
Linsey, who had worked and rented from Van Dereck for 19 years, said neither Sabuda nor Meads would admit to leaving the notice, but that neither questioned its implication: he was no longer an employee. Other employees said they had similar notices placed on their vehicles.
Of the seven who face eviction, five have not found new places to live.
Eileen Spence, who worked at Napi’s for several months in 2020 but rented her Freeman Street apartment from Van Dereck since 2009, received an eviction notice on July 31. She must vacate her apartment by the end of August. “I don’t know where to turn right now,” she said. “Maybe I’m going to be on the street.”
Spence said her apartment was never tied to employment at the restaurant. “Napi would never do something like this,” she said. “They’re just using brute force and trying to manipulate people.”
Tony Cleary, the former kitchen manager, showed the Independent a text he received from Lisa Meads during an exchange following his termination: “Good luck to you and your minions!” she wrote. “Why don’t you all move to an island with the thief Judy!”
“Judy” is Napi’s half-sister, Judy Saffron, who said she also was ordered out of the apartment Napi had provided for her when he asked her to come to Provincetown to help care for Helen in 2018, more than a year before he died.
Cleary said, “We all feel like we’ve been betrayed.”