Cave a Vin in Milford (Photo: Samuel Flynn Scott)

Auckland bar owner left Canada under cloud

Cave à Vin founder Zane Kelsall says he has been in ‘intense therapy’ following sexual misconduct claims in Halifax.

Last week, The Spinoff published a story about Cave à Vin, a new wine bar on Auckland’s North Shore. The story hailed the vision of its owner, Zane Kelsall, who had recently emigrated from Canada with his family. 

Kelsall told The Spinoff they had family on the Shore and fell in love with the place. That the family moved for a different lifestyle and a new chapter in life. We wanted change, and I liked the idea of not having real winters any more.”

Readers in Canada subsequently alerted us to another element of Kelsall’s backstory. According to a story published last year in Canadian newspaper The Coast, Kelsall left the hospitality businesses he co-ran in Halifax, Nova Scotia, under a cloud of allegations of intimidation, manipulation and sexual impropriety towards staff members.

The most serious allegations related to Kelsall’s behaviour towards two women who had been employees. One woman is quoted as saying that while staying in a spare room at his house, Kelsall drunkenly tried to kiss her. She declined and went to the bathroom. He went upstairs before returning naked and following her to her room. Another woman says while they were both staying at the same friend’s house in Montreal, Kelsall lay down next to her on a couch and groped her. “He wasn’t just trying to hug me or cuddle with me,” the woman is quoted as saying. “It was some straight-up groping, and I made it very known it was unwanted.”

The allegations about Kelsall’s behaviour surfaced in late 2017 in the wake of news stories revealing US celebrity chef Mario Batalli’s sexual misconduct. A food writer at The Coast tweeted that if anyone had experienced anything similar working in Halifax restaurants, her DMs were open. She received a flood of messages, some from people who had worked with Kelsall. Coast journalists Allison Saunders and her colleague Jacob Boon began investigating, with Saunders interviewing the above two women as well as having off-the-record conversations with others. 

A 2018 year in review piece in The Coast said the Kelsall story opened the floodgates for even more stories of mistreatment, assault and abuse at work in the region to emerge.

According to Canadian sources, tensions remain on the Halifax hospitality scene in the aftermath of the story. It is known in the industry that Kelsall has opened a new business in New Zealand and some have posted on social media expressing surprise.

When approached at his workplace on Friday, Kelsall disputed elements of the reporting, but acknowledged his behaviour “wasn’t perfect”. “If my actions ended up with anyone feeling hurt, that’s a terrible thing and I apologise, but the way they’re laid out is untrue.”

Kelsall subsequently contacted The Spinoff to strongly reject any suggestion that it was a workplace-related issue, saying neither of the women in The Coast story were staff members at the time of the alleged incidents.

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He said he can “100%” guarantee that his current staff are working in a safe environment and has been in “intense therapy” for some time, where he’s learnt how to avoid “even being in a place where something like that can happen”. 

“I’ve taken a hard look in the mirror. I can’t hide from it, it’s out there on the internet, I don’t agree with it but I’m trying to start a new life here.”

If you have any further information relating to this story or would like to talk to a reporter confidentially about your experience at any hospitality business in New Zealand, email aliceneville@thespinoff.co.nz

This story was updated on 22 July, 2019 to incorporate follow-up comments from Kelsall.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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