In the suit, which was filed in San Francisco superior court, Sarah Stevens alleges that in her time working at various CafGraf locations, she was deprived of legally-mandated breaks
actually, they (waitstaff)may have "chosen" the tipping policy, but they were only given 3 options to choose from.
None of the three is anywhere close to what a normal restaurant does. AND there would only be about a $9 increase on an average day, in what you could make as a server from the option that could have offered the most money.
so really, i don't call that "choosing" at all. The kitchen staff SHOULD be paid more. But they should be paid by the OWNERS (who obviously have money as every new restaurant they open is more and more extravagent), and NOT BY THE SERVERS who all struggle to pay their rent each month.
ps. these are facts. i worked there.
Posted by not a real choice on August 17, 2011 at 10:40 AM | Report this comment
If you look at the update they added to the article, there is clearly no chance this lawsuit is going to succeed. This is a non-event.
@Bayskep, That "update" was simply a quote from a Cafe Gratitude flack. j
ust because potential hires are made to sign something agreeing to xyz doesn't make xyz legal. Supposed new and potential hires are made to sign a statement saying that they agree to fuck the entire management staff once a week. Would that be legal, just because they were made to agree to it as a condition of being hired?
IANAL, but I doubt it.
And a statement by a management spokesperson protesting that all employees agree to this policy in writing would not convince me otherwise. Let's see what the court has to say about it.
Posted by yoyo_guru on August 10, 2011 at 11:42 AM | Report this comment
"the tip-pooling policy, which seems to be the crux of Stevens' lawsuit, was approved by an employee vote, and that new hires also sign an agreement letting them know about the system."
Neither of those make it lawful. Can you imagine that justification for taking part of any non-restaurant employee's wages? It is not a "system". It's taking one employee's money to pay another.
Posted by 66th Street on August 9, 2011 at 8:35 PM | Report this comment
"if being generous and contributing toward the whole is bad practice." Indeed it is a very bad practice if it involves asking potential and existing waitstaff to "vote" on giving up a large part of what is rightfully theirs to non-waitstaff when the employer knows how you're voting.
No surprise that the results of that election, as reported, would make Kim Il Sung envious.
It is also a very bad practice to pressure employees to undergo expensive, cultish and personally intrusive "training" at their own expense at Landmark, a reincarnation of EST. This is common practice at Gratitude.
Posted by 66th Street on August 10, 2011 at 12:52 PM
The tip pooling also appears to be misleading to patrons. When I tip a food server, the amount I tip is directly dependent on that person's performance. I'm not interested in tipping people just because they work for the same organization. But under Cafe Gratitude's policy, I have no choice -- tipping has nothing to do with the performance of the food server. In fact, the food server may receive very little of what I tipped.
That's misleading. At minimum, Cafe Gratitude should make it clear to its customers that when they tip a food server that most of the money is actually going to other people.
the purpose of tipping is to reward a particular person's good service. If that's taken away, especially as a matter of company policy, ya know, there's no reason to tip and it's sleazy for the company to encourage tipping. And while the Cafe's food might be great, the attitudes expressed by its defenders are so smarmy I can't see supporting them as a customer. When I give money to a person, I want that person to get it and have purely voluntary discretion about its disposal. A tip is a gift. If they CHOOSE to share it, that's one thing, but I don't want that to be predetermined for them, as it clearly is, de facto, here.
Then they should post a sign saying they price their goods and services such that they can pay everybody such and such a wage and pay them health benefits, and thus make the customers informed participants in the scheme, not con them into thinking they're rewarding their server and in fact have them subsidizing what amounts to a belief system. If you want to support a belief system, that's fine. If you want to buy lunch and reward good service, you should be able to do that in a straightforward fashion without all this undisclosed baggage. They should just say No Tips Please, We've Got It Covered With Our $13 Hummus, and let people know just exactly what they're paying for.
It is an interesting time we live in, with the Internet being a catalyst for people's views & opinions to be instantly broadcasted for all to read.
What I can share is after being an GM of Cafe Gratitude for the past 6 years, that we are literally shifting the paradigm from Seperation to a state of Oneness. I have gotten my entire life out of working with this company, which is absolutely priceless. I invite each of you to share with us at email@example.com, your inspirational stories of dining at Cafe Gratitude, as well as to share anything you may be 'incomplete' about. We are highly trained in Being & Integrity, which is taking 100% responsibility for our actions & apologizing first if ever we left you with something less than a Grateful experience. We have Listened to valid feedback & have adjusted our prices to better serve YOU. We offer an I Am Grateful bowl, where you can 'donate' as much as you can afford, & NO ONE is turned away for lack of funds.
We are doing Great things in the world & sometimes my experience is that this goes unacknowledged. We have served countless people who ate literally striving to LIVE. We are Being the Change we want to see in the world!
I apologize to each of you now, wholeheartedly. It is our intention to serve Unconditional Love in all that we serve.
Being Love NOW
Those of you who dare criticize tip sharing are not of the Body. Tip sharing is the will of Landru. Get over it.
Posted by Lawngun
I am grateful to the EBX for writing this story. Be joy. :)
Posted by yoyo_guru
I also ate at CG last night and had such a joyful journey.
It was so joyous to eat at CG.
I felt the joy, ate the joy and smelled the joy.
I expelled the joy!
Posted by also on 66th Street
Question: What are you grateful for?
Corboy's answer: Mr. Peter J. Skolnick Esq. and his legal team at Lowenstein and Sandler, LLC and the US First Amendment.
And the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Landmark tried to sue this website out of existence. And because of this fine legal team, this website is still here for you to read.
And for free.
Ponder this in the week before Thanksgiving.
Read here for the legal archives:
Caglieri, how was the food?
Were you grateful for it...?
Cafe Gratitude to close all Bay Area locations
Sybil Lewis | Staff
firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 9:29 pm
Following lawsuits accusing it of illegal business practices, Cafe Gratitude will soon close all eight of its Northern California locations.
The founders of the chain — known for its vegan menu and dedication to sustainability — announced Tuesday that the business was forced to close the locations, including one in Berkeley, because the lawsuits would cost too much to defend in court. This closure will result in 230 Northern California employees losing their jobs.
“The bottom line is that they talk about gratitude and abundance, but they are making money for themselves,” said Stephen Sommers, an attorney representing two former cafe employees. “They are stealing money from their employees.”
Sarah Stevens, who worked as a server, bartender and line cook, is one of the employees Sommers represents. Stevens’s lawsuit — filed in August — claims the business used an illegal method of distributing tips.
“To supplement the low wages of the kitchen workers, who they refuse to pay at a market rate, they pull from the tips of servers,” Sommers said.
According to the announcement, the chain has done nothing illegal but cannot afford to go to court against what it calls the “aggressive lawsuits.”
Chandra Krinsky, a shift leader at the Berkeley location on Shattuck Avenue, said the cafe pools all of the tips collected across its eight Northern California locations and sends 20 percent of the tips to the cafe’s central kitchen in San Francisco, where the money is then distributed among the kitchen’s 60 employees.
The remaining 80 percent of the tips are distributed among employees at individual locations based on the number of hours they work, according to Krinsky.
“People would tip (Stevens) $200 in a given day, and she would walk out with $40,” Sommers said.
Ravi Shankar, Sommers’ second client and a former bookkeeper for the cafe, filed a suit in October claiming management avoided paying him overtime by paying him a salary rather than on an hourly basis, an illegal practice in California, according to Sommers.
Sommers said he is skeptical that the lawsuits are the sole reason behind the closure of stores.
“It doesn’t make any sense that they have eight restaurants but can’t pay for a lawsuit that costs less than $200,000,” he said.
Krinsky said she has not had any issues during the four years she has worked at the cafe.
“I have been completely satisfied with the way we share tips and have never been forced to work overtime,” she said. “I am sad to be losing a really great job that I enjoy and am sad that the community of Northern California is losing the great food and community offered here.”
Krinsky said employees were informed of the closures during a meeting Monday and were told that all those affected will get severance packages.
The chain was founded by Matthew and Terces Engelhart in 2004 with the opening of its Mission District location in San Francisco. In the past eight years, the chain has expanded to nine different locations scattered across the state, including locations in Berkeley and Oakland.
Each Northern California location will be closed individually in the coming months after the properties currently occupied by the restaurants are sold to new owners, a process that Krinsky estimated would take three to six months.
The chain’s sole Southern California location — in Los Angeles — will remain open despite the lawsuits, and a new restaurant is scheduled to open in Venice, Calif., this spring.
yay fuck those hippy stores
I started going to the first cafe two weeks after it opened and have been going every day (literally, with the exception of traveling) since. It is my second home. Matthew has called me their “best customer” a few times. I share this history, because I think it speaks to the very educated assessment I have made of the organization.
When people call it a cult it blows my mind. The whole damn idea is BE YOU. The central opportunity, if you CHOOSE to participate, is to share your most authentic gifts and infuse them with love. That’s it. Not in a manner that Matthew & Terces dictate but in YOUR way. You have to be looking the other direction to miss that point. Nobody is kidnapping you and taking you to (god forbid) a Landmark meeting or forcing you to order with the affirmation.
If you say, “I’d like the tacos” nobody is going to stand staring at you burning incense and banging a gong until you correct yourself and sing kumbaya. The staff just wants you to feel as good and as YOU as possible inside those walls. I have plenty of skeptic and “don’t believe the hype” running through my veins – I think with the amount of exposure I’ve had to the organization I would have found the bullshit. Honestly, when I think of Cafe Gratitude words like inclusion, acceptance, fun, democracy, support, openness, unconditional love, opportunity, authenticity, generosity, high standards, employee empowerment, leadership, flexibility, community and FAIRNESS easily come to mind. The food and the culture have saved my life. That isn’t an exaggeration. I was very sick when I first walked in those doors. Today, I have a beautiful life and a functioning body and mind. The formula went like this: Sick me – add Cafe Gratitude = WELL ME (notice the formula doesn’t include the word brainwash). I have attended most of their workshops multiple times and with the practical tools I have learned there – I found my career, healed chronic physical illness that at times had me bed-ridden and grown truly successful relationships of every kind…including with myself. Again, no brainwash just the tools and nutrition to clear my fog and heal my body.It’s the real deal. I’m here to tell you, with eyes wide-open, that the lawsuits and gossip are nonsense. Their restaurants are where people come to eat the highest quality food and engage with their highest selves….or not…that’s my point…what you want to create at Cafe Gratitude is what you will create at Cafe Gratitude. It breaks my heart to think some multi-year members of the staff drove the whole thing off a cliff expecting to land in pile of cash. And I have come to a place of peace about that and them. This is the beginning of a newly inspired adventure for all of us. I choose to be grateful that we have a new opportunity to grow. You’ve got my heart and my support always and forever, Cafe Gratitude. I love you.
Listen, I don’t buy into their hippy shit either but the food is solid and they do provide jobs and is a thriving business for the local community.
On the other hand, lawyers just fucking suck. This asshole and his bottom feeder cronies do nothing but destroy. What a wonderful litigious society you live in when some scumbag lawyer can close a business and add 230 to the unemployed ranks.
FUCK YOU Stephen Sommers!
This restaurant is a gift to the community, and to my eating habits. Definitely the best, cleanest, most delicious food available. Each time I’ve been there has been an exceptional experience, and any excuse to go to the bay area (from Sacramento) is just cause to eat at Cafe Gratitude. I’m still hopeful that this issue gets worked out and they are able to remain in business. Other restauranteurs should eat here and take note. THIS is how it should be done.
When your job illegally takes money you earned out of your paycheck, who are you going to call?
As an actual employee of Cafe Gratitude, having worked for this company for five years, and having experienced the practices and mission of Cafe Gratitude in it’s actuality I would love to be heard. Let me assure all readers that Cafe Gratitude is of the highest integrity and has the highest generosity of any employer I have ever worked for and is the most compassionate and truly wonderful company that I have ever come across.
Cafe Gratitude is a radical company that actually cares about all workers and created a context for all employees to share tips– a revolutionary way to distribute the wealth that recognizes the work and impact of all workers in the kitchen. Because every item on the menu is made from scratch, that means that your pizza bread actually took 48 hours to make, not kidding. That’s 48 hours of someone in the kitchen’s time. The tips are shared to recognize that. I am grateful for a company that addresses the inequalities in the mainstream restaurant structures, and dared to break the norm on several accounts, to HELP employees and to revolutionize food, workers rights, and capitalism. I fully stand behind the owners as they are nothing but the kindest, most generous people, and they have put their money, their hearts, their land on the line. So much so that they don’t even have a home on their property and live in a yurt. THERE IS NO PILE OF MONEY SITTING ANYWHERE. Every dollar went either to employees, our training, our health, our wages or farmers and local businesses with their integrous groundbreaking products, or they lowered the prices to make the food more affordable. There is no profit, nothing hiding. The owners have given this community their all.
This job has changed my life. This community has healed countless people around me both in body (cancer, MS, diabetes, depression and so much more) and soul (reuniting with parents, healing heartbreak wounds, inspiring the creation of countless other companies and organizations…).
What I can tell you is what is true for me, and true for hundreds of employees that work with this company, which is that we are deeply saddened by this news, and only wish that their 8 years of free Thanksgiving meals, 37,000+ annual organic meals given by donation, flexible healthcare and personal coaching/counseling is celebrated by the general community and news sources.
Local farmers that depend on us, employees who call this home, customers who couldn’t afford healthy food until the “Grateful Bowl” came… we are all feeling a lot of loss and heartbreak. Please everyone, be mindful and respectful of the impact of your words. I request that readers and critics take a hard look and recognize that they don’t actually know the facts, so please be humble in your “knowing” of how it is.
Employee quotes just today and yesterday as the news hit:
“Thank you for the amazing leaders you are for our community. We are forever changed.” – M.V.
“Thank you for being a beautiful strong elder for me to respect and love! Thank you for the gifts of wisdom, time, and words you have shared with me, you make a difference in my life every day. I am so grateful that your crazy cafe project was so succesful for so long and that it awakened so many people to share their gifts. ” -H.M.M
“I am very saddened by the news, it’s almost impossible to believe that something so good be done this way. I am grateful for these 5 years of working with you, I and my family are very grateful to you by CAFE GRATITUDE” -L.S.
“M & T, we love you and what you’ve gifted us SO much and are SO VERY grateful at the miracle of getting to be a part of your vision which is only getting more bright and living in more hearts every day. Thank you for daring to LOVE so big that you’ve caused a revolution!” -Y.J.
“I hope that Cafe Gratitude employees come together and buy each location and keep it as beautiful in spirit, mission, and quality!” – S.S.B.
“I just want you and Matthew to know how grateful I am that I had an opportunity to be a Gratitude employee and to receive so many generous gifts and transformational opportunities. You guys created something the world has never seen and I hope you continue to share this with the world! I would happily stand up in court for you guys! Sending my love, gratitude, and appreciate for all you do!” -A.W.
“Your cafes have made such a huge impact on my life. The friends, support, love and of course good food I’ve experienced have been more than I can say in words. Just know that you have made a giant contribution to my happiness and well being, and that I love you!” -E.L.
“The past 7 years, at Cafe Gratitude, have been the best of my life. I got my sobriety. I stepped onto my spiritual path. I met my father after 31 years. I found my life partner. I have loving relationships with my ex’s and all of my family members. I could go on and on and on! None of this would have been possible without the gift of GRATITUDE!” -B.S.
“Thank you for providing me the space, community, food, encouragement and imagination to create my life is the best ever! Thank you for helping me let that cancer leave my body. Thank you for supporting me in seeing how beautiful my family, friends and myself are. Thank you for EVERYTHING. I love you endlessly.” -C.M.
Cafe Gratitude Closes Under Employee Lawsuits
On Tuesday, SFist reported that Cafe Gratitude -- a small, beloved local restaurant chain that serves only organic vegan fare -- will be closing all of its Northern California locations due to "aggressive lawsuits" brought about by former and current employees. The closure will affect all eight of its Northern California outposts, including Gracias Madre, the company's vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission.
According to SFGate, one of the lawsuits targets allegedly illegal tip pooling, while the other, brought forth by a former bookkeeper, claims the company illegally paid the plaintiff a salary wage instead of hourly to avoid paying him overtime, and he is seeking damages.
In a letter posted to the company's Facebook account, Cafe Gratitude denied any wrongdoing and announced that the company is being forced to close beneath the financial weight of the suits:
"Although we believe that we have done nothing wrong and our policies are completely legal, it will cost us too much money to defend them in court. [...] We were happy to tolerate low margins and sustain ourselves on the transformation and personal growth of our people, while providing local organic vegan food to our community in an atmosphere of unconditional love. That commitment is under attack and we are not able to weather this storm."
However, on Tuesday afternoon, SFGate reported that "the lawsuit number is under $200,000 and this is not a class-action suit (yet)," suggesting that the company should not need to close all locations to "weather this storm."
"These are not huge cases," said Stephen Sommers, the attorney representing the wage and hour claims, to SFGate. "There's no reason, financially, for them to close eight locations. They are not closing because of these lawsuits. There's something else."
But Cafe Gratitude owners insist that the suits are both devastating and debilitating.
"For seven-and-a-half years we've been willing to work and tolerate low margins because our real wealth was the transformation of our people," said co-owner Terces Engelhart to SFGate. "And now that's being threatened by the lawsuits. October was the best month we ever had in the history of business."
In recent years, Cafe Gratitude has suffered from several tense encounters with employees. In 2009, East Bay Express published an expose on the company's tight relationship with the Landmark Forum self-help philosophy, and claimed that the company forced the philosophy upon employees and assigned mandatory Landmark seminars, compromising the personal beliefs of employees.
Adding to the already strained internal relationship, Vegansaurus reported that many employees, including those high up in the company, did not know about the closure until reading about it on SFist on Tuesday morning.
The restaurants will remain open for several months while the details are settled. And while the alleged internal struggles are shady at best, we are already mourning our tahini-spiked sea veggies and hazelnut-fig-date smoothies. Sigh.
Read the entire letter about the closures by owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart below:
With great sadness we are announcing the upcoming closing/sale of all Northern California Cafe Gratitudes.
A series of aggressive lawsuits has brought us to this unfortunate choice. Although we believe that we have done nothing wrong and our policies are completely legal, it will cost us too much money to defend them in court. Despite telling the attorneys that brought the lawsuits that the current structure and resources of Cafe Gratitude are insufficient to sustain and defend our community, they have refused to give up and are forcing us to close.
We appreciate the loyalty of our employees and customers over these past 8 years and are grateful for having had the opportunity to serve each of you. We were happy to tolerate low margins and sustain ourselves on the transformation and personal growth of our people, while providing local organic vegan food to our community in an atmosphere of unconditional love. That commitment is under attack and we are not able to weather this storm.
This process will take a few months so please keep coming in and let's celebrate our 8 years of success together, we are grateful for you!
We have come to realize that it isn’t how we serve that is most important but rather that we serve.
Our mission will survive this, as love cannot be threatened.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the suits were filed by former employees, and that the bookkeeper is female. The bookkeeper is male and is currently working for Cafe Gratitude.
UPDATE: Cafe Gratitude co-owner Terces Engelhart posted a call to help on the company's Facebook page. In the post, Engelhart asked patrons to continue visiting the restaurant locations, purchase retail items and join the company workshops if they wish to show support. Engelhart also called on those who had attended workshops to share their experiences.
"If you have participated in any of our workshops, please take what you learned, that had value to you, and give it away!" she wrote.