The specialty coffee world joined the #metoo fray when The Chronicle revealed in an article on Friday that former female employees of ~FOUR BARREL COFFEE~ filed a lawsuit against company founder Jeremy Tooker, alleging sexual assult and harassment. The Chronicle also spoke with other Four Barrel employees and uncovered a deeply toxic and misogynistic culture in the company, with multiple cases of alleged sexual misconduct and discrimination. Partners Jodi Geren and Tal Mor and their HR reportedly didn’t respond to and weren’t supportive of employees who would report instances of harassment and more—most appeared to be fired. Yeah, that’s a great solution.
Since the bombshell piece, the weekend was full of anger, backlash, and confusion in the restaurant and specialty coffee worlds, with many of Four Barrel’s wholesale accounts around the U.S. dropping their coffee left and right. Tooker ended up divesting from the company over the weekend (certainly different from the passive “stepping away” we keep seeing with all these other alleged incidents of sexual misconduct, like with Mario Batali, Ken Friedman, and East Bay’s Charlie Hallowell). After an initial tone-deaf announcement from remaining partners Geren and Mor that Tooker was no longer a part of the company (since taken down off their site, but here’s a handy “corrected” version from Jasper Wilde/Sassy Barista—and you can follow her Twitter feed for many more updates from the field), they then followed up with a second announcement on Monday, stating that Tooker’s 50 percent share of the company is going to go to the employees, with the goal of becoming a 100 percent employee-owned company in time. That’s going to take some time to work out. And they have ended the Four Barrel name, using the working title of The Tide for now (hey everyone, let’s focus on rebranding and not look at all the ways we let you down in the past!). And there’s a handy little sales pitch/plea at the end.
It’s a lot to digest, and brings up many complicated questions, from what does this mean for The Mill and Josey Baker’s affiliation with the company and De La Paz (another one of Four Barrel’s companies) to wondering if this is going to be a company worth supporting in the future for the sake of the employees? (I have been working through it with friends on a private Facebook post the past few days.) A lot of this is a wait-and-see situation, and it has been quite the intense drama to watch unfold.
Sending so much support to the victims, and I commend their bravery to organize and come forward with these shocking and awful stories of sexual misconduct that needed to be known and addressed and people held accountable for. And to clean some house, because that one was filthy. The Tide—yeah, it needs to come in high and wash things up. It feels like it’s time to bust out some T.S. Eliot: “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
Four Barrel Coffee founder Jeremy Tooker. Photo via Four Barrel’s Facebook page.