Zokapocalypse Now: Trouble at Seattle’s Zoka Coffee Roasters
Much of the content in this post has been directly refuted by Zoka’s Owner and Founder, Jeff Babcock. Please read more here.
The Seattle coffee scene is flooded with rumors, gossip and bad blood over financial mishandling and interoffice politics over at Zoka Coffee Roasters. We’d like to sort and separate the lies, truths and unknowns. We’ve always loved Zoka coffee and wish it no ill harm from this report. The anonymity of our sources has been guaranteed upon request. Here’s what we’ve gathered…
*Zoka is rumored to be dramatically downsizing its green buying practices. Zoka stores in Seattle and Japan have already felt the affects of this reshuffling; many of the coffees currently served at Zoka are of indeterminate harvest dates not readily available to the public, and Zoka currently offers only one COE coffee, the Colombia Villa Rica. Sprudge has received tips that Zoka will no longer be purchasing COE coffees, a significant shift in practice for a roaster that once prided itself on offering multiple COE selections.
*Zoka is rumored to be closing its Kirkland store. That outlet, only 9 months old, is reported to be losing money at an alarming rate that makes ongoing operations there untenable. Sprudge has received reports that shutdown timetable of two months has been placed on the store, marking the beginning of the third fiscal quarter of 2010.
*We’ve received multiple tips from high ranking sources that Zoka’s current financial situation is dire. The ballpark debt range is thought to be in seven-figure territory. This debt has led to the restructuring of green buying practices, the decision to close Zoka Snoqualmie, and the possible future closure of Zoka Kirkland. The endgame for this scenario has been quoted to us in multiple derivations; a wholesale restructuring of ownership that would leave Zoka in the hands of a Japanese ownership group, the discontinuation of founder Jeff Babcock’s role in Zoka Coffee’s ownership group, or a total abatement of Zoka’s presence as buyers at origin. This final outcome would see the roasters functioning as a dependency of green importation companies, chief among them being Seattle-based Atlas Coffee Importers.
*For years, Zoka was the official coffee service for KEXP’s pledge drives. This year, Zoka pulled out completely, replaced by beans and baristas from a variety of Seattle boutique roasters. Multiple sources have confirmed that a “lack of advertising budget” was the primary reason for this decision.
*Several former and current Zoka employees are currently embroiled in tax collection disputes with the IRS, relating to Zoka’s internal financial practices in 2009. Again, on the condition of anonymity, we’ve obtained information on the status of one individual who currently owes the IRS over $3,000 USD due to the mishandling of his 2009 W2 form as a Zoka employee.
*In February of 2010, the employees of Zoka Kirkland quietly staged a one-day walkout to protest a payment mishandling. Multiple sources have urged us to state that the conditions surrounding this walkout were not entirely Zoka’s fault, but rather, stemmed from a bank error affecting Zoka’s direct deposit system.
*A lose-knit cadre of former Zoka employees are currently employed throughout Seattle’s specialty coffee scene. Many of them choose to participate in an active in a Facebook group for “Future Former and Former Employees of Zoka“.
Many of the claims made in this report have been directly denied off-the-record by Zoka representatives. Ongoing rumors and tips have come into Sprudge throughout 2010 regarding the current situation at Zoka; these rumors reached a fever pitch in the month of May, offering us multiple trustworthy anonymous sources. For the record, we see any major reduction in presence for Zoka Coffee Roasters as a tragedy and loss for the Northwest coffee community.
(Photo originally uploaded by Sweetest Memories)