The Marzocco lion

Update: La Marzocco has further addressed a number of the claims contained in this article. Click here to learn more.

In addition to a standard postscript disclosure, this feature requires additional disclosure. The following reporting involves an advertising client on Sprudge Media Network, La Marzocco. It also involves multiple Sprudge contributors: Jenn Chen, Michelle Johnson, and Alex Gable. Thank you for reading Sprudge.

A series of allegations, recriminations, comments, and counterclaims have rocked the coffee landscape over the last week related to La Marzocco, the international specialty coffee machine manufactory based in Florence, Italy.

Let's start at the start. On Monday, June 1st La Marzocco USA posted a notice of charitable donation and protest support on its Instagram page. LMUSA is the United States branch of La Marzocco International, one of dozens of field branches worldwide and tasked with sales, product support, and community outreach as part of the global La Marzocco brand. This post happened against the backdrop of a historic moment for civil rights here in the United States, and indeed worldwide, sparked by the police murder of George Floyd and pervasive, systemic racism across society, including the criminal justice system.

Responses to LM USA's donation notice varied and included both critique and praise. But one response, in particular, drew considerable attention, the fallout from which is still rippling across the American, Italian, and global specialty coffee industries.

This comment was made by Alex Gable, an American coffee professional and journalist based in Milan, Italy. He is, in particular, an enormously talented wine journalist and photographer, whose byline has appeared on Sprudge Wine and other international wine publications. Gable was briefly an employee of La Marzocco International, working from January 2018 until May 2018 in the role of Accademia Coffee Specialist.

Here is the comment in full:

I respect this initiative, but I hope you can hold your marketing and production team in Italy to the same standards. Country borders shouldn't affect your policy of tolerance to racism. I have an hour long list of astonishingly backwards experiences while I was working in the marketing office in Milan that won't all fit here, but on an almost daily basis, I verbally confronted every racist comment or "joke" and was ridiculed because Americans are too sensitive, and was told in my termination with Marta ( Marketing manager who publicly acts progressive, but says things repeatedly like "no fat people allowed on my @accademiadelcaffeespresso team" or in an official marketing meeting about how to change marketing materials to be more PC claimed "people like @meeshalrj and Jenn Chen are the PC taliban and will destroy us for putting a white man in our graphics," or that a particular woman at RECO had a lot of good to say but will never get anyone's attention because "her face looked retarded" ) she told me that "La Marzocco is an Italian company at the heart, and you just aren't Italian enough to keep up with our program here." I speak here like I am part of a solution, but I in fact am part of the problem as well. I was hired for the role of Accademia curriculum director over the other person who wanted the same job who was not only a black woman, but was far more qualified for the position that me, citing her 5 years of experience in Italian coffee industry, spoke Italian and English fluently ( unlike me) and would have been a much better candidate for the position in general. When I asked Marta why I was chosen over her, I was told "could you imagine how much I'd hear from Chris if I brought a liberal black woman into this office?!" Almost every lower and upper

for the position in general. When I asked Marta why I was chosen over her, I was told "could you imagine how much I'd hear from Chris if I brought a liberal black woman into this office?!" Almost every lower and upper level employee in the office, except the graphic designer and one younger intern, would say things like "I can't stand this n***** music" when someone listened to hip hop, or would make aggressive slurs about LGBTQ community and women as well.

One circumstance in particular that still me so angry, I start shaking was when there was an LM Popup cafe in Brera during design week, and there was a young woman from Cameroon working as the only barista for the entire week, and from my opinion was doing an amazing job given the lack of assistance and resources she had to do her job. One morning after a party at the cafe, the bathroom was a total mess. When I asked a marketing manager named Tommasso what happened, he said right around the corner from her "This is what happens when you hire a n***** to do a job." When I reacted and explained to him how horribly racist and mean that was and how he should never use that word, he laughed and said "no, I mean she is bad at working because she's a black person." She spoke English perfectly and I comforted her when I found her outside hiding and crying. I reported this to multiple senior officials, and literally nothing was done or said and treated me is if I was causing a problem. Once again, I realize this isn't the LMUSA office I'm referring too... and I realize that these are verbal aggressions compared to the unjust police brutality in the US, and that donating the cost of two of your espresso machines is a nice thing to do... but please try to make a difference at a personal level and not just use this opportunity to falsely market your company as trying to make a difference until you confront the people in your own company that are part of the global problem.

Reaction was immediate and included additional comments demanding an explanation on La Marzocco's Instagram post, as well as screencaps of the comment appearing soon thereafter on additional social media outlets, including Twitter and Facebook. The two individuals mentioned by name in Gable's allegations, Jenn Chen and Michelle Johnson—both also enormously talented and widely respected journalists—have vocally responded to the commentary via public social media posts. This is a brief selection of just some of the public reaction, which is included here with permission.

Johnson's call for a response was echoed across social media. Shortly after making his initial comments, Alex Gable deleted them from La Marzocco USA's Instagram account.”It was quickly after I posted it out of consideration of names I wrote without permission,” Gable tells Sprudge. “I did not want to create a distraction from the horrifying acts of violence happening in the US and reacted in the moment not having realized that it was about to seen by a lot of people online.”

Indeed, screencaps of Gable's comments continued to be shared widely spurring additional discourse, including repeated calls for public statement coming from several prominent members of the American and international specialty coffee community.

La Marzocco then did indeed release a public statement. At 11:30 PM PST on Thursday, June 3rd—that's Thursday morning, June 4th in Italy—the following public statement was issued by the official international La Marzocco Instagram account.

View this post on Instagram

Dear Friends, ⁠ ⁠ La Marzocco has always valued its culture and openness to the community as a whole. This week, one of our former employees reported that racist and offensive statements were made by more than one of our employees. We are investigating the assertions made in the post and will take appropriate action based on our findings.⁠ ⁠ Regardless of our review, we deeply apologize to the black community, the coffee industry and to the community at large for the alleged statements by La Marzocco employees.⁠ ⁠ La Marzocco is sorry, moreover, for the undeserved emotional stress caused to the individuals in the post including Jenn Chen and Michelle Johnson. We will be reaching out to them directly.⁠ ⁠ La Marzocco is open to all, independently of race, religion and gender, and adheres to and promotes values of equality, diversity, and respect. La Marzocco agrees with and stands with the movement taking place in the USA, which aims to dismantle racism. La Marzocco welcomes all to visit at any of its locations around the globe to engage in open conversation with us. La Marzocco is committed to developing sensitivity programs and reinforcing its policy.⁠ ⁠ Here are the steps we are committed to today and moving forward:⁠ ⁠ We have opened an internal investigation to determine where issues may exist with the aim to find solutions to ensure any findings are addressed.⁠ Evolve policies with actionable and enforceable consequences regarding the conduct and behavior of all global La Marzocco employees.⁠ Appoint a high-level committee trained in diversity and inclusion with authority to develop reviews, hiring practices and training for global La Marzocco employees.⁠ Implement Diversity and Inclusion training courses at all global locations.⁠ Develop an ongoing review of our Diversity and Inclusion actions to ensure we are consistent with our values now and into the future.⁠ ⁠ Thank you for your business and support. It is because of you that we have had our success and we feel the responsibility to continue to earn your trust and respect moving forward.⁠ ⁠ Guido Bernardinelli,⁠ CEO La Marzocco

A post shared by @ lamarzocco on

An identical message was posted by the La Marzocco USA Instagram account shortly thereafter, and the statement has been published additionally on La Marzocco International's official website.

The reaction has been wide-ranging, with members of the international specialty coffee industry voicing both praise and critique. In particular, several commenters demanded to know what steps specifically La Marzocco would take regarding the proposed investigation, and when the public would be informed of follow-up. NYC-based coffee professional, podcast host, and Black Coffee panelist Ezra Baker summed up this sentiment succinctly, commenting: “Well peeps Now you have to show it.” La Marzocco's official account replied to this statement directly by saying, “Thank you for giving us the opportunity.”

A sentiment of continued accountability was echoed in the public responses of Michelle Johnson and Jenn Chen, along with skepticism.

La Marzocco has not issued any further official public statement as of press time, and have continued to reply to select comments on social media. But one member of La Marzocco staff named in the allegations, Marta Kokosar, has issued a rebuttal statement to her public Instagram, in which she calls Alex Gable's account of her quotes and statements are “very serious and false allegations.” In this statement, she writes, “A judgment was made about me personally, built without any foundation, without any evidence and absolutely no checking of the facts. My personal and professional history is made of clear choices and strong positions against racism, homophobia, sexism; in words and in practice. Always. I do not intend to contribute to controversies that distract attention from what is happening in the United States.”

Many members of the wider coffee community in Italy and abroad have made additional comments on social media, with some reaching out directly to Jenn Chen via direct message. Chen has shared one of these messages on Twitter:

Reporting a feature like this naturally involves including a broad range of public comment; it is a story that has played out widely in the public sphere, on social media, against a backdrop of history. In the course of that reporting we've additionally reached out to all parties involved—La Marzocco's US and international teams, including individuals working for La Marzocco named in Gable's comments, as well as Chen, Johnson, and Gable themselves—and offered the opportunity to make an additional comment.

La Marzocco International has offered the following statement as an additional comment, in a quote from CEO Guido Bernardinelli:

“Recent events have prompted us to think of how privileged we are. We must make time for reflection as important social changes are happening around the world. The world is ever-changing and we must make sure that we evolve, not only as individuals, but also as ambassadors of those changes while honoring our origins that are based on equality, diversity and respect. La Marzocco is built on transparency and we welcome you – with open hearts and open minds – to visit at any of our locations around the globe and engage in a genuine conversation with us.” — Guido Bernardinelli.

Alex Gable has offered the following statement as an additional comment:

“There’s a common sentiment here in Europe, similar to the US, that racism is only defined by a conscious hate, and that use of racial slurs is okay. I will continue to fight that idea.

There is never a good time to stay silent about hate or even about other people’s silence towards hate, even if it’s brushed off as casual workplace humor, and no matter what country you are in.

I would like to sincerely apologize for identifying certain people that were targets of other people’s prejudiced comments before asking their permission to do so. I am now aware that this is not the best approach, and will be devoted to learning more.

I hope that by speaking out about past experiences, there will be practices put into place to foster a truly open work environment.” — Alex Gable

Jenn Chen has offered the following statement as an additional comment:

“I do not accept La Marzocco‘s apology.

It is wrapped up in PR speak and tied off in this nice little bow of all promises and no actions. Where is the accountability? When will the investigation be complete? Is it going to be conducted by a third-party?

I have long admired La Marzocco for their innovation, research, and dedication to the community. And because of this, I am severely disappointed at not just their statement but also the handling of the situation.

I hold no grudge against Alex [Gable]. In fact, I think he was incredibly brave to speak up. I hope he and the other ex-employee mentioned also receive personal apologies and offers of support.

This has been an unexpectedly, emotionally draining and angering week in many ways. The blatant and insidious racism many of us have been shouting about and working on for years are buried in companies like this. I hope La Marzocco and the coffee industry learn from this situation.” —Jenn Chen

Michelle Johnson has offered the following statement as an additional comment:

“I said what I said. Do better or be left behind.” — Michelle Johnson.

This story is developing.

La Marzocco is an advertising client on Sprudge Media Network.

All Jenn Chen bylines on Sprudge.

All Michelle Johnson bylines on Sprudge.

All Alex Gable bylines on Sprudge.

Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network and the winner of a 2020 James Beard Award for digital journalism.