On Wednesday, October 2nd, a walkout and protest was staged outside the Capitol Hill location of Seattle’s Caffé Vita arranged by a group known as Coffee Riot Seattle. Per a post on Instagram, the protest comes in response to the firing of Vita baristas for giving away pastries and coffee to unhoused individuals in the area.
According to the post, on September 5th, Vita co-owner Mike McConnell and the company’s general managers “fired a quarter of the baristas” at Vita’s iconic Capitol Hill location, “all of which come from marginalized backgrounds.” These individuals were fired, the post states, “because of the sudden harsh enforcement of a company policy that was not enforced or used historically.”
Per The Stranger, the next day an email was sent out to employees by now-former General Manger Isaiah Washington regarding the company’s policy:
We’ve recently learned that some employees have been giving away Vita gift cards, food, and coffee to homeless people in the neighborhoods we occupy.
Although these were well placed intentions, please understand, it is our belief that feeding homeless people without comprehensive services actually enables, increases and promotes homelessness. In order for us to do good things in the neighborhood, we must first have a successful business—giving away products is theft and the grounds for immediate employment termination. If our business is filled with homeless people many of our customers will likely choose alternatives, negatively impacting our livelihoods.
Citing four former Capitol Hill Vita employees, the Stranger’s article goes on to state that one of the baristas was let go for “giving out two free refill coffees.” Since then, “a total of 10 full-time employees have been fired or have quit for reasons related to that policy.” The four employees The Stranger spoke with also “deny giving away gift cards or hearing of anyone giving away gift cards.”
In response to the firings, Coffee Riot Seattle staged a demonstration outside the location in question, where protestors gave out fliers to passers by as well as leaving them on parked cars and put up larger posters around the neighborhood.
Caffé Vita co-owner Liz McConnell spoke with The Stranger about the incident. Per The Stranger:
McConnell said she believed the company had a pastry waste protocol, but she was “not sure” if any such protocol was listed in the employee handbook or elsewhere. She also didn’t know if the company had protocol for drip coffee destined for the drain.
When asked what evidence she uses to substantiate the belief that feeding homeless people enables homelessness, McConnell said “a belief isn’t saying anything that’s factual.”
When pressed on the issue, she told the story of a homeless person who, McConnell claimed, turned down a job offer at the cafe because “they said they preferred to stay on unemployment.” She added that providing “comprehensive solutions” was the most effective way to address homelessness and pointed to her support of nonprofits such as FareStart and Mary’s Place.
We have reached out to both Caffé Vita and Coffee Riot Seattle and will update this post as more information becomes available.
This story is developing…
Images for Sprudge courtesy of Conor Poull