This looks like the end of I am Dazzling Caesar salads, everyone! Raw/vegan restaurant chain and alleged cult Café Gratitude, which is mostly beloved by the veg set and mostly creeps everyone else out, announced today that they are being forced to close all of their NorCal locations. “A series of aggressive lawsuits has brought us to this unfortunate choice,” they write, via Facebook. We’d heard earlier this year that the business was getting sued by a former employee for a host of labor code violations, the crux of which was their tip-pooling policy which required all servers to give 20% of their tips back to the “central kitchen” operation, and to divvy up the remaining 80% among staff, including managers and retail employees. [Editors’ Note: Farina may want to take note of this.] But there were also allusions to ADA lawsuits — which have been the bane of many small businesses in California in recent years — and some stuff in the news in 2009 relating to the restaurant’s requirement that every employee cough up $500 to take a seminar with the arguably culty Landmark Forum.
The official announcement today doesn’t indicate which of these lawsuits is actually breaking the bank, but if we had to guess it might be the ADA stuff, actually, since at least one litigious and very self-righteous wheelchair-bound man named Craig Yates and his aggressive legal counsel Thomas Frankovich have managed to force the closure of restaurants and small businesses like Chile Lindo in the past few years in S.F.
Café Gratitude owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart will say only “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.” So, that kind of points to the labor lawsuits. In any event, in signing off after eight years in business, they say, “Our mission will survive this, as love cannot be threatened.”
Presumably, since they refer only to Northern California locations, this will affect the six Café Gratitudes in S.F., the North, South, and East Bays, and Santa Cruz. The Los Angeles location appears to be unaffected, and there is no word how this might affect the successful Mexican off-shoot in S.F.’s Mission district, Gracias Madre.
Update: SFist talks to director of operations Shandra Gilbert who says that Gracias Madre is also for sale, but it remains unclear if and when it may close. [SFist]
Update 2: Grub Street gets some further, detailed info from the lawyer bringing the current suits. They may not be so “aggressive” at all, and there’s definitely more to this story.
Café Gratitude Announces Closure [SFist]
To Our Cafe Gratitude Community [Facebook]
Earlier: Is Farina Circling the Drain? They’re Now Keeping Employees’ Tips
Cafe Gratitude Sued for Labor-Code Violations [EBX]
I Am Annoyed and Disappointed [EBX]