We remain intrigued to see how this week’s Café Gratitude closing/sale announcement is going to play out (Will most of the NorCal locations, along with Gracias Madre, remain pretty much unchanged, just under new ownership? Will more lawsuits emerge? Will owners Terces and Matthew Engelhart continue to justify their tip-pooling practices as “sacred commerce”?), but one thing is for certain: Café Gratitude devotees are not going to give up until they preach some more gospel about the restaurant/life improvement system that is Café Gratitude. Lest there be too many commenters chiming in who feel like the place is a little creepy/culty for their taste — or lest any other disgruntled former employees come forward — the Gratitude folk have taken to the internet with a new plea to post comments on our story about the closing, and flood the inboxes of Grub Street, SFist, Inside Scoop, and everyone else who wrote about it with messages of unconditional love and support for the Engelharts. So yes, the PR war is ON.
We were wondering why we were suddenly getting these testimonials from people who have attended the Engelharts’ workshops in our email this morning. It seems that, encouraged by how we quoted former server Zachar the other day, a blogger-employee of the company named Karin has called on all their fans and workshop attendees to write testimonials to all the various local media who have covered the story. In a posting titled “How Has Café Gratitude Impacted Your Life?”, Karin says, “This company and community has touched many lives, and there are many people who are reaching out right now, reading, and trying to find out what the magnanimous Café Gratitude is really all about.” In other words, the company wants to make sure the faithful get their voices heard on the blogs, and the other side doesn’t rule the news cycle. Also, Terces Engelhart has put the plea out on Facebook saying, “Don’t get pulled in by the gossip, keep your hearts wide open and your attention on gratitude, that is the work right NOW.”
The thing is, none of the testimonials we’re seeing so far, including the one from former server Zachar, are disputing the merits of the impending lawsuits. They’re mostly just saying things like, “Little did I know the [Engelharts’ workshop] would open my heart and mind to the idea of unconditional love as a means of acceptance, trust and respect in the workplace.”
Jesse Hirsch, writing in the East Bay Express yesterday, points out that in advance of the impending court proceedings against the business, the Engelharts and the plaintiff’s attorney are now engaged in a PR war to keep their reputation from being too tarnished. The cases are as follows: 1) a suit seeking lost wages from tip pooling in a case brought by former server Sarah Stevens; and 2) the improper classification of staff bookkeeper Ravi Shanker as a salaried employee, when he should have been getting hourly wages, in a suit seeking back wages; as well as a third lawsuit we’re still unclear on.
Most rational folk seem in agreement that these lawsuits, in and of themselves, are not likely to bankrupt the Engelharts. But the publicity fallout from this could stand to impact the future of the businesses that won’t be closing (their L.A. and Santa Cruz restaurants, which are under different ownership within the Engelhart family; their workshop and self-help business; and the central kitchen operation that supplies the restaurants, which the plaintiffs’ attorney believes they will not close). So we look forward to many more messages of unconditional love and sacred commerce in our inboxes for days to come.
Earlier: A New Side of the Café Gratitude Closure Story, and Their Potentially Shady ‘Sacred Commerce’
Former Café Gratitude Server Comes to the Restaurant’s Defense
Café Gratitude to Close All Northern California Locations; Gracias Madre Threatened Too [Updated]