One less refuge for rich white lake aristocracy, according to some

Something doesn't quite track...

This time it is the Birchwood Cafe‘s turn on the spotlight of infamy:

Long a darling of vegetarian and vegan foodies in the Twin Cities, it is now under the microscope as the owner summarily fired the entire staff including the GM on June 21st:

Instagram comment by @royale_withcheese

Myself the last time I ate there was years ago. I met a few people who worked there over the years but I personally had no idea of what management and ownership was like, other than I was never hired despite applying for kitchen positions multiple times.

The gist of it:

  • Tracy Singleton fired almost all the staff after setting up for Juneteenth.
  • Then she proceeded to post about it on Facebook and Instagram in a way that everyone says misrepresents her actions.
  • She declared this as a “prairie burn”; a chance to clean house.
  • When negative comments started coming in, she deleted them.
  • Then she deleted the original posts themselves.
  • She created new posts with comments disabled and people blocked.

There are a few screenshots going around but somehow no one thought (or refused) to take screenshots of those original posts so we will have to do without them. The fact this happened over two weeks ago means local food media is actively ignoring the story since most reporters probably want to stay in the good graces of the ownership.

Just the fact she used the term “prairie burn” as most of the western United States is under extreme drought, record high temperatures, and already started what will be a horrifying wildfire season… someone didn’t bother to read the room.

I found out about it via Twitter when someone retweeted @OhDionne onto my timeline, bringing up posts from Instagram and Facebook where the owner immediately set about deleting all comments from employees and those who would support them, so everyone will have to settle for screenshots of those posts.

However, activity elsewhere is still happening:

Former employee of Birchwood here and one of the many who were fired last week. It looks like you’ve read through the comments and have the gist of it. We were fired because the owner was paranoid that we were actively working against her and that we didn’t like her (which we don’t). The Juneteenth block party was just a convenient excuse for the public despite our questions on the logistics being legitimate. She truly believes she is a white savior while still making racist comments and tokenizing her POC employees. She’s received over a million dollars in PPP money and restaurant relief funds just to fire everyone.

As you’ve probably gathered from the comments, the owner is going through a mental health crisis combined with a drinking problem, but that’s no excuse for how she’s treated us this week and this year. I sincerely doubt the restaurant will reopen this summer if ever based on what we’re seeing here and her lack of staff. I’m happy to elaborate more on anything!

Update: the owner has deleted the Instagram and Facebook posts and reposted a similar message without our comments.

plantsaspets on Reddit

Not sure if it’s still there, but it was fun watching the owner and ex-employees go back and forth on the Birchwood facebook page. As a complete bystander, it looked like the owner came unhinged.

Michelle Zajec on Service Industry MSP

Still plenty of activity on Twitter itself based on the results of a quick search.

It makes me happy to see the support being shown by the rest of the community for the people who now find themselves unemployed! A lot of these people are deserving of a better workplace under better employers.

As for the Cafe and its owners we’ll probably hear about them in a few months when local food media breathlessly writes about the reopening of the place with a new-to-town chef and all-new staff.

Hopefully this time they will actually season their food.

Our world stops

Stop

As of yesterday I have been furloughed by my employer. Granted, I was working minimal hours as a host, but still… it does hurt the bottom line. Our governor announced basically all places of leisure are to close until March 27, including all restaurants, pubs, breweries, food halls/courts, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The situation is quite scary for people in food service right now. I can think of at least two restaurants that might not survive being closed down for this long, and that is contingent on the closure not being extended further into the future. In Nevada they’re set to close for 30 days, so that will make for an even harder experience for the industry in that state.

It will be a hard time for everyone. Let us help each other in the industry:

  • Pickup food from your local food bank, and donate to it when the situation is better.
  • Apply for unemployment benefits. Check with your employer beforehand as some employers are not being honest or forthcoming about employment status.
  • Some grocery and big-box stores are hiring temporary help due to the crush of people. Of course, this risks community exposure to possible contagion, which you may or may not want.
  • Look around for more resources. A good place to start is this Eater list.
  • If you’re stuck at home, video call your service industry friends. Don’t text or call. A lot of people rely on the job to get their share of social interaction for the day and it helps your mental health to talk with other people in the same situation.
  • Go outside. You don’t have to stay cooped up indoors. Just make sure to apply proper social distancing.

I’m sure everyone has seen plenty of articles about staying productive but remember. Not everything is about money. Do what you like to do and get into building better habits for yourself.

This will be hard for everyone but remember you’re not alone.

Edit 2020-03-18 06-31: Check out this r/KitchenConfidential COVID-19 megathread with a ton of links to resources and help!

Someday the band will get back together

Closing a restaurant means staring directly at your reflection and seeing a quitter staring back at you

Source: How to Close a Restaurant – Eater

A few months ago the staff of the restaurant I was working at were all told of an all-hands meeting. Nobody thought it strange as it had been over six months since the last meeting and that one had resulted in an entire reworking of the menu. So it was time.

I started getting giddy when the corporate Chef showed up, and then one of the owners showed up. Something was afoot. So we all walked down to the conference room of the building, and the boss immediately dropped the bomb on us.

The restaurant was to close down when the lease was up, a month and a half from that day.

It did come as a bit of a surprise to most of the staff—myself included. Our numbers weren’t the best but we were breaking even, or so I thought. We had a fair number of regulars, and people regularly raved about the quality of the food.

It meant a number of things but first and foremost it meant a fair number of employees would have to seek out new employment in the slowest season of the year.

But here’s the thing. This is closing down a restaurant from an employee’s point of view. I did not have to worry about emptying out the space, or closing down accounts with suppliers and purveyors, or worrying about those last paychecks. It is a very different experience since as an employee you… get to just walk away worrying only about that last paycheck.

It still smarts. There are always more restaurants to work at but it is a special thing when you have a good crew working together.

Maybe someday it will happen again.

Leaving, both ways

This post started so innocently, in a most innocuous manner.

Got up from the desk, went over to the kitchen with my mug. Grabbed some tea, filled the mug with hot water, set a timer. That’s when I saw them:

iPhone with timer app open
There’s an app for that

All the timers I had set for items I would be cooking:

  • Baked beans
  • Braised chicken
  • Spicy ground meat. Deep, red spice and heat, almost a chili.
  • Sous-vide eggs
  • Random odds and ends that just remained there

Those timers were on my phone for months while I worked at this establishment. Timers for basically everything there was, with names that were easy for voice recognition to work with.

Without these timers I assure you, I would not even be in a kitchen. Al the product I would be burning and throwing away, all the waste. Working on the line gives you a great sense of timing but nothing beats having a timer.

And then, my mind still in efficiency mode, I deleted them all.

It wasn’t until I was done with this that I realized what it was I had done. This restaurant recently closed down and I know a few of the employees there are still reeling, yet here I am casually deleting the last remnant of it on something I use every day, namely, my smartphone.

Yes, there are the mementos: a couple of spoons, a pan, a mug, the great many pictures of my coworkers goofing off. But these timers… they were something of actual use, not just something that was done for fun. This was done for actual work.

But they’re gone now.

You leave a restaurant, and slowly, bit by bit, a restaurant leaves you.