In September 2019, Caffe Vita saw a mass exodus of staff from their Capitol Hill location in direct response to a letter sent out by management regarding end of shift food waste. Instead of being able to redistribute day-old pastries and coffee to resource insecure community members, Vita Management stated that “feeding the homeless without comprehensive services actually enables, increases, and promotes homelessness” before forbidding the practice and asking staff to instead consider volunteering for the several services Vita supports- including Roots young adult shelter and the Orion center.
Former manager Isaiah Washington sent out a warning for immediate termination of any employees that gave away product waste to homeless folks. Three staff members, were fired for giving out pastries and coffee that would have otherwise been thrown away, resulting in backlash against the Seattle coffee staple.
Former Vita baristas and their friends along with other members of the Capitol Hill community created a short lived, but lively, group called “Coffee Riot”. They staged a peaceful protest against the company at its Capitol Hill location just days after the consecutive firings on October 2nd 2019. Coffee Riot would hand out information related to the firings, explaining a pattern of mistreatment and exploitation from Caffe Vita management.
Immediately following the Coffee Riot protest, the entire front of house staff moved on from the Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill. This affected sales, possibly enough to consider a different closing time- which changed from 11pm to 7pm.
The manager responsible for the letter, Isiah Washington, says “he “regrets” going along with upper management’s plan to send the email, and claims he didn’t think the specific content regarding the homeless was necessary,” and immediately quit working there according to his interview with The Stranger.
A brief follow up apology was issued by Vita, saying they are “committed to diversity and inclusion and are dedicated to proactively lifting up underrepresented community members, including our neighbors experiencing homelessness and plan to “do better” for their community,” in an Instagram post made days after the protest, and about a month after firings.
Washington was not the only loss of upper management, long-term owner and Seattle coffee mogul, Mike McConnell, sold his shares in Caffe Vita to Deming Maclise- owner of neighboring business Poquitos at the beginning of this year. Maclise has taken charge of branches of the brick and mortar cafes along with the merchandise rights and the roasting operation.
According to a former Vita employee, “Mike was the epicenter of what made Vita a toxic workplace. A lot of the new management that we see there are just holdovers from Mike’s era who proved to be apathetic and incompetent in their own right” upon hearing that Mike McConnell was out. Mike McConell himself was not able to be reached for comment by the Collegian.
This former staff member, who wished to stay anonymous adds that though the company has had some shifts in ownership they ”don’t expect the ship to be turned around. But there will be less worry about getting fired over nothing.”
New front of house management at the Capitol Hill location on Pike St. said that they are “unsure of the reasoning for Mike leaving, but excited for a new start.” And they encourage past employees to re-apply as new management settles in for what might be a bumpy start.
Edited on 1/13/2020