On September 6th, 2019, Caffe Vita’s now former manager Isaiah Washington sent out a company-wide email about employees handing out leftover food and coffee on shift to the homeless. The email discouraged this act and said that “feeding the homeless without comprehensive services actually enables, increases, and promotes homelessness.” This email was issued after two employees, a woman and a person of color, were fired allegedly under these pretenses. Post email release, two other women were fired from the Capitol Hill location for their acts of charity with goods that would otherwise be thrown away. The email also states that while Vita believes these were “well-based intentions,”should these actions continue, it would result in the “business [being] filled with homeless people, many of our customers will likely choose alternatives, negatively impacting [Vita employees’] livelihoods.”
In response to this, newly formed group Coffee Riot organized a peaceful protest outside of the Caffe Vita on Pike Street. Coffee Riot is “an organization of individuals that share an array of perspectives as well as short and long term goals,” according to former employee and organizer Laura Friedman, “but we are here to build worker power, amplify the experiences of the minimum wage worker, expose the business practices of Caffe Vita, educate community members about what they are supporting when they support Caffe Vita,” all being the main focus for the protest. According to Coffee Riot they aim to “support community members” and “show up for friends” that have been working hard to create a cohesive and supportive working environment on the Hill.
The organization believes that Vita’s discriminatory pattern has, and continues to, jeopardize the livelihood of marginalized people, as stated on flyers being distributed by former employees and community members- homeless or otherwise. They are adamant that the Vita “family” rhetoric is false, where the flyer reads in bold “THIS IS NOT HOW YOU TREAT FAMILY.”
The organization Coffee Riot wishes to act as an accountability board for Vita, and other companies owned by Mike McConnell, including but not limited to Lost Lake, The Comet, and Big Mario’s. Coffee Riot was present on the block from 4-6 PM this Wednesday and have plans for more direct action through community organizing to be announced at a later date.