The East Bay Express recently published an exposé on the local vegan raw food chain, Café Gratitude. Allegedly, the restaurant forces employees to adopt their spiritual views and illegally pay for “life-changing” seminars, tracks employee’s spiritual progress and/or resistance to indoctrination, and fires staff who do not follow the Cafe’s spiritual path:
Yet it’s the philosophy, not the food, that appears to drive the company. Managers and the owners often describe Café Gratitude as “a school of transformation disguised as a cafe.” The [founders] created a board game for self-reflection, called “Abounding River,” and the cafe is meant to be a place for people to play the game. Managers lead daily “clearings,” during which employees answer a series of questions before “re-creating” each other in a process aimed at freeing the workers to be present and alive in the moment for the job. Hugging among staff is frequent.
After being promoted, [Ash Ritter, former manager] says her first manager’s meeting involved managers sharing their experiences at [Landmark Forum (classes for crazy people)]— often emotionally explaining the ways in which it changed their lives. “It was the theme,” she said. “‘Landmark saved my life.'”
According to Ritter, the leaders of the meeting then asked every manager to enroll ten people to come to an introduction to Landmark. They didn’t say it was a required part of the job, but Ritter felt pressured to attend because they asked all managers to e-mail the district manager every time they spoke to an employee who had not attended Landmark about giving it a try. She said they encouraged managers to keep track of the people they talked to, even if they declined the invitation. (Full article text)
What happens to Café Gratitude from here? Will it become another empty storefront because people are rational and will not support a brain-washing cult? Or will Café Gratitude become the next FIJI Water: in spite of all its abuses, it’s still trendy to eat grass on a cracker?