On Friday afternoon a pall had been cast over Four Barrel Coffee, where employees and customers expressed varying degrees of disappointment and wariness upon hearing that former employees of the coffee roaster had accused its founder of sexual assault.
The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the story Friday afternoon.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that Four Barrel’s owner, Jeremy Tooker, assaulted a female employee in a hotel room and forcibly kissed and touched others without consent.
The lawsuit’s allegations, described by the Chronicle, also depict a company whose leadership took little action when employees raised concerns about Tooker. One of the women was fired after raising Tooker’s conduct with her manager.
According to the Chronicle, eight women came forward with allegations in the lawsuit, though only two — Megan Kepnach and Karley Webb — are named as the plaintiffs. They seek an unspecified amount in damages.
“The article does a very good job of describing the culture here,” one female employee told Mission Local. “It hurts to read it, but this culture has been around here for a while.”
The employee said she had read the Chronicle’s story on her lunch break. Still processing the news, she said she was now contemplating the daunting task of needing to find a new job.
“It hurts to know this. I would like not to be part of this culture.”
While none of the customers Mission Local spoke to had read the news for themselves, most expressed hesitation about returning to the cafe after learning of the allegations.
“I’ll probably stop coming here unless the situation is rectified — which would look like the responsible parties being relieved and the people who have suffered having some sort of justice,” said T.J., 27, who said she’d loved Four Barrel coffee since before she moved to San Francisco.
“I will keep my eyes on this, and this will be my last visit for now,” she said, as she packed up her belongings.
“We’re getting to a time where we’re finally believing women, and I want to support that.”
Customer Erica Simmons, who hadn’t yet read the news, said she would want to know the specifics, but the allegations would definitely affect her willingness to come back to Four Barrel.
Another customer, Jay Mojica, said he would need more time to consider the news. “It’s hard to process this information.”
A trio of sisters visiting from Cupertino said they would think twice about coming back.
“You start to think, ‘Am I supporting this by coming here?’” said Emi Lewis, 21.
“If there was an equivalent alternative, I’d rather go there,” her sister, Maya, said.
Cobrina Grieco — an employee of Josey Baker Bread at the Mill, which Tooker co-founded — alleges in the lawsuit that Tooker forcibly grabbed her and kissed her against her will during a party in October 2015.
The lawsuit alleges that later that night, in a hotel room, Tooker pushed Grieco onto a bed and laid on top of her while she repeatedly said “no.” He also allegedly pulled her pants down around her thighs and was only stopped when other employees entered the room, the Chronicle reports.
Megan Kepnach, one of the plaintiffs, alleges that on that same night, Tooker attempted to kiss her, at one point grabbing the back of her head. Kepnach was fired after raising the incident with her manager, Brett Whitman, the lawsuit alleges.
Another former employee, Karley Webb, alleges in the lawsuit that Tooker also forcibly kissed her at the same party, according to Chronicle. She was subsequently fired, although it’s unclear whether it was in connection with the alleged harassment.
This is the latest in a raft of sexual harassment accusations against powerful men in the Bay Area food industry.
Just over a week ago, Charlie Hallowell, the owner of three well-known East Bay eateries, was accused by 17 former employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse in a San Francisco Chronicle investigation. He has since apologized and stepped away from the day-to-day operations at the restaurants.
Earlier in December, the New York Times reported that 10 female employees accused Ken Friedman, the co-owner of Tosca Cafe of San Francisco, of sexual harassment. Friedman apologized, but still owns the cafe.
In November, the Chronicle reported that celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, owner of San Francisco’s Coqueta, had recently settled two sexual harassment lawsuits.