SF businesses continue to weigh their involvement with Four Barrel

What used to be the Four Barrel shelf space at Rainbow Grocery. Photo by JoeBill Muñoz

Last Thursday, Grand Coffee owner Nabeel Silmi purchased an order of 60 pounds of roasted coffee from Four Barrel. A day later, the Chronicle reported that Four Barrel’s owner, Jeremy Tooker, was being accused of sexual harassment by eight women in a lawsuit filed the same day.

Now, after seven years of doing business with the coffee roaster, Silmi says he won’t order another single coffee bean from Four Barrel.

“These are pretty serious allegations — you can’t condone that kind of behavior by sending them checks every week,” he said.

Nabeel Silmi at Grand Coffee

Rainbow Grocery, a worker-owned co-op in the Mission, has about 70 12-ounce bags of Four Barrel sitting in its inventory, but decided to remove the product from its shelves on Saturday after hearing about the news.

“It seemed like the best thing to do at the time,” Paul Knowles, a member of Rainbow’s board of directors, said.

Another Mission grocer, Gus’s Community Market, has decided to keep the coffee on its shelves. Store manager Andrew Lehr says he’s aware of the allegations against Tooker, but he’s “waiting for due process.”

The lawsuit alleges that Tooker inappropriately touched and kissed several female employees without their consent and created a toxic workplace culture. Eight female former employees were named in the lawsuit against Tooker.

Silmi, who has only done business with Four Barrel since opening Grand Coffee in 2010, says he’s attended two of the distributor’s holiday parties, where he witnessed a “frat party-like” culture.

At one party, Silmi says Four Barrel baristas competed in a tournament to see who could create the best latte art. Two male employees made it to the final round, where winning required that they take off their shirts while pouring the lattes. It’s unclear what would have happened had two females made it to the final round.

According to the lawsuit, Tooker forced work party attendees to play a game called, “kiss or slap,” wherein he asked employees to either kiss him or slap him. The Chronicle reports that Tooker’s behavior was an “open secret” for years.

“It’s the fact that it was ongoing and the other two owners knew about it and didn’t do anything because it was allowed to happened — to let it continue,” Silmi said.

The lawsuit states that Jodi Green and Tal Mor, two of Tooker’s business partners and Four Barrel’s current owners, “chose to address neither the misconduct nor employees’ complaints about it,” reports the Chronicle.

Tooker has already left the company and Green and Mor say they gave his 50 percent of shares to the employees. On Monday the two owners announced that they were changing its name to “Tide” and were planning to eventually make the company 100 percent employee-owned, as reported by the Chronicle.

Both Rainbow and Grand Coffee say they support the restructuring. If it happens, Silmi said, “maybe I’ll do business with them again, but we’ll see.”

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3 Comments

  1. Pete Jones

    One of the very few good things about capitalism is the competition. There’s a lot of coffee companies out there; you really don’t have to support ones that act like Trump’s cabinet.

  2. John Thompson

    “Silmi, who has only done business with Four Barrel since opening Grand Coffee in 2010, says he’s attended two of the distributors holiday parties where he witnessed a “frat party-like” culture.”

    Sounds like Silmi is tryign to distance himself from Four-barrell not because of their actions, but because their actions are now public. He seemed to have known what the company was about prior to this story breaking in the news……

  3. cjerdonek

    FYI, Dandelion Chocolate close by on Valencia seems to be another cafe dropping Four Barrel (tweet from Thurs, Jan. 11): https://twitter.com/DandelionChoco/status/951501752037076994

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