Dandelion Chocolate storefront
Dandelion Chocolate on Valencia Street. Photo by Lydia Chávez

Cheyenne Eisert was home from work in March 2019 when she saw a message on a Dandelion Chocolate employee chat room from her manager. It showed a photo of an orangutan with the name “Cheyenne” underneath. 

“Met your distant cousin Cheyenne,” then-assistant manager Hannah Kram wrote in the March 7 message. 

Eisert, who is of Filipino descent, was stunned. “I read it and I just put my phone down and then I awkwardly responded because I didn’t really know how to react,” Eisert said in an interview with Mission Local. 

Eisert is not alone. Four former Dandelion Chocolate employees told Mission Local that the incident was racist and embodied a company culture that diminishes, tokenizes and discriminates against employees of color. Some accused the company of being “anti-Black.” 

The employees are speaking out now because Dandelion Chocolate posted on Instagram to show solidarity with the recent movement for racial justice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. 

“Remember when one of your managers compared me to a monkey in front of her mainly POC staff and BIPOC staff. And y’all did nothing about it except transfer her to your sparkly new factory?” Eisert wrote on Dandelion’s “Blackout Tuesday” post on June 2. “Yeah, we still do. Not much solidarity there.” 

A week after that post, Todd Masonis, the founder and CEO of the company, replied to Eisert, affirming that the incident was “racist.” He noted that the company conducted an investigation in 2019 and came to “what we thought was a meaningful resolution at the time.”

We did what we thought was right at the time, but clearly in hindsight, we missed the mark,” Masonis wrote in response to Eisert’s comment. “We should have done better. We are learning from this and are committed to listening and acting differently in the future.” 

‘We can do better’ 

During a phone interview with Mission Local on Thursday, Masonis, Dandelion’s CEO, said repeatedly: “We can do better.” 

Masonis said he reviewed Dandelion’s investigation of last March’s racist text message incident. 

“And it seemed pretty clear to a lot of people that [Kram] hadn’t intended it,” he said. “But she clearly had an impact regardless of what she thought about it.” 

Masonis said, following the incident, he froze Kram’s “pay increases or any responsibility increases,” and “transferred her to a different location, one that had lower tips.” 

Dandelion, he said, believed it handled the situation correctly at the time, but now, “in retrospect, probably not.” 

A former Dandelion Chocolate employee gave Mission Local Kram’s phone number. When we called and outlined the situation, the woman answering the phone said, “I think you have the wrong number.” Asked whether her name was Hannah Kram, the person said: “I am not going to talk to you.” We have called Kram through Facebook messenger and left her messages on that platform. She has not returned the call or the messages. 

Too ‘aggressive’ 

Current and former employees say that the incident was not isolated — that incidents like these permeated a discriminatory company culture that persists today. “There are definitely culture issues with anti-Blackness not being treated seriously,” said Adonis Valentine, who resigned from the company in August 2019 after Valentine’s managers complained about the worker’s “aggressive” attitude. Valentine is Black. 

“I noticed that he took extra care to make certain that people of darker complexion were always particularly nice and smiley,” Valentine said of Dandelion Chocolate’s general manager, Graeme Lowe. “And I had white coworkers who never once had to deal with that.” 

Valentine said that Lowe threatened firing Valentine from the company if Valentine’s behavior didn’t improve following an incident in which Valentine simply called out a customer’s name extra loud to serve the person a drink, Valentine said. 

The company, according to Valentine, created a personal “performance plan,” documenting other times where Valentine was perceived as being “aggressive.” 

Valentine resigned shortly after the interaction with Lowe, as Valentine said a pattern was clear: “Every single person who was having an issue with being deemed aggressive is Black.” 

Masonis said that labeling Valentine’s experience as an indicator of systemic racism “might not hold up to scrutiny.” He read Mission Local the improvement plan that accused Valentine of being “pushy or aggressive rather than helpful and collaborative.” It cited instances in which Valentine turned down help at the espresso machine during a busy time, walked out of a shift, and turned down music and shouted a customer’s name. 

Masonis said that some of the co-workers who complained were “people of color.” 

He did not make Lowe, the general manager, immediately available for an interview. 

Valentine said it was a “knee-jerk reaction” to imply that people of color cannot harbor subjective bias against Black people. Any dissent by Black employees “about how anything was run was perceived as attitude or aggression,” Valentine said. 

“They got caught up doing something racist,” Valentine said. “And immediately after they started perceiving issues with a Black person.” 

‘Brown bag lunch’ 

After Kram had sent the message to staff comparing Eisert to an orangutan, Gjaidan Stewart brought the issue to the Dandelion Chocolate human resources department, Stewart said. It kicked off an investigation that resulted in a couple of meetings with staff. The company announced that Kram would be relocated. Some employees Mission Local spoke to said Kram and the company apologized, others said there was no apology. 

All agreed that seeing Kram transferred was not enough. 

“Black and brown employees were very upset,” Stewart said. “There was a feeling of hopelessness — like we were being not heard and not supported.” 

In addition to transferring Kram, according to employees, the company subsequently formed several “brown bag lunches” — talking sessions in which employees were invited to bring their lunch and listen to a presentation by local community members. 

Stewart said the meetings were “super informative” but were not well attended — held at times when cafe workers were not able to attend. 

And then, after a couple of sessions, “things returned back to normal,” Stewart said. “It simply fizzled away at the time.” 

Stewart was involved in a motor collision in October 2019 and was off work until February 2020.  Upon returning, Stewart was reassigned to the 16th Street location, where Kram was a manager — even though Stewart had previously objected to working under Kram after the racist text message incident. 

“It seemed very pointed and intentional as a way to manage me out,” Stewart said. 

Stewart resigned from Dandelion after only a couple of shifts. Stewart had had enough. 

Swept under the rug

Employees Mission Local spoke to, including Stewart, Valentine, and Eisert, described Dandelion Chocolate’s response to these incidents as disingenuous — as a means to merely “sweep them under the rug.” 

Another example came years earlier, in April 2017, when Jen Villasenor was closing with a male assistant manager whom Villasenor didn’t know well. A Great Dane passed by on the sidewalk and Villasenor remembers the male manager saying, “that dog would rape you.” 

“He tried to make it a joke and say that’s not what he meant,” Villasenor said. “At that point, I was very uncomfortable — I was in the dark with him.” 

Villasenor brought it up to human resources staff, who subsequently launched an investigation. Little happened. The manager received some training, according to Villasenor, but remained an assistant manager for years. 

“I quit within a year because I had nightly stress dreams about working there because management was so toxic,” Villasenor said. 

‘The help’

Every employee Mission Local spoke to was a retail or front-of-the-house employee, and most were people of color. All said they were treated like lower-class employees. 

“There seemed to be a very big disconnect in the way the labor-focused employees — Black and brown people — and corporate employees — white people — were treated,” Stewart said. “We were obviously treated like the help and lower-class employees.” 

Eisert agreed. She said the corporate staff rarely acknowledged the cafe workers. Their mannerisms, she said, imparted the message that “we’re just down below and never got full respect from them.” 

All of this in spite of the company trying to “make the face of the company diverse,” Eisert said. “Everyone in the cafe is a minority. They really tried to push that, which I find really interesting because it’s almost like tokenism.” 

Almost all of the company’s leadership is white, a matter that did not escape every employee we spoke with.  

Acknowledging imbalances of power 

One current, longtime Dandelion Chocolate employee, who identified as a person of color but asked not to be named for this article, said their experience has been good at Dandelion. But, “there is a reason why the people who are claiming to have experienced these things directly are not current employees.”  

The person added, “there’s not a lot of sensitivity towards these things.” 

“The management team has a system that they built to handle these instances — and it’s a little robotic and it’s not very human,” the person said. “And I think that this stands to be opened up and rebuilt in a way that acknowledges imbalance of power and takes into account voices of marginalized people and builds that into the system.” 

Masonis said he was aware of the incident about the manager’s comment about rape, and that the manager was placed on a plan to “improve.” But Masonis said his company could have done more. “In retrospect, what we see is for the party who’s had this happen to them, they don’t necessarily feel that there was a sense of justice.” 

The company, he said, is “rethinking” its human resources response to those kinds of incidents. 

Asked about his mostly white management team, Masonis said: “It is true that the majority of the management team is white. I don’t think that it was designed that way, but I think that is what happened.” 

He said some employees of color had gone through Dandelion’s “professional development course,” but “for whatever reason, it didn’t work out, or we tried to make it work, or we could have done more.” 

Asked whether his company suffers from racial bias and discrimination, Masonis replied that “I do think there is such a thing as implicit bias, whether or not people are aware of it.” 

“That’s something that takes time and effort and energy and understanding to make sure that we are on our guard for,” he said. “And I think a lot of these incidents were from in the past — doesn’t excuse them — but it just means I think our thinking has evolved over time.” 

Dandelion, he said, is starting a “steering committee” composed of employees from around the company to “help us fix issues.” He also said he’s hiring an “outside consultant” selected by the committee. Masonis said he would be rethinking the “employee performance plans.” 

Why now? 

A week after Eisert called out Dandelion Chocolate on Instagram, Masonis sent Eisert, Valentine and another employee an email apologizing, saying that “future action can’t make up for past harm.” 

Eisert has not responded. 

“I thought it was a complete joke because he didn’t even talk to us when this whole situation happened,” Eisert said. “He’s only talking now because he’s getting called out publicly.” 

Please consider donating to Mission Local.

Julian Mark

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Join the Conversation

45 Comments

  1. Thanks for covering this. I had no idea workers were being treated this way. I’m sorry to all of the employees who have been affected by this and I hope that Dandelion takes steps to make this right.

  2. Adonis has served me, a random white tech guy, several times. He was extremely friendly, with a slightly fun attitude. I always hoped he’d be the one ringing me up when I walked in, and was sad when I stopped seeing him around.

    Shameful, Dandelion.

  3. On behalf of Dandelion, I want to acknowledge the points in this article and say I’m sorry for the hurt that was caused by our actions (and inaction) to our current and former team members. We aspire to do right by our team and community and sometimes fall short. We are committed to doing better and to holding ourselves to a higher standard.

    In the incidents mentioned, we conducted formal and well-documented investigations. In these cases, we worked for a solution that we thought was fair and appropriate based on conversations and feedback from our team members. It has become clear that this is not sufficient and falls short of addressing the fundamental issues and creating organizational change. We are now closely examining these processes to shift the focus to communication and progress. And to ensure that we are not propagating systems that consistently lead to bad outcomes for specific communities.

    We are working to learn from these experiences and change. While it is not possible to implement meaningful and lasting change overnight, we are taking action to meet the urgency of these issues. We are launching an employee-led steering committee devoted to providing oversight on diversity efforts — promoting company-wide communication and understanding of perspectives and experiences across the organization with the focused intention of creating a more inclusive environment and a proactive approach to diversity. We have also sought external help from diversity consultants, have required online diversity training since earlier this year, and will be launching more internal training based on the guidance of our steering committee. 

    We know that actions speak louder than words, and that we are measured by the steps we take, both immediately and in the longer term. We appreciate the feedback and will do better.

    -Todd
    Dandelion Chocolate

    1. To Todd, your note here is lacking. It hasn’t become clear, it was always clear. You allowed your management to make racist comments, and rape jokes, and kept them on staff.

      Also, I appreciate this reporting. There’s a larger narrative about customer service roles in San Francisco, and the insane amount of discrimination and racism going on. Luke’s Local and Ritual Coffee have come under attack for very similar reasons. Go to their instagram pages, they’ve disabled comments on all of their pages after being repeatedly called out by current and former staff.

      Feels like a watershed moment.

      1. Hi there – any additional links or information you can share on Luke’s Local? I have noticed Cole Street shops with Black Lives Matter signage and wondered how performative that might be. Thank you.

    2. Todd,

      Love your chocolate. Nothing you write will be taken seriously until it happens. Truly hope you do better than just talk about doing better.

    3. Man, Todd, I am SO disappointed. Your cafe was the highlight of many SF visits for us, and we certainly enjoyed the drinks and the chocolate. Whenever it feels safe to be out in the city again, you will not be on the agenda. We will likely never again buy a Dandelion product — which will no doubt hurt us more than you. But some things are unforgivable and unrecoverable. Bu-bye now.

  4. Thank you for covering this. But I wonder if it’s good journalistic practice for the press to so readily name the individual who is at fault, as bad as the incident was – rather than the supervisor responsible for the policy that allowed it. It seems to condemn the individual forever and not give them a chance to quietly do a deep soul searching and make amends for the past by future acts. In the 1980s the New York Times controversially used to list the address as well as names of people associated with Act-Up actions. They finally ceased to do this. In the age of social media, a name is now almost the same as a name and address.

  5. Julian,

    Happy Juneteenth!

    Been shopping at my pot club for 10 years or so.

    Every employee except for one has been wonderful.

    Exception was new door guy who was rude to me 3 times in a row.

    Over a two month period.

    After last time, I e-mailed the owner …

    If I am the only person complaining about this guy?

    Please just trashcan my note.

    First person you meet walking into any business is face of the business.

    You owe it to management (specially if they’re friends) to alert them.

    Go Niners!

    h.

  6. Terrible story and won’t be supporting Dandelion Chocolate any more in any way.

    When will Mission Local cover the allegations against Ritual Coffee?

    1. How is the anecdote about Cheyenne the least bit racist? Looks to me like the person sent that as a joke because they share the same name, but the implication seems to be that it is because Filipino people…are like orangutans somehow? I see no connection there, and I too am of Filipino descent for what it’s worth.

      1. Whether or not you think it’s racist— which I do, and I’m also Filipino— it’s still 100% inappropriate for a manager to make jokes like that to an employee. Especially in front of everyone.

      2. We all, apparently, live in very different worlds. I would take the orangutan reference at face value. Cheyenne being an uncommon name, the image of an orang either named Cheyenne or associated with the word such that it looked like a name, would naturally prompt amusement. And since we are all “distant cousins” in an evolutionary sense to orangutans, the joke writes itself.
        Unfortunately, as I said – different worlds – so the joke needs explaining to some and therefore fails. Too bad really.

      3. How do you know it’s not? So, perhaps, don’t send an orangutan pic to a colleague saying it’s their relative, even if in your head it’s a funny joke about them sharing the name.
        This person is a manager, so even if you don’t think it’s racist, she should still be let go for lacking emotional intelligence in a managerial role. The bar is so low.

    2. Mo,

      Would also love to see a follow-up on 4 Barrels coffee.

      Employees cornered owner for sexual harassment.

      He promised to turn the business over to them as a co-op.

      Don’t believe that ever happened.

      Wonder if he fired the complainers under cover of Covid-19.

      Go Giants!

      h.

  7. Agreed that this is a terrible story — because it’s pure clickbait. While it does appear to seem like Dandelion (and so many others) has room to grow (and it appears the CEO agrees)… the title of this article doesn’t match the content.
    There’s a difference between raising racial awareness and increasing racial sensitivities and “systemic racism.” I’m disappointed that Mission Local appears to be far more interested in grabbing attention than presenting a balanced examination of a company – especially one that has an established track record of being socially conscious. Some of the incidents referenced were clearly inappropriate (especially the ape reference!), but the ‘dog rape’ comment was sexual harassment, not racist.
    Overall, what you’re describing here does not rise to the level of ‘systemic racism,’ and using that term negates many helpful and community-centered things Dandelion does. Increasing racial awareness and sensitivity is vital. Sensationalism is not. Also, for the record, I would not want my name loudly shouted out by an employee either. Hate your job? Find a new one.

    1. Hello Otis. First, I want to start by sharing the definition of systemic racism with you, “Institutional racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other issues.” Now that you know this, I want you to look back at every scenario and see the role that race plays in these situations – including the rape comment.

      Although the scenario about the rape comment is not blatantly racist, there is a power dynamic that creates a work environment for a white person feels COMFORTABLE ENOUGH to sexually harass a person of color. It is Dandelion’s responsibility to create a work environment where the employees know EXACTLY what is inappropriate to say. When the company prioritizes it’s white employees and dismisses the impact that these incidents have on POC, it creates a company culture that is systemically racist. It is important to see the bigger picture here and above that, the VERY CLEAR message being sent by the company’s ignorance translated into their lack of responsibility when the issues have been brought to their attention. There is discrimination happening at Dandelion Chocolate. Recognize that.

      In addition, just because a company may do some “helpful and community-centered things” absolutely does NOT take away from the mistakes made over and over again as an organization. It is harmful to bring up the “good things” at a time when these employees need our support after being courageous enough to speak out about these sensitive issues. Step 1 is taking FULL accountability for their actions – which includes having supporters like you Otis recognizing that they are wrong without ANY excuses. Step 2 is taking steps to improve.

      Lastly, I want to acknowledge your closing comment “Hate your job? Find a new one.” The fact that you are assuming that these employees have the ability to just quit their job and find a new one is very privileged and close-minded. There are financial difficulties and so many different circumstances that may not allow you to have that flexibility. AN EMPLOYEE SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO LEAVE A JOB BECAUSE THEY ARE BEING DISCIMINATED AGAINST. You even implying that makes you part of the problem. They have the right to feel comfortable and respected as humans in ANY job setting.

    2. I really appreciate your commentary here and I completely agree. The incidents reported certainly should have resulted in more extreme repercussions for the parties making those comments. These instances are absolutely not acceptable. However, these incidents do not reflect the mission and values of the organization as a whole. There are many employees of Dandelion Chocolate that go to great lengths to remain socially conscious and aware of the matters they are faced with. I also agree that labeling this as “systemic racism” is not appropriate and takes away the impact of that phrase and how it exists in our world today. From my experience, Dandelion handles everything on a case-by-case basis and they do what they can to arrive at a solution that works for everyone. In Hannah’s case, she definitely should have been demoted and probably fired. Dandelion does not operate that way because they try to see the opportunity for growth in everyone. When it comes to implicit bias and racism, it takes constant self-awareness and steady growth to remove these biases. Dandelion might have felt that this was an opportunity for Hannah to face her bias and learn from her mistakes. Every person, no matter their color, should be given the opportunity to learn. And yes, I have gotten the response of “POC are never given a second chance”. Well, you always deserve a second chance and I am sorry you aren’t given that second chance, but that is what many of us are trying to change. Taking away chances from others is not going to solve any problems.

      The organization needs to revamp their policies and create a standard of absolutely no exceptions for things like this. They might consider including frontline employees when considering candidates for promotions. Much of the leadership is white, but certainly not all.. I only say this because those POC that are in leadership roles deserve recognition.

      -former frontline colorful dandelion

  8. I worked there and I am a native and Latino and I worked extremely hard and wasn’t passed on my tasks by manager Christina. 2 other employees hired months after me Both white were praised and quickly passed tasks and the white girl I worked with was promoted before she left because they wanted to send her off with the title. I never received a title and They just kept threatening to fire me even though I was injured on the job .

  9. When called into a meeting with the manager and her boss a white lady , she disregarded anything I had to say. The owner of the company also stated that she “understood why I was leaving”… that shows they know the action happening but wouldn’t help or step in. Words are words they can say they will do better but it’s action that need to happen. Overall my experience working there I witnessed a lot of bulling. It was sad to see and stressful to work in.

  10. It’s insane how much of this happens in the service industry. The blatant racism and abuse and the person never gets fired (and most likely gets promoted). “Well he has done so much for us” I’ve heard over and over. Glad the industry is getting called out.

  11. The professional development course is a joke. We learn how to categorize people into different dog types, if you’re the correct type of dog
    you advance professionally within Dandelion. The next part of the professional development course is learning how to become passive
    aggressive and letting “problem employees” resolve their own issues without guidance of management. The entire course comes off as an attempt to assimilate you into their white tech culture.

    When BIPOC or POC apply and interview for management opportunities within the organization they are often not considered and the reasons given are along the lines of “lack of experience”, “technical know how”. These individuals are not coached or offered mentors to glean experience. Dandelion will then hire from the outside often this person is white. If you request a title change to reflect the management work you are performing your request will be declined. There after Dandelion will create a new role with the same management role you are performing. You are expected to interview for your own job, making the BIPOC jump through hurdles to achieve the similar titles and compensation, while their white counterparts have historically had roles created for them under the management umbrella.

    Human Resources is neither human or resourceful. The most recent white male “head of HR” needs to be let go.

  12. I appreciate the information on Ritual and Lukes local. They are in my hood and I don’t need to patronize them. This may be a big clue as to what is happening in my community

  13. Thank you for this story it does shed light on something I suspected for a while. As a latino I had always taken friends and family visiting the area to their shop. I always got a strange vibe from some of the people working here, as if I was going to steal something. This is the reason why I stopped going there. There are so many wonderful places to go in the Mission… this ain’t one of them. To the minimum they are a bunch of snobs. I’ll leave it at that.

    1. Don’t believe everything you read. This article is a pretty one-sided hit piece. Everybody take a chill pill, stop sniping at the locals, and maybe have some chocolate.

  14. As a former Dandelion Chocolate employee I wish I could say that this article surprised me. Unfortunately, I am not surprised by the manipulation of truth presented by a few former employees using the current events of the world to cry racism. This article is a disappointing narrative brought forth by former employees who were the reason the work environment was toxic in the first place.

    The article fails to mention that at the time of the orangutan incident, Cheyenne was not the person to claim she felt racially attacked, that was a narrative created by Gjaidan Stewert towards an assistant manager he blatantly disliked. Those who know Kram know that this event was nothing more than a joke made in bad taste. There is a fine line between journalism and harassment and publishing her name without consent, and admitting both calling a cell number and facebook audio calling and sending messages on facebook crosses that line into the realm of harassment.

    As a result of the “racist” event, Stewart suggested that a person of color be promoted or hired in place of Hannah Kram and applied for the position himself. A more than qualified black assistant manager was hired for the position and Stewart, who was outwardly upset he didn’t get the job referred to this manager as a “nothing more than a diversity hire” multiple times. While Stweart was on leave after his accident, he made it clear to multiple team members he was going to take advantage of the circumstance as long as possible while searching for a new job. He came into the shop multiple times bragging about getting paid to do nothing while planning to leave. He missed one of the busiest seasons in the cafe and expected for his position to be held for him when he’d made it clear to multiple team members he was looking for an easier job and now works at the Sunglasses Hut.

    Adonis Valentine made other team members cry through verbal abuse on multiple occasions. He was difficult to work with and expected his needs to be catered to at all times. He walked around with arrogance and spoke as though he was better than everyone else. Multiple people refused to work with him because of his attitude and consistent attempt to victimize himself. This article fails to mention that Dandelion catered to his needs and adjusted the written testing system in order to aide his success. For those regulars who came in and praised his kindness, know that he bragged about his ability to get tips and likely talked poorly of you after you left. Valentine was difficult to work with and I witnessed firsthand his struggling on bar, racking up over 30 drink tickets and denying any help offered, even by the person scheduled to assist him. After multiple customer complaints, an assistant manager came down from his lunch break early to diffuse the situation. With the use of teamwork, everything was back in order within 15 minutes. Valentine stormed off the floor and left his shit without any notice. When put on his performance enhancement plan, Valentine blatantly posted it downstairs for the cafe to see to “make a statement”, then walked out mid shift and never came back.

    When I started, the cafe was referred to by employees as “the circus” because of how poorly it was being managed. The manager at the time of the orangutan incident was promoted and is still with the company. None of the cafe staff had a problem with her promotion. Where is her accountability? The transitional period before Graeme Lowe took over was disastrous. Employees like Stewert and Valentine were left to their own accord and not held accountable for their actions or poor treatment of others.

    This article places excessive blame on Graeme Lowe, who is only guilty of holding employees accountable for their actions. When Graeme was hired, Stewart bullied him both to his face and behind his back to other team members creating an extremely hostile work environment. People were angry because they were suddenly being held accountable for behaviors and actions they were previously able to get away with. Lowe came into the cafe at a rough time, and definitely had his work cut out for him

    This article claims that there’s a disconnect between cafe members and upper level members, but what it once again fails to mention is that Dandelion has an extremely immersive training program. Most members of the higher up team have been with the company for years and worked their way up. Masonis personally holds training classes for his employees, and knows each of them by name. He is extremely personable and it is clear that he cares about his employees and is passionate about what he does.

    As the article states, Masonis reached out to the employees mentioned in the article. It fails to mention that Masonis asked for the opportunity to speak with the former employees, acknowledging it is not their responsibility, but stating that he would like to learn and grow from the experience to do better in the future. Masonis has remained humble and open to conversation through the recent allegations rather than getting defensive or switching attention to all the things he’s done well for his company and employees.

    During the recent pandemic, Masonis has gone out of his way to ensure his employees are safe and taken care of. They paid every team member at their full hourly rate for the three weeks , then continued to pay employees with government assistance for the next month. They kept layoffs as low as possible, and mostly voluntary and worked closely with each person to determine the best individual courses of action. Managers had weekly check-ins with their teams, and Masonis held weekly team meetings to remain transparent and open the floor to any team member questions.

    This narrative of few employees allowed a negative picture to be painted of a company with well over a hundred employees. The manipulation of truth and lack of research done before publishing this article is distasteful and disappointing. There are laws protecting the company from this type of thing and both thee former employees and journalist who wrote this are lucky that Masonis is focused on moving forward and doing better than calling people out for their distasteful and uncalled for behavior.

    1. I really appreciate you providing insight on this. It is important to have more information about these incidents and hear the perspective of others involved. It seems the author of this article failed to reach out to other employees of the organization to get their experience with these matters. Masonis is literally supplementing people’s paychecks with their own personal money to ensure people are not left in a tight spot waiting for unemployment to catch up. This article is damaging an honorable business with employees that rely on it for income and they didn’t even bother to do more extensive research. Sending Todd an email is not doing the research by the way. If he is being accused of racism, he isn’t going to respond back and explain all of the things Adonis did that resulted in him being put on an improvement plan (when anywhere else he would have been fired) or the conversations they had with everyone involved. With these incidents, HR met with the entire team both together and individually in which the group agreed that the intent of Hannah’s actions were not to cause harm, but her actions did cause harm. The entire cafe team discussed the matter together, had a thoughtful debate, and AS A GROUP decided to give Hannah another opportunity to learn from these matters. She was transferred and not allowed to participate in the Dandelion leveling program that is used to move employees up and increase their wages THAT IS WHAT DANDELION CULTURE IS ABOUT. HAVING CONVERSATIONS. LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER. CREATING SOLUTIONS FOR EVERYONE. We are all working together as an organization to create policies to address these matters and ensure no one has to feel hopeless or disrespected. Todd has just truly always believed in giving people grace and second chances to learn from their mistakes. There are many employees that ended up in leadership positions after being on a PIP.

  15. I don’t understand what’s racist about sending a Filipino person a picture of an Orangutang with the same name as them. It seems well intentioned, if not a little bit dumb.

  16. So we can just name any local business and say they’re systemic racists and that’s it?

    “No more product A or service B from those horrible collections of human beings.” says Jane.

    That’s a knee-jerk reaction to something that is likely far more complicated. This cancel culture feels real good until it comes around on you, so don’t pretend like your shit ain’t stinky- we all stink and can do better. Check your privilege, vote with your dollars, yes – but don’t simply believe the hype.

    1. These are real people with experiences of discrimination in their own workplace for YEARS. If there are multiple employees from one business telling you about their experiences and you dismiss it as cancelled culture, you are part of the problem. That is privilege that allows you to sweep it under the rug and continue purchasing from a discriminatory company just because you want to continue buying their products guilt-free. Want to talk about checking your privilege, look in the mirror Oscar.

      1. No one is dismissing anything. You don’t know me, “sam” or how I check my privilege and do the work to be better, so don’t be an ass and assume. Who’s sweeping anything under the rug?

        Voting with your dollars means actually investigating companies you choose to support with your own research, not just buying into one sensationalist article and saying that’s the whole story. DO THE WORK.

        And no, I don’t have a damn thing to do with Dandelion Chocolate, and in no way do I wish to devalue these former employees’ experiences. If you don’t want to shop there, fine. I don’t shop there cuz it’s too expensive, but to condemn an entire organization and threaten to put a bunch of people out of honest work due to incomplete clickbait reporting – that’s just stupid.

    2. Exactly. I enjoy their product and have enjoyed watching them grow. They opted to site their Harrison production facility in the city instead of going to less expensive Richmond – I heard they did so partly because they didn’t want to make their employees commute. As a longtime customer, what I see when I look at Dandelion is a creative company with a pretty decent track record of inclusiveness and community philanthropy, an aspirational, homegrown startup. Can they improve? Of course, every company can. Must we boycott them? Only if we enjoy shooting ourselves in the foot and creating more misery in tough economic times. Can we be a little more reflective and less reactive?

    3. Doesn’t sound like the above commentator read the article or the comments. There’s lots of people bringing up lots of examples of problems at this company, and the ineffectual way it’s addressed any issues that have been brought to it.

      1. Hey JC – if you are talking about me, yeah – I read the comments, but I choose to take a longer, less emotional view. Pretty sure things will change for the better at Dandelion after this aggressive, public flogging. Call me Pollyanna. “Lots of examples” – ha, maybe read the detailed dissection by “Former Dandelion” to get another angle of what actually went down, and to understand why I object to this hit piece. It just strikes me as pretty unfair and crappy, clickbait reporting.

  17. Dear Mission Local:

    As a former reporter/editor and a current educator, I am looking for examples of exemplary and abysmal reporting on structural racism. This article falls into the latter camp.

    Structural racism is the default of almost every capitalist institution in the U.S. Amplifying former employees’ grievances in one retail operation while claiming to uncover structural racism is lazy reporting that adds kindling to the fire while calling the kettle black.

  18. Whether the text was a joke or not, ignorance is still racism. Whether the rape remark was a joke or not, it’s extremely triggering to many people and has no excuse. The man who said it was cis white passing and worked for the company many years just like the woman who sent the text. To work for a company who claims to be diverse and woke should not be keeping employees who compare poc to monkeys or tell rape jokes. If they simply fired the managers who said these remarks right after the incident, this article would never have existed. Tensions in the cafe would have calmed. If higher up staff simply listened the the people who worked in the cafe, many problems would have been solved quickly.

    1. Firing an individual after one strike/one bad joke or misspoken comment creates a work culture in which individuals feel like they can’t make mistakes. Fostering an environment in which employees can learn and grow means allowing people to make those mistakes in a safe place without fearing their job every time they make a slight error. Not saying that what the AM said is in any way ok or not racist, but not allowing people to be forgiven is just as toxic. We’re all human and I feel we need to be a bit more accepting of others as they grow and learn and go through life.

      1. FWIW as a former employee a lot of my issues weren’t that the people responsible weren’t one-strike fired, but that the management “dealt” with everything behind the scenes. As the person HARMED you would NEVER receive an apology, be asked what could make it right for you, or even really know that management even talked to the person. They never mediated one-on-one conversations to actually fix the damage done to you. I don’t want people to be fired but it’s hard to feel like anything improved for you if a shitty manager just gets shifted to another team and is still on payroll without having to demonstrate remorse or do anything reparative.

        1. I appreciate the response and think it’s great that we’re having this conversation because what I’ve experienced in my department has been very different than what you and a lot of others have shared about their departments. Shows that some people are being treated very differently than other

  19. As a current employee of Dandelion, and the manager of the cafe team at the time this incendiary text message was sent, I think it’s important to join this conversation. While I now hear that the team felt tokenized by being primarily BIPOC in the forward facing roles of the cafe, I prioritized creating a diverse team, and I loved having a team whom I felt was representative of the neighborhood and the city in which it’s located. At the time that I was managing this team, I worked hard to create a mentorship with each member of my team and did my part to work with any and all of them who were interested in moving into management to coach them towards that.

    Speaking to the issues surrounding limited mobility with the company, there are a handful of individuals in management roles who are minorities and BIPOC. And it is true, the vast majority of upper management is white. These decisions that have been made, implicit or otherwise, have created impact on BIPOC within the company and have resulted in this culture. It is clear that it is not sufficient to fall back on the idealization of intention.

    As an individual who is both a minority and has a multi-racial family, issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion have always been in the forefront of my life. When this text was sent, I spent time talking with each person on my team to hear how it impacted them. I also did my part to try and explain how the historical roots of her insensitive and tone-deaf text translated to real-time pain and impact, as I felt this was my responsibility, both professionally and personally. I worked with our HR Team to create dialogue with the entire team in an effort to work towards greater understanding and to move the needle in the direction of education and understanding. While I did make solid efforts towards a shift in this direction, I should have worked harder and advocated more fiercely than I did. As the (mostly former) cafe team knows, I did what I thought was right at the time, and there are absolutely things that I wish I had done differently.

    As for where we are now, I see firsthand that Todd (and the organization as a whole) is serious about implementing change and that these are already taking place. Last week, Dandelion formed a steering committee as promised and they now have a third-party consultant to provide a fair assessment and concrete recommendations for Dandelion to work on.

    Regarding the article itself and the comments, they both include a number of partial truths and embellishments. One individual references a lack of advancement on Christina’s team for POC but fails to mention that Christina was the manager of the team and is also a POC. There are a number of other half-truths scattered throughout the article. To call them out would be to throw individuals under the bus, which I will not do.

    It’s important to take all sides of this situation into account and also to remember that this is a company who is acknowledging the mistakes that have been made and is taking actionable steps to change. There is a long way to go and mistakes have most definitely been made, mine included. And while none of this should be in any way minimized, I don’t think that it is fair or just to disproportionately punish and further vilify a company who is accepting responsibility for past damage and hurt caused and is taking action to make behavioral and systemic corrections towards creating a better work environment in which everyone feels safe, connected, and included – across all levels.

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal backstory on this. To be honest, the original article felt incomplete — we needed more points of view to get the full picture.

  20. I was excited to see this article come out and get so much attention. For a long time employees at Dandelion have been wanting other people to know what we’re going through to hopefully affect change.

    I wanted to respond directly to Adonis’s comments about his experience at Dandelion. It’s true that he could be outgoingly nice to customers and that ultimately won him shining Yelp and Square reviews. Those reviews had been my entire perception of Adonis, because I was working at another location. In fact, I thought at the time that he would be a great influence on the Valencia team because that team had previously struggled with engaging and being nice to customers. I ultimately learned differently when employees from his team came to help out at the location I was working at. These were mostly POC employees that were telling me, in the safety of a different location with a different team, that Adonis’s behavior was toxic, and that he was rude to as many customers as he was nice to, and sometimes he would leave his post or refuse to help on stations that were overwhelmed. These behaviors are what ultimately lead to his PIP (the standard process of documenting and informing an employee that there were issues) and then to his leaving the company. I don’t want to diminish the experience that POC’s have had at Dandelion, and I believe that POC’s indeed have HARDER time at Dandelion, and it’s important that the voice they’re given is from someone with merit to make those claims so their experiences can’t later be disregarded.

    In response to the rest of the issues brought up in the article, I’ve seen all of these issues and have seen the way they’re handled, and have seen other situations handled similarly. I’ve had many instances of bringing things to HR where I ultimately saw no change, including filing my own complaint about Vasili (you’ll know him from the rape joke earlier) and the way he created a demoralizing, demeaning and threatening environment. In fact, I’m aware of multiple managers that had tried to have Vasili removed for various harassment issues. No meaningful action was taken, and he for years Masonis offered Vasili (no longer employed at the company) as a resource to lean on for training new hires and covering open shifts.

    Dandelion habitually makes it seem like they hear their employees and that they’re actively working on improvements, but they rarely are. One of the Dandelion locations went a whole year understaffed by 25% or more, because no one was applying for the open Barista roles. Dandelion pays minimum wage, makes you attend a 2 hour interview, and expects you to show up and give 110% every day. If you want people to give MORE THAN their all, shouldn’t you compensate them for it? I saw the manager ultimately working 80 hour weeks working behind the register and on the espresso machine to keep the shop open. There were even weeks where entire days were covered by temp workers that had no idea what Dandelion chocolate was, but were expected to be trained by that manager to talk about the product and make the drinks that regular staff were given weeks to learn. How is that a way to treat your manager, and run a business?

    I’ve seen numerous employees create a terrible environment and or become so unreliable that they bring down the morale of the whole team, yet they continue to be employed for months. Why? Because everyone needs to go on one of the aforementioned PIP for 30 days before they’re let go. On a PIP for no-call-no-show? Dandelion lets you no-call-no-show for any shift for a WHOLE MONTH before they will fire you. Make a rape joke? You get a whole month of observation and training to prove that you can hold your tongue and not make a rape joke. This is always done without the rest of the team’s awareness (for privacy), but imagine how it feels to a retail team when you see your fellow employees not being held accountable for their actions? It feels like no one expects you to show up for your shifts, or cares about the rape-joke-y environment that you work in. Dandelion has continued with this method of improving someone, even through in y 2+ years at Dandelion I’ve never seen anyone improve because of this plan.

    Dandelion is always more interested in their public image than the wellbeing of their employees. I’ve seen most managers at Dandelion cry due to stress and being overworked. I’ve heard of people that were taking medication to deal specifically with stress from working at Dandelion. I personally was having such a bad time at work that I told my manager that I sometimes wish I’d get injured on my way to work so I wouldn’t have to come in anymore. The response? A pep talk to tell me how good of a job I was doing and that things would get better. Never have I seen a change in expectations or workload, because that would mean making changes that were visible to the public. Why change your shop hours or put out fewer new products, if you can just work your employees harder to keep things the way you planned?

    In terms of training, I’ve heard the CEO ask managers who on the team could step into a higher role. The answer is that, everyone – the team, the manager, the head of HR that runs the manager training AND the design team- are all overworked. So who has time to train and develop the next round of managers? They barely had time to create their own training program and continued to ask Vasili back to train new hires. Dandelion has had the opportunity to hire a wonderful diverse team on the retail front, only to overwork them and cause them to leave before they had the opportunity to show their true potential.

    I wish for Dandelion to do better, to take a step back and think – Are we treating EACH employee as well as we should be? I know as a whole, they think they’ve created the best place for everyone to work, but a we’ve seen in this article and these comments – they really hadn’t.

    1. Thank you for bringing up the chronic under-employment at Dandelion. On the production side, almost half of the team is comprised of TaskRabbits, not full-time employees. There’s inadequate training or oversight for them and, at least as of late last year, they’re not required to be certified to handle food safely (as the rest of the team is) despite handling food all day long. When it came time to handle holiday products last year, the holiday team was a poorly organized group of temporary employees and it fell on novice employees to manage them and QA one of the company’s most expensive products.

      As an employee who had it drilled into my head constantly that my work wasn’t perfect and they expect perfection at a fast pace, it’s really demoralizing to watch a TaskRabbit who makes more than you do a slow and sloppy job on literally hundreds of gift boxes and not be held responsible. How can you really take pride in your work and think it’s a “craftsman” product when it’s fine for a random person to come in, potentially contaminate it, and then waltz out at the end of the day unbothered?

      1. In terms of the holiday workers– not only were they poorly organized and managed, but they were inequal in terms of compensation too; despite all being hired for the same entry-level, temporary position, TaskRabbits were paid more (as the above commenter said). The overwhelming majority of last year’s holiday team were people of color, and the only white male on the team (TaskRabbit) was paid about double what they were. The TaskRabbits were also not required to take unpaid breaks, which boosted their earning potentials significantly – on top of the almost-doubled hourly rate.

        When temporary employees hired by the company asked for a higher wage prior to starting, they were declined and told “because this is a temporary position the starting rate has to be the same for all our employees”. In the same breath, they were dismissively praised for advocating for themselves. The highest-paid TaskRabbit had been hired and was working already, so there is no chance they were not aware of the discrepancy in wages.

        I am a POC with extensive customer service, retail, cafe, and restaurant experience who was planning to apply to work in a customer-facing position at one of their locations. I brought in a resume and a passionate cover letter, and was hoping to give it to a manager and maybe come back for an interview when it was more calm in the cafe. A manager, who appeared to be rushed and in the middle of something else, came out and suddenly started an interview with me without my agreement or preparation. This would have been fine, as I am always happy to get the opportunity to interview sooner rather than later.

        However, he could not do me the simple courtesy of looking me in the eye once during or after asking his question. I was very put off by the lack of respect and could tell immediately upon his arrival he had no interest in me. It felt like a pointless conversation, as he did not appear to enter it with the intention of giving me a chance. He refused to see my cover letter. It seemed like he wanted to get it over with as he knew he would not be hiring me before I even spoke. I knew this immediately, too. I found the interaction very odd and unsettling, as he could have just talked to me later if he was busy. Several weeks later, their hiring manager emailed me to let me know they had “decided to move forward with other candidates” and that they “wanted to let me know as soon as possible”.

        The kicker was that I had references from people in management that I already knew at Dandelion, and was friendly with most of the employees at the location I was applying to (some encouraged me to apply, and wanted to put a good word in for me – they never got the chance), but he would have never guessed that– he made his mind up in an instant and didn’t need to hear anything else. In the end, it’s a good thing I wasn’t hired, as I don’t have that kind of extrasensory capability and probably would have wasted too much time actually listening to people.

  21. If you read through the comments, it’s obvious that this is not a cut and dry incident and certainly a far cry from “systemic racism.” It sounds like a poorly handled HR incident where we don’t have all of the facts laid out in this article. This is shameful and salacious reporting, Mission Local.

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