A party at Ritual. Taken in 2014.

While it’s a stretch to call John “Chicken John” Rinaldi’s poor behavior ritualistic, it does appear to be a pattern. Last August, Mission Local reported that staffers at the popular Mission coffee roaster complained when he pinned down a Black man who’d ventured in the tip jar, and knew him as unfriendly and “a jerk.” Rinaldi, who is married to the founder and CEO of Ritual, survived those incidents. But after a recent exchange in which he used racist language, his boss (and wife) fired him. 

Eileen Rinaldi told Mission Local via email that she terminated her husband last week after an incident in late May when Chicken John addressed an individual using a racial slur. Rinaldi hired her husband to do some construction management near Ritual Coffee’s warehouse at 17th and Shotwell streets, where he got into an argument about a parking space. 

“[He] asked me, and I quote: ‘What’s your name, bitch-ass N——-?’ To which I [Chicken John], unfortunately, replied: ‘Yup, that’s my name. Bitch-ass N——-,’” Chicken John told the Chronicle, which first reported the story of his firing. 

“This was an unfortunate incident over a parking spot. I have apologized for repeating the derogatory word that was shouted at me. A word I never, ever use,” he continued. “I regret the incident, and feel terrible about it. I am deeply disappointed in myself for meeting hostility with hostility, and allowing the situation to escalate.”

Eileen Rinaldi confirmed the episode to Mission Local, noting that “this incident is extremely upsetting to me.” She said that Chicken John, who is white, had just started doing freelance construction management during the past year, but now she feels “deeply regretful for allowing John to oversee this project or to do any work with Ritual.” 

To her, the racial slur is “undoubtedly racist and harmful. To me, it means hate and dehumanization.”

Ritual staff, though upset at the situation, felt Eileen Rinaldi addressed the situation appropriately and has worked hard in the past year to change Ritual’s culture. 

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Following the May incident, she invited staff to one-on-one conversations where she vowed to answer questions and provide details about the incident. Laine Barriga, the head of training and a transgender person of color, took Rinaldi up on it and was satisfied.

“Chicken does not represent the culture at Ritual; the people do,” Barriga said. “Our business is full of queer, trans, and POC people, and there’s a reason we all work here together. To have that stifled by Chicken John making a really stupid decision … It just sucks.” 

Chicken John hasn’t physically entered Ritual’s five cafes for at least for a year. Prior to that, however, several incidents rankled current and former employees. One controversy occurred in Feb. 2019. Then, a Black and possibly unhoused man reached into the tip jar containing $40 at the Hayes Valley location. A white customer tackled the man to the ground, followed by Chicken John. Chicken John purportedly said that the individual was going to die in jail, and go to jail forever. Afterward, the police arrested the man. 

This issue resurfaced during a period of nationwide racial reckoning in 2020, when Ritual employees drafted a letter to Eileen Rinaldi that documented past alleged racist incidents. Included was another instance when a manager called the police on a person of color who was yelling expletives in the store. 

Flash-forward to now, and Eileen Rinaldi said she has made changes. The coffee shop held a six-hour de-escalation workshop, revamped recruiting to attract diverse applicants, and provided numerous cultural, diversity and equity resources and workshops to both leadership and staff.  

“I have made mistakes, and I’m learning. I am committed to doing the necessary work of continuously evolving,” Eileen Rinaldi said in the Wednesday email. “I embrace that this work has no closure. We need to work on it every month and year and for the life of the business.”

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Barriga, who was working during the latter cop-calling incident, agreed that since Mission Local last year reported on the coffee chain, its culture has improved. They said the manager who called the cops was replaced by a person of color who always listens to staff and has “shifted morale at Ritual.”

Ritual Coffee got its start on Valencia Street in 2005, and now has locations in Hayes Valley, the Haight, and Napa. 

Mission Local directed a request to communicate with Chicken John by phone or email to his wife, who did not provide his contact information. A direct message to Chicken John’s social media was not returned by press time.

Chicken John ran for mayor in 2007 against then-incumbent (and now-governor) Gavin Newsom. His Cesar Chavez warehouse was the site of many a spectacular gathering before he sold it to the tune of $1.8 million in 2018. 

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Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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21 Comments

  1. I am an employee of Ritual Coffee. It’s inaccurate that he addressed another employee with a racial slur. It was an unknown individual on the street.

  2. I must be misreading this…is the incident reported correctly? It sounds like the other person used the n-word against Chicken, and he repeated it, possibly sarcastically. If so, why is he blamed?

  3. This story is absurd. Hey Annika, the person who took money from a tip jar (one of the lowest forms of theft) was STEALING, not “venturing” in the tip jar. And Chicken John, who is an asshole, it’s true, was only calling himself the racial slur that was directed at him, he didn’t sling it back at the person. Reading stuff like this really makes me feel certain that those of us on the left are doomed to eating each other alive while the right, which harbors true racism, just watches and gathers its strength.

  4. I notice every one of multiple incidents this man has had is reported here (with information provided by either him, his wife, or people employed by his wife) is accompanied by a description of the behavior of people of color as justifications for this man’s behavior. I’d be interested in hearing the perspectives of the other people in these incidents before accepting his and his wife’s perspectives. I’ll also never forget that this man organized a public event inviting people to gather around Latino food vendors in Dolores Park and vomit near them to drive customers away. He said he wanted to do this to keep people from selling in public parks. I’m pretty sure his wife was selling coffee at the park that existed in the Western Addition at the former site of the central freeway that fell in the quake of ‘89 before the new building on Fell near Octavia was constructed there— selling coffee in a public park.
    Sounds like these are this man’s ritual behaviors, and his wife is cool with that. Seems she happens to understand it’s bad for business, but not bad enough for what she’s willing to tolerate from a life partner.

  5. After reading Chicken John’s statement on Instagram I am :

    A) Underwhelmed by this continued, performative, PR drivel that Ritual and Co. continuously regurgitate to the public in order to save some shred of dignity that he and his wife lost a long time ago. They keep talking “Change” and they keep failing at it. 

    B) Gobsmacked. I am, if anything, utterly amused that Chicken John would have the gall to actually deem himself as, (scoff) “A leader in my community”. Are you kidding me?! Maybe in your bubble of burners or steam punks or whatever hideous “tribe” you roll with. But the sad reality here, bro, and this really shouldn’t be news to you: The “community” at large sees you as nothing but a straight up clown. You need a strong dose of truth when it comes to “community”: There’s your myopic version, with your “cult following” or whatever and then there’s the rest of San Francisco – which doesn’t think much of you or probably to the dismay of your bloated ego, doesn’t think of you at all. 

    Take your “11-month anti-racism courses” (good for you) in an attempt to help save your wife’s business (but it is so transparent it is merely just placative damage control in order to prevent complete cancellation by the coffee world, San Francisco and/or a mass exodus of her employees) then go away. You are NOT a “leader” in the community and you do NOT have even a “thimbleful of power” and if you seriously think you might have, well, that has all dried up now too. Even the “thimble” is empty, just like your personality and Ritual’s promises for “Change”. 

  6. Wait, can you please clarify… someone was stealing from the store, caught with his hand in the cookie jar… and Chickrn John and a customer stopped the thief. An unhinged person was yelling and wreaking havoc in the store and he called the police? These are the two incidents he was cancelled for?

  7. Hey Cap’n John,

    I understand.

    I’ve had a few wives and ‘friends’ walk me down that lonely plank.

    Sounds more like John is getting ‘keel-hulled’.

    Bulldog comments?

    I think that in this case Rinaldi’s attackers are a no good idiotic tools of the Right.

    John’s value to me is that he makes me laugh and there ain’t lots of that kind of folks still producing material.

    Once riding down Mission on a 14, a Dick Cheney’s convoy w/all streets blocked for a half mile roared by as the Smiling Wyoming VP roared by Mission at 5th or something.

    I was riding back from a D-6 candidate interview with Bruce and Redmond jabbering with a bunch from SF General patients about what hurt and specifically where and their candid thoughts on all matters.

    Lots of people give you candid opinions wanted or not in Public here.

    Suddenly, it begin processing to an emergency slow down mode.

    Cheney’s ‘Husky’ caravan, I mean, as I was just skipping around as Brugman had noted at the interview when I noted he’d dozed thru most of:

    “You’re all over the place, h.”

    Ta Hell was going on?

    Terrorists?

    Overdue Comcast bill?

    Naw, it was just Chicken John a half mile plus one block ahead making a grindingly slow entry onto the Airport highway in his ancient truck fueled by the remains of hamburger grease.

    I mean, tell me that kind of thing could happen anywhere else and the ‘perp’ not end up in the hoosegow.

    I blame Trump for perverting standards of right and wrong to such an abhorrently low level that even the Dodgers could win a World Series.

    Thanks for all of your work guys and I’m headed your way to buy some frames and I’ll drop off a book I thought you’d find useful.

    A magazine, really.

    And, a Bulls cap that’s moved from washer to washer for a week but the craftsmanship .
    h.
    Go Niners!

    h.

  8. Nice work Annika.
    Would you or someone else at ML (pr some other local journalist out there) have the time to follow up and find and interview the person who was in the parking altercation with John Rinaldi or interview the witnesses below?

    From the Chron article…
    “Enrique Espinoza, whose wife owns Robin’s Cafe, said he, his wife and employees witnessed the incident; word started spreading in the neighborhood and at Ritual cafes soon after.”

  9. It’s nice to see a bit more balanced piece about this situation. Both the Chronicle and SFGate pieces (same company) feel very pandering to the Rinaldi’s. The multiple incidents should have resulted in not only the firing of John, but the resignation of Eileen for allowing the behavior to continue for more than a year.

  10. My goodness, in the 31 years I’ve lived here in SF I haven’t seen a coffee company with such a long, bad rap sheet and especially with infractions of racism!  I mean, they get sent to Cancellation Jail, do time (barely), only to get out and offend again? How much is enough, coffee-buying-people? Is the coffee SO good that you really have no other option and your scruples must go out the window to support these people in order to satisfy your tastebuds or feed your social media posts? So much wealth here … why not spread it to the other cafe’s that don’t possess such a dark pattern, eh?! Enough is enough.

    1. Perhaps Eileen should get in touch with her old “business” partner, Jeremy Tooker (Four Barrel Coffee), though her “infractions” arguably may not be as heinous as his, yet unsettling and disturbing nonetheless, without a doubt. Anyway, perhaps they can compare “rap sheets”, talk about the good old days of being the darlings of “Third Wave Coffee”, then commiserate on spiraling downward. I wonder if JT has any pointers on getting out of Cancellation Purgatory since FBC seems to be doing just fine after all. 

  11. My thumbs up to Eileen for handling this unfortunate incident properly, as well as making it through this past year! She obviously values having a strong team and is keeping it together.

  12. What does firing your spouse from a business you own even mean in a community property state?

    Maximum schadenfreude watching Chickenshit Toilet finally left to twist in the wind.

  13. Ms. Hom,

    Also, you have snatched a pitch fork and thrown in with the torch carrying mob on this one with your vilely misleading headline.

    It should be that John ‘repeated’ the slur.

    It should not say, as it does … ‘uses’ which implies it is part of his regular vocabulary.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  14. how anyone can patronize Ritual after these two incidents of racism is beyond me, seriously. it’s great that shit “terminated” chicken little from her place of business, but she hasn’t said “Hasta La Vista Baby” to him from her life, and that says a lot about the owner.

  15. I’ve known Chicken John for decades and mocked him to his face most of that time. He’s a sarcastic ass and I could see him throwing back the insult someone said to him. I can also see he apologized immediately instead of antagonizing the situation further. I feel this is a complete overreaction and he’s being thrown under one of his buses.

  16. Yes. Black people can sing the n word from rooftops and amplify it from passing cars, but concurring that “Yup, I am that word you just called me while you were threatening me” gets you canceled on the national stage and qualifies every virtue signaler to be able to comment on what should happen to your family, relationships, and business. But that’s fair.

  17. I’ve always liked the unbiased reporting from Mission local but this one reeks liberal bias, Annika. What the hell is “venturing into a tip jar”? Is it not kosher nowadays to call out STEALING?

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