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.
catch up. read the investigation:
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.”
read related content:
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.