BOSTON (JTA) – The Israeli founder of a popular and rapidly expanding chain of cafes stepping down as CEO amid accusations by current and former employees of mismanagement and racism.
Tzurit Or will become a “creative adviser” at Tatte Bakery and Cafe, the Israeli-inflected chain in the Boston area that she launched in 2004, and will no longer have daily management responsibility. She told the Boston Globe that the move had been in the works for some time.
A front-page Globe story on Saturday detailed Tatte’s saga, chronicling how employees began sharing criticism of Or’s leadership after she made the decision to board up the chain’s storefronts amid the national Black Lives Matter protests.
A petition signed by nearly 300 current and former employees details comments and actions that they found offensive or discriminatory, including “crude, sexual remarks made about customers, performative alignment with LGBTQ+ organizations, promoting ‘inclusive’ optics on social media, queerphobic and ableist comments by management, and firing employees who do not fit the ‘Tatte aesthetic.'” It calls for Or’s resignation and changes at the company. Employees are planning a live protest Aug. 1.
“Seeing Tzurit post the black square or anything Black Lives Matter-related without seeing the tangible steps she was taking to make sure these things weren’t happening in her own company annoyed me,” Hodan Hashi, a Black woman who worked at Tatte until February and was one of the petition’s creators, told the Globe. (A current Black manager told the newspaper, “Racism has never been part of my experience at Tatte.”)
The fast-casual cafe chain, known for its Israeli and Mediterranean fare, from shakshuka to halva pastries, was owned for a time by Panera, whose founder Ron Shaich is a leading investor and close adviser. Shaich told the Globe that a third-party investigation had substantiated two claims involving Tatte employees but did not specify what they were.
Or told the newspaper that she did not recall making offensive comments but said that as an Israeli immigrant, she may not always understand what Americans will find hurtful. (Here’s a piece detailing the influence of her Israeli upbringing and family on her restaurants.)
From the Globe story:
And she added that her own heritage — Or was born in Israel and lived on a kibbutz for most of her childhood, moving to the US at age 32 — means that she wasn’t brought up with an understanding of the racial dynamics that exist in the US that would result in such stereotyping.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say it, but I don’t know enough about the difference between Black people and white people to have those opinions — I didn’t grow up here,” she said. “To me it’s all human beings, you know?”
Launched from a single location in suburban Brookline in 2004, Tatte now has some 700 employees at 14 cafes across Boston and Cambridge. Its expansion to Washington, D.C., has been postponed due to the pandemic.