Cafe Chloe's Back-Of-House Staff Walks Out After Owners Fail To Inform Of Impending Closure

July 2, 2018

Last week, we reported the news that longtime East Village French bistro Cafe Chloe took to Facebook to announce that, after 14 years in business, they would be closing up shop on July 8. Apparently the restaurant's kitchen staff also learned about the impending closure via the online post and were not all too pleased about it, so they quit in protest.


After seeing an online Facebook post from Cafe Chloe co-owner Alison McGrath about a kitchen staff no-show on the evening of June 28, we noticed several other posts on various social media platforms from former employees who were upset that they were not given advanced notice of the impending closure prior to the social media announcement. We reached out to some disgruntled employees and had them pass along our contact information to others that may want to comment or provide further details and received an influx of messages (quotes are left as-is with typos) from at least five former employees. We also reached out to Ms. McGrath for comment, who explained that although manager Tammy Towner alerted front-of-house employees of the impending closure by text prior to the social media announcement, a "kitchen manager" was tasked with contacting back-of-house employees and failed to do so.

"We made the decision to close the café in the space of an afternoon," commented Cafe Chloe co-owner Alison McGrath. "We understood the sensitive nature of informing everyone at the same moment. In an effort to do that, and in chefs absence, we asked the kitchen employee who had just agreed to lead the kitchen in chefs absence to please forward a group text. The fact is, our company has been putting money into the cafe every month for the last year's, our motivation being to stay open For the community and for Our staff. The fact that so many employees were willing to believe that there was some Sort of conscious maliciousness instead of realizing that there was a breakdown in commmication, was a serious shock and heartbreak to us."


"The kitchen crew did not show up because they were disrespected," wrote one former employee of Cafe Chloe. "Management never took BOH into consideration and NEVER communicated with BOH about the restaurant going out of business. Facebook and the Eater where informed first rather than the kitchen crew. As you can imagine most of the BOH crew are working class and have family, mortgages, leases, and bills like everyone else living in San Diego, California America's finest City. It's funny how the Cafe Owners try to play the victim when in reality they are the villain."


So, based on screenshots from former employees, fourteen staff members were on a group text from Cafe Chloe manager Tammy Towner that was sent out at 4:18pm on Tuesday, June 26, which stated: "Dearest staff... It is with great sadness that we must inform you of the closing of cafe chloe. After 14 successful years, we find that we are not able to run the cafe without making compromises. We are so grateful of your hard work, and want you know that you will be taken care of in the transition. We will be serving Through the 8th of July with a limited menu and small staff. We will reach out to you all to discuss your schedule. Thank you all for being part of this dream. If you would like our help finding a new position, we would love to make some calls for you. Please let us know. Blessings for all, John, Alison and Tammy." The social media post announcing the impending closure was published at 4:48pm on that same day.

"Everyone found out through the internet," wrote another former Cafe Chloe cook. "Then the word spread. When the owners were confronted about it, they claimed that another employee was responsible for notifying everyone of the situation. They couldnt even tell us themselves. Their excuse was that they didnt have peoples numbers to tell them. & no the BOH no-show was not planned. It went down bc none of us are going to allow disrespect."


It was confirmed by ownership that a kitchen staff member was asked to contact the back-of-house employees, but failed to do so. We communicated with the specific employee who admitted being tasked with relaying the unfortunate news. He stated that he did not feel it was appropriate for him to be the communicator - "I have no title, no authority. Why should they hear it from me, you know?" The former-employee claimed to be a line-cook for "about a year." To rebut the assertion that management didn't have BOH employees' phone numbers, we received a photograph of what appeared to be a computer screen, allegedly at Cafe Chloe, showing an "Employee Contact List" with the names and phone numbers of forty total employees.

Former employees also indicated that Cafe Chloe Executive Chef Anthony Bruno was terminated on that same Tuesday morning, the date that the announcement was made, which put more pressure on the other employees. Chef Bruno confirmed that this occurred. A former cook said that this pressure combined with the feeling of disrespect with not being alerted with FOH, caused others, including himself, to eventually quit. Both also stated that they are still owed back wages for the last week or so of employment. 

"In all the 4 years I was withr cafe chloe, the owners kept BOH in the dark, meaning we were always the last to find out about things (chloe closing for brunch back in December, minou's sudden closure, chloe opening for brunch again, and finally the closure of chloe) we were always notified at the very last minute, except for the closure where I found out through my youngest sister sending me a screen shot of their Facebook post," explained another Cafe Chloe staffer, who claims to be one of the longest tenured BOH employees of the restaurant. "FOH got a mass text around 4pm on Tuesday the 26th. Around 6-7 servers asked if anyone had informed BOH yet, and not a single response from management. A bit later is when I received the message from my sister. I could not believe they didn't have the decency to communicate with their heart of the house staff. Instead the owners thought it was a good idea we find out alongside guest. My co workers and I felt so disrespected and disposable to them."

We were also told that what predicated the decision to close the longtime restaurant was a falling out between original owners John Clute & Alison McGrath and 2015 investors and partners Jerry & Chrissy Reynolds.

"Also, the ending of our partnership with our beloved partners hastened the necessity to close as several items in both locations belonged to them personally, and they needed to be retrieved by them directly after the paperwork was signed," explained Ms. McGrath. "We have only love and gratitude for our expartners, and nothing but respect for the talented and hardworking members of our staff. We wish them all success and joy in their futures."

Cafe Chloe is continuing its plan to serve dinner and brunch leading up until their closure on July 8. Local chefs and industry professionals have lent a hand to help out the restaurant ever since the kitchen staff mass departure last week.

"I am considered front of house, but I have chosen to stand in solidarity with the back of house," wrote a former Cafe Chloe barista. "The owners have been nothing but disrespectful the last week of our closing. We (FOH) found out about an hour before the Facebook post through a text message that did NOT include the back of house."

Cafe Chloe is located at 721 9th Avenue in San Diego's East Village. For more information, visit cafechloe.com.