There Is A 24-Hour Sandwich Shop In San Diego Owned & Operated By An Alleged Cult

February 14, 2022

There is a 24-hour sandwich shop in San Diego that is operated by a half-century-old evangelical organization many say is a cult. 

The Yellow Deli is a 24-hour sandwich shop and cafe devoted to healthy eating with a "Middle Earth feel" that has been operating in San Diego's North County city of Vista since Valentine's Day 2010. Another location of Yellow Deli has been open in Valley Center since 2006. Like the nearly 70 locations sited around the country, both San Diego Yellow Deli branches are owned and managed by the Twelve Tribes, an "end of days" Christian religious movement founded by former high school teacher Elbert "Gene" Spriggs (known as Yoneq by his followers) in 1972 in Chattanooga TN. Over the course of its half-century history, the organization has been known by several other names and has ignited controversy with critics labeling it a cult. Today, the Twelve Tribes has over 3,000 members with organizations all over North America, Western Europe, South America and Australia. 

The menu at Yellow Deli Vista
"The Twelve Tribes is an emerging spiritual nation," reads the Who We Are section of the Twelve Tribes website. "We are a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, made up of self-governing communities. By community, we mean families and single people who live together in homes and on farms. We are disciples of the Son of God, whom we call by His Hebrew name Yahshua. We follow the Old and New Testament Scriptures, and live like the early disciples in Acts chapters 2 and 4. With all of our hearts, we want to do our Father's will, which is to love one another and be a light to the nations; so that they could see our life of love and know how much their Creator loves them."

In order to join the Twelve Tribes, a prospective member has to quit their job, give up all possessions and commit to working to benefit the group as a whole. The patriarchal society has elder male leaders who believe in corporal punishment, and all members' property is owned by the church. Members dress in prairie-style clothing similar to Amish or classic Hippies and most men style their hair long and tied back to resemble Jesus Christ. Children are home-schooled and are believed to not be allowed to own any toys, nor can members have televisions or computers. Community members are said to be forced to work six days a week and do not receive payment for their employment. 

The primary San Diego County location of the Twelve Tribes is located in a compound a couple miles from city center in the hills of Vista, CA. Known as the "Community in Vista," the property includes a two-story house covered in vines and blocked by trees sited on a large plot of land. Single men and single women stay in yurts on the property, while families are permitted to live together. The Valley Center outpost sits on a property known as The Morning Star Ranch near Keys Creek, which includes a communal organic farm where members grow much of the ingredients used in their menus at both Yellow Deli locations. The Valley Center property has a repurposed Sears kit house, a farm stand cafe, and a full organic farm growing produce that is sold at farmers markets throughout Southern California. 

Former members of the Twelve Tribes have accused the group of such things as physical abuse, especially with children, as well as antisemitic teachings, child labor violations, and racism, but others say the organization saves lives through strict adherence to a regimen and faith. The organization has frequently been the target of state labor authorities, who have gone after Twelve Tribes for failure to pay employees and non-adherence to state labor laws. The Twelve Tribes has been recognized as a religious nonprofit 501(d) by the Internal Revenue Service since 1977, which is something frequently used to get them out of labor disputes and other legal issues.

Learn more about The Twelve Tribes by visiting twelvetribes.org and read the "Short History of The Yellow Deli" from the company's website below:

In the early '70s life for many of us was in the process of change. Those old enough to remember those days will nod thoughtfully as their mind drifts back to remember the end of the Vietnam War protests, and the calming of the revolutionary drumbeat that had throbbed in our young veins. The paths set before us then were polarizing. Would we conform or continue to press on, trying to change the world? We were becoming oh-so-tired as change came hard. The drugs that had “enlightened” us were beginning to disappoint us, as the early excitement now headed toward various full-blown addictions. It had been heartbreaking to see friends “O.D.” into some distant “never-never land”, leaving us far behind. Would it all end this way?

So, out go the communes and in come the three-piece-business suits… Get ready for the technological rollercoaster ride of your life! The hippies are now becoming millionaires … (the evolution of a “hippie-crit”, see www.hippiecrit.org)

But a few missed the train and decided to make the best of the “Peace, Love, and Happiness Movement”, starting a new way of life…

In the South, where cotton grows high and life is simple, The Yellow Deli started up about this time. It was to go on a course unimagined…

Chattanooga, Tennessee became the home of The Yellow Deli, opening its doors in May of 1973. Serving healthy food in the midst of a “fried-chicken-culture”, the deli was an immediate success. Finally, there was something different. We served luscious fruit salads, great sandwiches, fresh garden salads, and homemade desserts. Something about the warm, rustic atmosphere drew people like a magnet.

At the bottom of the hand-drawn menu was scribbled a sincere and provocative question: “We serve the fruit of the Spirit... Why not ask?” The term “fruit of the Spirit” comes from a Bible verse about love, and joy and peace, being the “fruit” which would be produced by the lives of those who knew God.

In the South, where “religion” was rigidly proclaimed but scarcely seen other than the mandatory Sunday morning meetings in various buildings, big and small, the Yellow Deli was something very new. The thought of encountering “faith” in a pretty cafĂ©, where there were people whose beliefs made them happy and full of life as they served wholesome food, was quite a refreshing concept to the people of that region, so they say…

Somehow, something had been communicated to our hearts back then which made a paradigm shift in our lives. So, working together to serve the best food in the best atmosphere, with all of our hearts, seemed a normal response. That “fruit of the Spirit” seemed to be produced naturally from the good tree of happy believers working together. It was served at our Deli with “no pressure,” only an experience, and if a person wanted to “ask,” they were certainly free to do it. Ahhhhh, what a relief, no pressure!

That was the motive in the hearts of Gene and Marsha Spriggs, along with several other young people who had already joined their cause, when they opened the first Yellow Deli in May of 1973. They wanted to have a place where people from all walks of life could come and touch a living demonstration of God’s love. They had the hope that in the darkness of the troubled society all around them, they could be like a beacon light in the midst of a storm. It just made sense to us that a God, who is also called “LOVE,” would do that! (All God is is Love…)

We were young and small back then, and not so powerful, but our love and zeal for this new cause was strong. We wanted to share this love with everyone we saw. We were convinced that this love could change the world if people could just see it being lived out in reality on a daily basis.

The strife and division many of us had seen among the Christian churches we grew up in had caused us to be disillusioned with the prospect of finding any kind hope there. But as time went on we sensed that there was something holding people back within that system from having the same “sold-out” zeal we had now found. To us, there were obvious clues in the New Testament that people who love the pleasure of the world cannot be a hundred percent devoted to their cause… And without giving a hundred percent, no one can endure. “No one who is enlisted as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs of the world” (2 Timothy 2:4) We were not interested in maintaining that civilian life any longer…

So, from there a new “Movement” of sorts began. Outside the organized religion that had been seen before in that area, something new sprang up. To those who were fearful that anything new must have some evil motive behind it, our cause immediately became suspect. To “the-powers-that-be,” the use of the word “cult” seemed to be the perfect weapon to dismantle our Movement and send us back to the pews. That weapon did not work. The only ones stirred by the use of that term were the same uninformed masses that were responsible for such atrocities as the “Salem Witch Trials” (see Proverbs 17:4). Fortunately, in this day and age people are innocent until proven guilty, and eventually all the bad things people said about our Movement were proven untrue, and LIFE WENT ON… AND ON… AND ON…

Now, nearly forty years later, we find ourselves a much more substantial force. We live in 12 different geographical areas, spread over several different countries on this globe. We are now “Twelve Tribes”.

Yet, we are still small in comparison to the huge “Fatal Flaw” of human beings against which we have set ourselves on the battlefield of life. Yes, it is against a “fatal” flaw, which has kept humans down, divided, and basically dead, throughout history.

That flaw is selfishness, and her many manifestations… Greed, jealousy, envy, strife, hostility, bloodshed, really all those things that keep humans from just being friends… Her ugly fingers stretch themselves into the smallest corners of our lives… Marriages, kindergartens, workplaces… and, of course, in the big picture cause world wars, atomic bombs, massive world pollution… Our little life of love is only a flicker in the face of such an enemy.

So, this story looks more like a “David and Goliath” kind of plot. But regardless, we, as a people, plan to continue on in this battle until our last dying breath… and we believe little David will win.

That is the story of the Twelve Tribes, and The Yellow Deli that started so long ago…

And for those whom we are meeting for the first time, we extend our heartfelt hand of friendship. We hope you enjoy a glimpse of the vision that has caused us to be a total co-operative society, running our Yellow Delis, and all our businesses together, without the hindrance of seeking for our own personal gain. All our businesses are owned together, with extreme care given to bookkeeping, for the government and all else to see that we sincerely live this life without any one person making more than his neighbor within our communities. We have actually dedicated ourselves to this cause.

Many have come and gone through the years. Many go on their way after they confront the difficult demands of enduring in such a selfless endeavor. Those of us who remain, plan on staying…

Love is our home… what is yours?