A number of current and former employees from growing Boston chain Tatte Bakery & Cafe have spoken out on the internet this month about the company’s hiring practices — which in their view are discriminatory against Black people and people of color — as well as alleged racist and anti-Black behavior from people in management, including founder Tzurit Or. Current and former Tatte employees have also been critical of Or’s recent Instagram post regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a letter of resignation posted to Instagram, one former employee called Or’s support of Black Lives Matter “performative” and “mediocre,” referencing Or’s decision to board up windows at various Tatte locations despite claiming support for protesters. “The reaction of our supposed ‘leader’ to the Black Lives Matter movement and its work is disturbing, and blatantly racist and anti-Black,” states the letter. The aforementioned Instagram post has provoked more than 100 comments, many of which are critical of Or, and Tatte more broadly.
Eater has communicated with multiple Tatte employees — current and former — who described a toxic work environment, including blatant racism directed toward Black workers and workers of color.
Last week, a group of employees filed a Change.org petition detailing a series of critiques regarding Tatte’s hiring practices, the makeup of its executive team and human resources department, and its commitment to supporting its Black employees and employees of color, and the Black Lives Matter movement more broadly.
“We heard about the petition on Friday [June 5] and have been in touch with a number of the people behind it,” Or told Eater via email. “Frankly we have found their suggestions helpful as we search for answers on how to be a positive force in breaking down systemic racism in our country and how to evolve our own organization to be part of the solution to the problem.”
According to the petition, Tatte — which began in founder Tzurit Or’s home kitchen in 2007 — has never appointed a Black person or a person of color to its executive team, despite relying on the labor of Black people and people of color in front-of-house, back-of-house, and managerial roles. And according to the group of employees who initiated the petition, Tatte’s human resources department consists of just one person. (Tatte operates 15 locations in the Boston area — with two more set to open in the Washington, D.C., area this year — and employs hundreds of workers.)
“The unfortunate truth is that there is no way for an HR team who doesn’t look like the diverse team they are serving to be equipped with the personal experience and understanding necessary to be able to handle the more nuanced and sensitive concerns that employees may have,” the petition states. “Time and time again, employees have seen or heard racially charged or insensitive behaviors or statements from those in leadership positions at Tatte, but unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that those comments would be addressed by corporate leadership. We stand with our Black coworkers who feel abandoned and betrayed by this corporation and ask that you commit to making more tangible changes in staffing decisions to ensure that our concerns are addressed.”
Or told Eater via email that Tatte currently employs no Black people on its executive team, but does employ one person of color. She confirmed that Tatte’s HR department consists of just one person, and said it’s the company’s “desire and intent to further increase our diversity.”
The petition also claims that Tatte had been planning to supply free drinks to members of the Boston Police Department, an action that’s incompatible with support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“At this point in time, Black people have made it extremely clear that the existence of police is a direct threat to their lives,” the petition states. “This is, in fact, the entire point of the Black Lives Matter movement. With that being said, it seems impossible for Tatte to supposedly support this movement while simultaneously supporting the police force.”
In an email to Eater, Or denied that Tatte gives out free food to the police. In a letter to employees, Or and Tatte leadership wrote, “As a point of clarification, we do not have a policy discounting food or beverage to the police.”
In addition to the petition, Tatte employees have launched a GoFundMe, the proceeds from which will be distributed to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter Boston, and the Boston Mutual Aid Fund.
The petition concludes with a list of demands, which reads:
- Match all Tatte employee donations to Black Lives Matter funds (all compiled GoFundMe donations and future donations)
- Commit to diversifying an executive team which currently has ZERO Black members and ZERO Persons of Color
- Donate leftover food and beverages to frontline protestors and BLM-affiliated shelters instead of to the police officers that have proved time and time again that they do not care about black lives, or about the lives of those protesting.
“We have seen Tatte’s supposed stance on Instagram as a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement but unfortunately, we have yet to see tangible actions made by the corporation,” the petition states.
Tamaryn Watzman, who worked at Tatte for more than two years, resigned this month, citing a dearth of people of color in corporate and mid-managerial positions and the underpayment of people of color, among other reasons. Watzman posted the resignation letter to Instagram.
While critical of Tatte’s hiring practices, and of Or’s treatment of her personally, Watzman told Eater via Instagram direct message that “there are many individuals at Tatte doing their best to confront and grow from their mistakes and subconscious racial biases.”
“There is a reason many of the surfacing letters are addressed first and foremost to Tzurit Or: She is first and foremost responsible for holding Tatte accountable, and initiating/practicing the demanded growth,” Watzman continued.
Matthew Waxman is a Puerto Rican baker who works in Tatte’s commissary kitchen at 1 Boston Place, adjacent to the Old State House. He told Eater that he’s witnessed several instances of racism directed at workers of color and immigrant workers by white management. On one occasion, Waxman witnessed a white manager loudly criticizing a worker’s proficiency with the English language.
“He was doing this in a room full of people who struggle to communicate in English,” said Waxman. “He was doing this right behind a coworker who fled violence in Guatemala.”
Waxman told Eater he reported the incident to HR, but that it took a long time for anyone to acknowledge the report. Or told Eater via email that she and Tatte leadership had not received a report or a complaint consistent with Waxman’s story, and that she and Tatte leadership did not believe the story happened as it was described; she conceded that it is possible that the incident occurred, but that the report may not have been filed with HR. She claimed to be troubled by the claim.
“Relative to the … allegation of an employee criticizing a worker’s proficiency with English, this is deeply disturbing to me personally,” Or said. “I am an immigrant to this country challenged with the English language. Multilingual staff is a part of our industry, and we have always embraced having a multilingual staff, including offering free English classes to our ESL employees, and Spanish language classes to our English-speaking employees.”
Eater has seen a PDF copy of the incident report, which was filed on June 27, 2019, and signed by a manager on June 28, 2019. In it, Waxman wrote that the manager shouted, “Me no speak-a English,” and that it had been witnessed by multiple employees. According to the report, Waxman told the manager that his behavior was “offensive, inappropriate, and an insult to most of the bakers who work at Tatte who, indeed, are immigrants with few English language skills,” but the manager ignored him and took a phone call instead.
“Why is the burden on immigrants and people of color to end the abuse?” Waxman asked.
Or told Eater via email that Tatte is “committed to listening and taking action based on facts, and we are committed to determining the truth behind the allegations you have shared. Earlier this week we began the process of investigating this allegation, among others, in a formal matter, with the assistance of an independent outside law firm. The findings of this investigation will be shared with our team and the public.”
In an email sent to multiple media outlets, former director of baking operations Mike Geldart — who is white — also detailed toxicity within Tatte. “I witnessed numerous examples of bias, racism, bigotry and actions that made absolutely no sense,” wrote Geldart. “As a white manager I hired people from all races, backgrounds, sexual orientation, and all ages...I wasn’t a victim of any racial bias myself ...[but] I witnessed or was directed to take actions that were prejudiced, and most often towards Black employees.”
Or told Eater via email that “Tatte has always worked hard to have a culture that is not only free of discrimination and implicit or explicit bias, but one that is welcoming and offers opportunity to people from all walks of life.” Or also told Eater that the company believes “deeply in the mission of BLM, in the power of self-reflection and accountability.” To that end, Or said that Tatte will be implementing a confidential hotline for employees to share concerns anonymously.
“Frankly, my experience is that in a company with numerous team members and with thousands of former employees it is not unusual to have many different experiences and memories,” she wrote. “In fact, we are confident that if you were to talk to a broad range of our employees — people of multiple cultures, races, sexual orientation and at multiple levels in our company — you would walk away with a very different perspective.”
One current Tatte employee named Jason Arias — who is Black and Hispanic, and manages one of the company’s cafes — did tell Eater that he has never personally experienced racism while working for the company. He also noted that those were his own views, and not representative of anyone else at Tatte.
Or responded to the petition with a letter to her employees, which she posted to Instagram, on June 7. In the letter, Or committed to matching GoFundMe donations at 200 percent, donating leftover food and beverages to protesters and Black Lives Matter-affiliated shelters instead of to police, and diversifying Tatte’s executive board.
“We all know there is infinitely more we can do,” wrote Or. “We know that systemic racism plays out across our society. And yet we know that any change starts at the individual level. Therefore, we must confront the microaggressions that occur in our everyday interactions. We need to seek to understand what we can do to be part of the solution.”
In a follow-up statement, Tatte workers acknowledged Or and Tatte’s willingness to match their donations and donate leftover food and drink.
“However, we recognize this is only the beginning of greater systemic change,” the statement reads.