Employees at Kensington bakery and pizzeria Eeva found out their workplace was closing and they’d lose their jobs via Slack messages sent three weeks before the shutdown date.
Eeva and sister spot ReAnimator Coffee, with which it shares a location, were some of Philly’s first independent restaurants to unionize with Local 80, a Workers United affiliate. Management voluntarily recognized the union, but contract negotiations had dragged out for nine months.
“Everybody has a right to be upset,” said co-owner Mark Capriotti. “We wanted to preserve as many jobs as possible, and the way we could do that is running the ReAnimator cafe in that location.”
Departing Eeva chef and co-owner Greg Dunn told Billy Penn he gave the business his all, and credited the staff for their work.
“I’m forever grateful for the staff, who made it all happen,” Dunn said. “It was a team effort, and I am very proud of what we accomplished.”
However, the 14 union workers are distraught, and remain adamant the restaurant could continue.
“Something very unifying [between coworkers] is that there doesn’t really seem to be a good reason to close,” said Caleb Gohen, who joined Eeva as a line cook about a year ago and accepted a full-time position in July.
Several employees told Billy Penn they felt management’s messaging around the closure was unclear, and the compensation offered for termination inadequate. Staff were offered a week’s severance pay, according to Gohen.
Dunn sent the first Slack message that day, staff said, announcing he’d be stepping down, and thanking the team for their service.
Staff members said Capriotti, one of the founders of ReAnimator and minority shareholder in Eeva, sent the second message about the closure, which is slated for Nov. 5. It said current baristas would be offered positions in the new operation. About 6 or 8 baristas stayed on, according to Capriotti.
After getting those messages on Oct. 16, staff members said they sent a flurry of questions. They asked about reasons for the closure, and for a chance to negotiate better severance deals, or for accrued PTO. The only substantial response they received, they said, was a suggestion from Capriotti to seek advice from Local 80.
“That’s what’s especially disappointing to [the employees],” said Eli Zastempowski, a Local 80 organizer. “They’ve put a year of work into this thing and suddenly it’s swept out from underneath them.”
Local 80 worked with staff to submit a formal request for four weeks’ severance pay and a payout of earned PTO. Both requests were rejected, staff said.
Capriotti, the co-owner, noted that by announcing the closure three weeks in advance and offering a week of severance pay, they were offering “a combination of four weeks’ continued earnings.” Eeva’s policy, he said, does not include the payment of PTO upon separation from employment.
Can workers keep a business open if the ownership wants to close?
Employees said that in hindsight the closure wasn’t that surprising, with many pointing to a lack of involvement from chef and co-owner Dunn.
In recent months, some said, his missing presence became a burden. Daniela Chaquea, who first joined the company a year and a half ago and had been stationed at the Eeva prep line, recalled their initial enthusiasm waning. “We wouldn’t see Greg for months at a time,” they said.
“A majority of the employees work daytime, where Greg often worked dinner service,” co-owner Capriotti said.
Union contract negotiations were handled by Capriotti and the other ReAnimator co-owners, Mark Corpus, Matt Scottoline, and Justin Fox.
That was the group gathered at a regularly scheduled Oct. 19 ReAnimator negotiation with Local 80, which turned into a discussion about the Eeva situation.
Staff read prepared statements and said they offered alternatives to the closure, garnering a response from the management lawyer that the decision to close Eeva was final and backed by the business’s silent investors.
“We did hear from several workers who believe they could run the business themselves,” Capriotti told Billy Penn, “which in ownership’s view was not a practical solution to keep the business open.”
Gohen, the line cook, is one of several staffers who allege the shutdown is a response to the union movement.
“The majority of us are of the opinion that this is just happening because they got tired of dealing with our unionization efforts,” Gohen said.
Capriotti countered that the closure was indeed because the head chef, whose idea the pizzeria had been from the start, was stepping away. Said Capriotti: “Making it to 3 years was an accomplishment.”
Clarification: This story has been updated with additional comments from ReAnimator co-owners, clarifying the Oct. 19 meeting purpose and the number of baristas from Eeva hired for the new ReAnimator location.
Correction: A previous version of this article did not state the correct number of years Eeva had been open.