After a decade of operation in Redlands, Riverside and Claremont, Augie’s Coffee is closing permanently.
“We’ve spent over a decade serving as a hub for our community, through the lens of coffee,” wrote owner Austin Amento on Augie’s website. “We’ve shared great times with a lot of you and are forever grateful for the memories that Augie’s gave to us. As for many of you, COVID-19 has made 2020 the most difficult year we’ve faced. We’ve been irreparably damaged by this pandemic, and it’s incredibly painful to admit to you that Augie’s Coffee will not survive to see the end of this year. We only ask that you pivot and choose a different small business to support in our place.
“These times are trying in the United States, but when people support each other at the most basic levels, anything is possible,” continued Amento. “Rally around a local business and do your best to encourage them; you never know just how close they are to calling it quits. As of Dec. 14, we will no longer sell any products online but will fulfill online orders placed before that date. Subscriptions will be canceled and handled case by case. We hope that you all stay safe and healthy.”
The announcement by Amento came after the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint that Augie’s Coffee illegally terminated more than 50 employees in retaliation for union organizing on July 4.
On July 4, Augie’s announced via Instagram that all five locations were shut down indefinitely.
“We are choosing to focus on our families and do what we can to keep our neighbors and community safe,” Augie’s said in its statement posted on social media. “This closing of stores is indefinite as we need time to reevaluate how Augie’s can operate safely in the future, given the reality of the prolonged effect of this virus.”
However, former employees who gathered outside of Augie’s headquarters on July 6 said they were laid off for unionizing and filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Employees from the five locations stood outside the headquarters, where owners were inside, refusing to talk.
According to the former employees, throughout the pandemic, workers at the coffee chain asked management to address concerns related to safety, job security and compensation issues. When those concerns weren’t addressed, they decided to form a union. Workers requested that management recognize their union on June 26, and on July 4, they were informed via email about the closing locations and layoffs.
The former employees filed a second set of unfair labor practice charges in October after saying their former employer attempted to use the police and criminal charges to intimidate them from testifying in the ongoing National Labor Relations Board investigation.
“The Amento’s are harassing our coworker through police intimidation and unjust criminal charges,” said former Augie’s worker Evan Costello in an interview in October. “Meanwhile, they are being investigated for a number of serious offenses against their former employees, including over $140,000 in wage theft. The fact that they can use the legal system to harass their former employees like this while we’re still waiting for our justice is strikingly unfair. We’re here to show that we will protect our fellow workers in the meantime.”
The recent labor board finding of complaint comes after dozens of requests for dialogue from workers and community members were ignored by the Amentos.
“If the Amento’s think they can just quietly close this chapter, after illegally firing me and all of my coworkers at the height of a global pandemic, they are sorely mistaken,” said former Augie’s barista Kelley Bader. “Our community has made it very clear that they will not forget what the Amentos did to us, and we will all be closely watching the labor board process and continuing to demand justice.”
Some of the former Augie’s baristas started Slow Bloom Coffee Co-op, a worker-run cooperative. Slow Bloom is a 100% worker-owned coffee roasting business. A Kickstarter campaign for the cooperative raised over $36,000.
“On one hand, it’s encouraging to know that our persistence in the face of intimidation and harassment was not in vain,” said former Augie’s barista Ryan Bermuda. “On the other hand, we can’t pay our bills with a labor board complaint. We’re staying focused on starting our co-op so we can replace our jobs.”
The Amentos did not respond to the Redlands Community News’ request for comment.