BUCKTOWN — Employees of a neighborhood coffee shop attempted to lead a boycott of the business after they say the owner chastised them for hanging signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In response, the owner closed both shop locations on Friday.
Managers informed baristas at Ipsento Coffee of the store closings around 1 p.m. Friday, an employee told Block Club. Ipsento has two Bucktown locations, 1813 N. Milwaukee Ave. and 2035 N. Western Ave.
It wasn’t immediately clear how long the shops will remain closed.
Employees told Block Club earlier they were pushing back against Ipsento’s owner, Thomas Harter Sr., who had instructed them to not be “political” and to remove all signs related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
They also said Harter fired a barista on Wednesday after she refused to remove her protective face mask.
Staffers gave away free or reduced priced coffee on Friday as part of their protest, and posted a message and list of demands on Instagram.
“Thomas Harter Sr’s clear disapproval, disregard, and disrespect of his employees and their stance on the Black Lives Matter movement are not only indicative of how he perceives his workforce, but how he perceives humanity,” the group wrote on Instagram on Friday.
“We feel that we cannot, as a staff, continue to provide service or support to a business that fails to uphold the moral ideals promised by its mission statement.”
Reached by phone, Harter confirmed he did require staffers to remove the signs.
“I do not support rioting and looting. I support change,” Harter said. “I support equality and the end of racism. We want to end all racism. It’s not just Black racism. Hispanics get it too. … It’s not just one. The Blacks do get it pretty bad.”
Harter denied firing the employee.
Both he and another worker — who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation — said Harter visited the Milwaukee Avenue store Wednesday and asked the worker to remove her mask because he could not hear what she was saying. When she refused, he told her to leave.
Harter said he said he told her to “go home” because she had a “bad attitude.” The employee, who did not want to be named, said she interpreted Harter’s words to mean she had been fired and that his co-owner, who lives overseas, messaged her later to tell her she had been fired.
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