What is going on at Birchwood Cafe?
The owner reopened the cafe in July after firing 18 employees last summer. The shop has been “closed temporarily" since Dec. 2nd due to "unforeseen circumstances."
Hello! We’re changing up the newsletter for a moment. I want to bring light to events I’ve previously reported on and ask for community input.
Last summer, I reported on the mass firing of employees at Birchwood Cafe after the Juneteenth holiday event. A former employee reached out after reading my piece last fall and spoke with me about their experience working there. They wanted to bring attention to the owner’s business practices while remaining anonymous to protect their identity.
Tracy Singleton has owned and operated Birchwood Cafe for over two decades. The cafe’s image of antiracism and progressive justice in the community of South Minneapolis falls apart for the workers who’ve been mistreated by Singleton. After she fired 18 employees last June, the cafe became an even more hostile environment to work in after an antiracism training last fall. Singleton told the Star Tribune she’d be pursuing restorative justice with her former employees and rehire them. That didn’t happen. Instead of working to end the cycle of racist harm in the workplace, the training seemed to further harm employees.
Singleton, a white woman, in her journey to transform her business after the symbolic Juneteenth “prairie burn”, tried to “save” a vulnerable person by offering them a flexible, well-paid job. But this person told me they felt coerced into working there. When the time came for Singleton to actually protect her employee from harm, she failed.
They said Singleton “baited” them into working for her, offering good hours and flexibility with remote work in an administrative position. They said Singleton would’ve fired them if they didn’t go to an antiracism training. At the training, they described a toxic atmosphere. The facilitator created an environment of hostility toward whiteness instead of accountability. After the training, they allege that Singleton was trying to find reasons to fire everyone. They feared losing their job. They were eventually fired via email after telling Singleton they spoke to a lawyer.
“I know nothing about the food service industry,” they told me. “There has never been anything clear from the beginning...I did this thinking I was going to be helping people. I’m capable of being an administrative person when I’m led in the right direction.”
The former employee said that the cafe has been shut down because allegedly Singleton can’t pay back her loans or mortgage. The most recent paycheck protection program loan status for Birchwood Cafe is “not disclosed”. The PPP loans offered to employers by the federal government can be forgiven if employers pay their employees during the pandemic.
The cafe’s website says the cafe is closed temporarily. They encourage reservations, but the link is not working. Workday has reached out by email and phone but has received no response.
My source also let me know that an EEOC investigation is ongoing, and Workday will continue to bring you information as we learn it. If you have any tips or information you’d like us to know, reach out, we’d love to speak with you, and you can remain anonymous. Feel free to share.
Forests of appreciation for your solidarity during this time of collective grief and tragedy. We are each other’s harvest.