THE MYSTIQUE DIDN’T LAST LONG FOR SOPHIA HENRY. She thought being a barista in a “hip,” upscale Vancouver coffee shop would be “cool” and a lot different than working for some heartless corporation. It wasn’t. Revealing that reality online was enough to make one cafe owner quit the business.
Sophia started a job at a Matchstick Cafe in 2016. It claims it is a place where people who care about people can meet and feel welcome—more like a community drop-in centre than a business.
Sophia felt good about working there—even though the coffees at Matchstick start at $4.50. It was still a cool place to work—until it wasn’t.
It turns out Matchstick is very much a business in all the wrong ways. So wrong workers there started posting the awful truth about what working there was like.
Leah Christ posted a note on Instagram on July 4 describing awful working conditions at a recent job presumed to be at Matchstick. Soon a Matchstick worker created another Instagram account titled @notourmatchstick, to share Christ’s experience, along with anonymous and attributed accounts from current and former Matchstick employees.
The posts covered a range of interactions with Matchstick co-owners Spencer and Annie Viehweger. The account switched to the handle @notourcafes and hosted 40 individual stories about working at Matchstick before disappearing from Instagram.
The posts shared descriptions of common behaviour from management: gaslighting, manipulation and pseudo-philosophical takes on how selling overpriced coffee and pastries was about “community.”
Paper thin values
Freelance writer Luke Ottenhof talked with workers, supervisors and managers at Matchstick and at Elysian Coffee Roaster, another up-scale Vancouver café. They confirmed the worker complaints posted online were all-to-common. Ottenhof writes:
“At Matchstick I heard allegations of bullying, sudden firings, weeks with no days off, double shifts lasting 14 hours, unpaid overtime, and a host of other capricious management practices.
"At Elysian, in addition to claims the work culture undervalued its employees, allegations involved sexual harassment by a former manager.”
Ottenhof comments the human values touted by the up-scale cafés have one thing in common: they are all “paper coffee-cup thin.”
One former employee of Elysian told Ottenhof the bogus focus on community and care were particularly upsetting. “You’re trying to use the rhetoric that some people use for liberation as a means to sell your shit,” they said.
Ottenhog writes that a manager told him: “Spencer Viehweger ‘broke down his employees’ via manipulation that made them ‘feel worthless,’ and they were regularly forced to work under conditions that included three weeks straight without a day off, back-to-back shifts that ran over 14 hours, and unpaid overtime.
‘Feeling unsafe and belittled was normalized,’ they said. ‘I felt like a failure for not working efficiently enough and being capable enough to solve the many workplace issues that ultimately came from being submissive to a boss with a deranged Steve Jobs fantasy of company leadership.’”
Matchstick management presented themselves as progressive bosses, encouraging workers to be open and feel safe about sharing intimate thoughts and feelings. Only to use such personal revelations against workers in job evaluations.
Bosses driven out
On July 8, a post to Matchstick’s official Instagram page acknowledged the worker experiences shared via @notourcafes.
The next day, a letter from Matchstick owner-operator Spencer Viehweger was shared saying that he was resigning, and that he and Annie Viehweger would be selling off their shares in the company.
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