Following news that the vegan/Landmark Forum-tinged Cafe Gratitude plans to close or sell all of their Northern California restaurants (including the popular Gracias Madre), the comments section here at SFist blew up. And how. So much ire and speculation poured forth, in fact, that reader Anthony Lee sent us an impassioned letter in response to the brouhaha. "

"I am not a Cafe Gratitude employee, as I have experienced the restaurant as a customer, and I have twice been a volunteer at their Harrison Street restaurant to serve the free Thanksgiving lunch to the local community," Lee tells SFist. "In addition, I have attended presentations where Matthew and Terces have shared their best practices in leadership and community building."

Also, as Grub Street dutifully point out, Café Gratitude devotees have been encouraged to flood local media with testimonials. And with that, here is Lee's letter in its entirety:

The Solution to the Cafe Gratitude crisis starts with One Key Question

What are you committed to?

As I read the online conversations surrounding the announced closings of Cafe Gratitude, I am shocked to see how little attention is spent understanding what each party is committed to? I want to understand the core value that is driving their individual actions.

In a lecture given by author Greg Mooers, he shares “Gandhi was committed to peaceful liberation, Mother Theresa to compassion, Martin Luther King to brotherhood, and Abraham Lincoln to unity. These are core values that these leaders felt so strongly about, they were willing to die for them.” Everyone has their own set of core values, and during times of conflict, it is absolutely essential to ask one another “What are you committed to?” When this question is answered, it lays the groundwork for a solution that works for all parties.

Sarah Stevens, what are you committed to? The lawsuit indicates that you are in disagreement over the tip-pooling policy, and are seeking a payment of $85,000. You were given an opportunity to vote on this policy, and knew that your colleagues ultimately voted to implement a policy that acknowledges and rewards all the contributors of excellent service, from the kitchen to the table. When you made the decision to sign this tip policy and to work for Cafe Gratitude, you gave your word to support the community’s decision.

I am unclear what your core values are. If this policy violated one of your core values, why not choose another restaurant to work for, one with policies that you are in agreement with. Are you standing up for the other colleagues who share your perspective? Did you not have the opportunity to express your dissenting opinion to management or your peers? It is your responsibility to communicate to everyone what you core values are, to give others the information necessary to develop a collaborative solution.

Stephen Sommers, what are you committed to? In one of your company videos, you state “One of the most important things we try to do with our small business clients is to put them into some kind of corporation or LLC, that way they get protection for their assets.” I notice the inconsistency when you are teaching your clients how to protect their assets with a LLC, and at the same time show them how easy it is to attack the Cafe Gratitude LLC, reaching for assets owned by the Engelharts outside of their LLC. I would be conflicted if someone taught me how to put a lock on my front door and how to pick the lock on my neighbor's door.

In another company video, your partner, Matthew Kumin, shares more of your company’s values “We’re really geared toward the little guy”, “Real Lawyers for Real People”, and “If we get the whole picture, we can craft a solution for them.” I would like to know how you personally are expressing the core values of your company. “Real People” includes the dishwashers and food preparers who contribute to the excellent customer experience. “Real People” includes the community of employees who voted for Tip Pooling. I admire your company’s intent to get the whole picture to craft a solution, and I’d like to invite you and your team of Real Lawyers to implement these core values to craft a solution that meets the needs of your client and all the “Real People” impacted by this lawsuit.

Matthew and Terces Engelhart, what are you committed to? They have answered this question by actively teaching their core values, and implementing them in all their restaurants and in all the communities they participate in. Their employees come to a work environment that inspires them to give their best, to develop their leadership and communication skills, and be acknowledged for all the contributions they make to the community. Their customers come in to a restaurant to enjoy healthy nutritious meals, where a menu item called a Grateful Bowl is available to everyone at whatever price they are able to pay. The communities surrounding their neighborhood restaurants enjoy the free Thanksgiving lunch every year. The Engelharts also teach workshops on commerce, relationships, finance, and leadership - each of which contains the core values they hold dear.

The Solution is found in Core Values

What we have here is a failure to understand what each party is truly committed to. When Mr. Sommers states, “It doesn’t make any sense that they have eight restaurants but can’t pay for a lawsuit that costs less than $200,000”, it indicates that he doesn’t understand how committed Matthew and Terces are to their principles of leadership and community. The community of Cafe Gratitude employees voted to implement Tip Pooling, and the Engelharts are standing in full support of this decision. They are also committed to acknowledging each and every employee who contributes to a customer’s excellent experience. Settling the lawsuit comes at a cost much greater than $200,000, because you are also asking them to withdraw their support of a decision made by their community of employees, and to abandon their principals and core values. Our core values define who we are, and are therefore priceless.

I find it hard to believe that any of the parties involved are committed to the disintegration of the Cafe Gratitude restaurants in the Bay Area. Ms. Stevens, I’d invite you to share with the Cafe Gratitude community and with the Engelharts, exactly what you are committed to, and allow them to show their support for you. Mr. Sommers, I’d invite you to “craft a solution” that allows both your client and the Cafe Gratitude community to thrive, even if that solution does not come in the form of a legal settlement. Terces and Matthew, I would invite you to continue your love and support for your employees and customers by staying open, literally and figuratively, so that a truly imaginative, inspirational, and collaborative solution can emerge from this crisis.

What am I committed to?

While I am not a Cafe Gratitude employee, I have experienced their restaurants as a customer, and as a volunteer to serve Thanksgiving lunch. I have attended presentations led by Matthew and Terces, where I have learned valuable leadership and community building skills. I see the immense value that the restaurant and their owners provide to the communities they serve.

My core values are Empowerment and Integrity. I wrote this letter to invite all parties back to the table and share their core values, and Empower the group with the key pieces of information necessary to craft a solution that works for all. I also invite all parties to come to the table with a new opportunity to demonstrate actions and behavior that are in Integrity with their core values. My commitment during this crisis is to promote an open dialogue, so that the best possible outcome can be reached.

Previously: Café Gratitude Announces NorCal Closures
Café Gratitude Asks For Help Amid News Of Closure