Unfolding over the last couple weeks has been some MAJOR DRAMA on social media over the revelation not altogether new that Cafe Gratitude founders and owners of SF's Gracias Madre are now, after over a decade of veganism, omnivores again. Terces and Matthew Engelhart, who at this point are no strangers to controversy, admitted back in 2015 that they had begun keeping animals on their Vacaville farm and eating them, and that admission-via-blog was revived last month by noted vegan and racecar driver Leilani Munter, on Twitter. The story was picked up that same day by My Vegan Journal, as LAist reported, prompting what else? death threats from the greater vegan community.
By this week, if you look at the Yelp page for Gracias Madre's SF location, it's littered with one-star reviews and sentiments like "The owners are hypocritical scumbags who use vegans' money to further their own anti-vegan lifestyle."
On the Gracias Madre Facebook page, a statement went up on April 21 assuring fans that the restaurant "will continue to serve 100% organic, plant-based cuisine prepared with ingredients sourced responsibly from vendors and farmers who share our commitment to preserving the integrity of the environment." But, they admit, the owners no longer follow a vegan lifestyle, to which commenters have cried out that it's a "betrayal," and saying the name of their farm, Be Love, is "such bs."
Matthew Engelhart explained last year, as the couple was transitioning to eating meat him for the first time in 40 years that it all had to do with a holistic view of their farm, which requires animals for their manure. He wrote, "We need cows to keep the earth alive, cows make an extreme sacrifice for humanity but that is their position in God’s plan as food for the predators. Cows maintain the grass, predators maintain the herd by culling the weak and sick. We can be part of that sacrament. Sacrifice is part of life."
The Guardian picked up the story this week, noting that the Engelharts have recently come under the influence of Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory, whose concept of Holistic Management advocates for the use of livestock, specifically cows, to fertilize and graze on arid land.
So, it seems, much like the Engelharts have jumped on other ideological bandwagons like the controversial Landmark Forum where they met, veganism which they've practiced since 2003, and a spiritual take on capitalism that they dubbed Sacred Commerce in a book they wrote after founding Cafe Gratitude, they have a new scripture that involves a Christian view of holy animal sacrifice, and the consumption of hamburgers.
Oh and did you know that their entire business grew out of a board game? Yes.
In recent years, the couple made local headlines when they were struck with multiple lawsuits from former employees, which led them ultimately to shut down all the Bay Area locations of Cafe Gratitude, including the Berkeley flagship late last year. The lawsuits charged the Engelharts with illegal tip-pooling practices (in which managers were tipped out by restaurant waitstaff), and in one case claimed that managers were forced to take Landmark Forum workshops in order to remain employed there.
The Engelharts and their children together own multiple other, successful Cafe Gratitude locations in Southern California, as well as an LA location of Gracias Madre, all of which have born the brunt of vegans' ire.
Related: Cafe Gratitude Closing Its Last Bay Area Location In Berkeley