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Tuff Luck coffee and the Deli part ways…and not amicably

Business dealings are always a sticky wicket, especially in this economy. And when the boys who ran Tuff Luck coffee moved into the queer collectively-run Deli it seemed like a perfect synthesis. I frequented the place myself, both before and after the merge and was glad to have a queer-friendly neighborhood space.

I was never aware of the business practices or inner conflicts that were happening so I can’t add my own opinion, but I received a very detailed explanation of events from Tuff Luck owners Choriko Bogues and Ryder Richardson, who wrote a very explicit and transparent explanation of what happened to cause the rift. I feel it is important to share it with the community so I have reproduced it in its entirety below.

Both they and I encourage comments and I hope the community can have a real discussion about this.

We, Ryder Richardson and Choriko Bogues of Tuff Luck, feel that it is necessary to let our customers, supporters, community, allies and loved ones know what is happening at the Tuff Luck Deli as of late. It is an unfortunate reality that we cannot continue working with Heather Hawkins, the owner of the Deli Love, LLC despite much effort and attempts at mediation. This is the LLC that Tuff Luck Deli has been operating under since our relocation from In Other Words to 441 N. Killingsworth. What you are now reading was prepared in an effort to be open, honest and remain accountable to our community.

Many of our agreements with Heather Hawkins have not been honored or even partially met. We agreed to be equal partners and integral in the revitalization and management of the space in conjunction with the Deli Love, LLC under the condition that Tuff Luck would not be responsible for any debt owned by Deli Love, LLC before our involvement. Heather told us there was less than 1000 dollars in debt and agreed that we would not be responsible for it. The agreement was made by all parties to form a collective wherein income or wages would be broken into percentages based on the number of hours worked by any collective member. We have been unable to implement this system because Heather has maintained control of all finances and information regarding the bank account. We have requested, but never been given, access to the bank account. We have asked Heather to hold true to the original agreement to be included in the decision making process that determines how that money is spent. This has never happened. It has become apparent, due to several failed attempts at resolution, that this inability to adhere to agreements made in our meetings will ever change. Here are a few examples of why Tuff Luck would like to continue operating without the involvement of Heather Hawkins.

After a meeting in which we voiced our concern over not being consulted about major purchases or bill payments, even though we were supposedly forming a collective, Heather agreed to give us that information and inform us of upcoming expenses. Unknown until later, she then immediately broke the agreement by paying, in full, a water bill of over 400 dollars accrued by the Deli before Tuff Luck existed in the space. This decision was made without consulting any other collective members and done days before we were all to be paid out for the month. She also used collective money to pay her brother back for a personal loan he had given her in order to pay the rent on the space from before Tuff Luck’s involvement.  Also at that time, Heather expressed her desire not to pay any of the collective members at all. She said they should work there because it is fun and not for money despite the fact that it was agreed upon that volunteer run for profit business is not sustainable, fair or legal. She argued that the money we would be splitting up wouldn’t be  enough to pay for everybody’s financial needs anyway, so it didn’t matter. She suggested people would work for free if you just pitched it to them the right way. We called an emergency meeting, with a facilitator, and advocated for the collective members until she agreed to pay them 5$ an hour. We made sure to get the cash in hand for members that were not present at that time. We felt this was a small, bitter victory, as there were no reliable numbers with which to compute the percentages. During this meeting is when we learned of the money she had used to pay her debt and the water bill. We expressed our extreme displeasure and again asked for access to the bank account, to be included in the decision making process, and to be informed when bills would be paid and major purchases made. She agreed to all of this and mentioned that it felt better to pay the members, after all. This entire interaction was witnessed and facilitated.

It is important to clarify that we, Choriko Bogues and Ryder Richardson, are not the only collective members involved with Heather Hawkins and the Tuff Luck Deli. Besides the 3 of us, there were generally 7 or 8 other people aiding in the upkeep and operation of the space. They kept track of their own hours and it was agreed they would be paid the same amount hourly that Choriko, Ryder and Heather were paid. This agreement was not honored, since we were unable to properly determine the amount of profit. All but 2 members have expressed frustration with Heather’s mismanagement. Several of them voiced to Choriko and Ryder that they have felt disrespected, unappreciated and condescended to by Heather Hawkins. Heather holds no regard for the collective process and does not value the labor of fellow workers. We have also talked to a handful of people who worked for Heather in this space before we got involved who express similar frustrations.

When it came time to pay out collective members for the month of October, she claimed we had all earned $1.80 an hour. Ryder and I called a meeting of all collective members and informed everyone of the meager wages and let them know that if they could not continue to give their time to Tuff Luck, we would understand and that if they would like to stay on board, we would be grateful and hoped that the future would bring more money into the equation. Some members left the collective out of frustration and financial neccesity. We let the remaining members know that if the hourly percentage was so low, that we would be prepared to work the bulk of the hours since we did not feel good about paying out so little. All  remaining members expressed an interest in staying on board and continuing with the majority of their shifts. Everyone left that meeting thinking that six members still remained: Ryder, Choriko, Heather, Martha, Kay and Aidan. Heather and Martha, without contacting Kay or Aidan, showed up for shifts they were not assigned, effectively and passive-aggressively pushing Kay and Aidan out of their positions and informing them they were no longer needed. They collective was ultimately pared down to four people. Ryder, Choriko, Heather and Martha.

After losing the reliable efforts of Aidan and Kay, Tuff Luck Deli began to suffer from inconsistencies that became detrimental to it’s performance. Heather could not be relied upon to arrive on time for her shifts, often showing up hours late and leaving Choriko or Ryder to work alone.  Heather stubbornly refused to perform certain closing duties properly, resulting in the cleanliness of the space deteriorating. Tables, floors and the restroom were completely ignored and we would have to do these jobs in the morning before opening, or just accept the filth. We would then be left to work the morning alone, unable to contact Heather. Customers began complaining that on days when Heather and Martha worked together and we were not there, that the shop did not open on time, the coffee was bad and it would take too long to get their meal. Needless to say, we were beyond fed up, but continued working hard, hoping to wrangle some control and rectify the situation.

On Tuesday, November 16th, there was a cash register malfunction and it was unable to document purchases made throughout the day. This means that there was no “z” report for that day. Ryder closed the shop at 5 p.m. and counted the sales manually. The amount (over the till) was $260. Later the same night, Heather and Martha hosted an open mic in the space and reopened for business from 8 pm til midnight.

The next morning (Wednesday), Choriko opened for business and Heather and Martha did not show up for their entire shift. This is what’s called a “no call/no show”. Choriko attempted to contact them repeatedly via text. He eventually called Ryder into work and we both tried throughout the day to get in touch with Heather and Martha. They never responded and did not make any attempt to explain their absence. At closing, Ryder counted the money, prepared the deposit for the day and went to put it in the safe. He then discovered that the deposit for the previous day was only $180. We became very concerned at that point, since this was $80 less than what had been counted at 5 pm and all money earned during the 4 hours of open mic was completely unaccounted for. We asked them to account for this discrepancy and still did not hear back from them at all that day.

They finally responded via text on Thursday afternoon. They did not explain their absence or account for the missing money. They expressed outrage at our “accusations of stealing”. We never accused them of stealing. We asked them to account for the missing money. Choriko worked alone on Friday, Ryder and Choriko worked on Saturday and called an emergency meeting for Sunday night. Heather and Martha worked on Sunday and we met them, along with a conflict resolution person and two community members. Katie Carter, co-director of In Other Words who had facilitated most of the meetings we had previously held, and Nico Christopher who had brought Adam, the conflict resolution person, were present. Nico, for the most part was a silent witness.

After meeting separately with Adam, we began the meeting. At the outset, Ryder and I informed Heather and Martha that we were no longer interested in working alongside them and the options were to pay us minimum wage for the hours we had worked and we would leave the space but that what we really wanted was to retain the space and offer them a buy-out. During that meeting, Heather told us that we could not prove we ever worked there and that we didn’t even know who the landlord was. Nothing was resolved. They would not be held accountable for their shortcomings as partners and blamed the missing money on another community member who was present at the open mic. We agreed to work opposite schedules, with me and Ryder working together and Heather and Martha working together until the next meeting which was scheduled for December 1st at 5:30. On November 30th, Choriko texted to remind them that the meeting was happening and to remind them that Adam, Katie, Ryder and myself would be there and that we would like to bring an experienced collective member named Corinne to advocate for collective practices. Heather responded that they had no interest in meeting with us and we should get our things and pick up our money for November. When I responded that it didn’t work that way and we would be there for the meeting, she then responded saying that we had quit, we no longer worked there and we needed to come collect our stuff so we can all move on. This was all via text.

Heather has also been unable to use correct preferred pronouns for Ryder and other trans community members. Her excuse is that it is “just a mistake” like “accidentally calling someone the wrong name”. Obviously, this excuse is not good enough. Even if it were anything like that, it would be incredibly disrespectful to work alongside someone for almost three months and not bother to learn how to say their name. This particular statement further illuminates the fact that Tuff Luck is not currently the safer space for queer and trans people that we set out for it to be. We have received feedback from community members that she routinely makes transphobic remarks. We have personally heard her say hurtful and ignorant things on multiple occasions.We believe it is not right for someone who is not an ally to benefit from a customer base built by us and our community. After 3 months of attempting to teach sensitivity on this matter, we have lost patience.

Today is December 1st. Ryder, Katie, Adam, Corinne and Choriko all showed up for the scheduled meeting at which, Heather and Martha were absent.  As they have not been willing to abide by a mediation process, we are prepared to take legal action and community action. We fully intend to continue to work towards equality, safer public spaces and visibility for the queer/trans/feminist community. It is the hope of Tuff Luck that Heather agrees to leave the situation and that we are able to keep the space we have created there. It is not only a safer space for queers, it is a community hub to everyone who lives, works and studies in our neighborhood. We hope that we have an opportunity to create an actual collective where we would all adhere to a mission of core values and where all collective members would share access to the finances and hold equal power in all decision making processes. All members would be subject to the same standards and could be asked to leave the collective at any time if the majority of members voted in accordance, therefore creating some kind of accountability and protecting the interests of the collective and the community.

In the mean time, if you do not support the actions that have been taken by Heather Hawkins and the Deli Love, LLC, we ask that you stop financially supporting the business. We no longer consider it a community space and Tuff Luck will no longer be receiving money from it.  We hope that the power of community action will help us demand accountability for the mistreatment and disrespect we have received from Heather Hawkins.  We will keep updating the community on any developments in Tuff Luck’s struggle to get the space back for the Tuff Luck collective.

Yours Truly,

Tuff Luck Crew

If you wish to contribute to this public conversation, please feel free to email comments and concerns to TuffLuckPDX@gmail.com

Update: I want to reiterate that I have no personal stand on this issue (although I may in the future after hearing directly from the individuals involved) but I do believe it is important to post this well-written and obviously long thought-out grievance posted for public consumption by Choriko Bogues. I have not heard or seen any press releases or responses from named individuals but would be happy to also post their grievances should they wish them to be public.

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