Why did Augie’s Coffee close its retail operations? Why was the closure so sudden?
In the beginning of the pandemic we wrestled with the decision to stay open, but ultimately decided that keeping people who wanted or needed to work employed for as long as safely possible was priority number one. This was echoed by our team who voiced a similar desire and appreciation for remaining open.
As it has for every hospitality-based business the world over, COVID-19 presented us with issues we never expected, and were not equipped to deal with. As we struggled to stay operational during COVID-19, we faced increasing limitations on how business could be done, both due to regulations and our own safety concerns. Sales were impacted, as were all aspects of operations, and it was only due to the PPP loan helping to cover rent, utilities, and payroll expenses that we were able to keep the retail storefronts open eight weeks longer than expected. Our cash reserves were limited at best, and it had become nearly impossible to fill a schedule for some locations due to accommodating employee requests for limited hours so they could qualify for enhanced unemployment benefits. Compounding the situation, multiple managers stepped down within a short period of time citing stress as a major factor in leaving, and a number of staff self-quarantined due to possible exposure to or fear of contracting the virus.
Finally, with COVID-19 spiking once again in California, other local businesses began to close down due to active infections among their own employees. We felt it was a matter of time until Augie’s saw COVID-19 infections among staff and customers as well, and preventing this was the major factor behind the final decision to close.
What steps did Augie’s take to keep staff and customers safe? Did Augie’s Provide PPE for staff?
As a service and hospitality brand we feel a responsibility to do what we can to help keep our customers and staff as safe as possible. We followed COVID-19 guidelines issued by state and national experts from the beginning, and were one of the first to first reduce, then completely eliminate, in-store seating. Starting March 11th we changed procedures to increase cleaning and sanitation, all while practicing social distancing in the cafe. The week of March 16th we removed seats in the cafe, before it was mandated, and that same week we also stopped taking cash and moved to only credit cards.
The safety of our staff was taken very seriously, and we took a number of specific measures meant to help them feel more protected and empowered throughout the stress of the first months of the spread of the virus. The week of April 6th we distributed masks that we purchased from a customer, we distributed hand sanitizer spray bottles (with refill stations in the shops) for each employee for workplace and personal use, that same week gloves also became mandatory while working behind the bar. Our orders for Augie’s branded screen-printed bandannas and face masks got held up, and in the meantime we ordered embroidered masks to sell which we got in our hands very quickly, but sold out in a matter of hours on our website, so our team didn’t get any of those. Once the bandannas arrived (April 16th), staff was each given three, and when the actual order for branded face masks arrived, staff was given one of those as well. In the shop, we afford our staff the power to decide when they feel a guest is no longer welcome, and this was reiterated to the team as things got more hectic during the pandemic.
What are Augie’s future plans?
At this time we’re not sure what the future holds for Augie’s as a company. So much is dependent on the prevalence of COVID-19 in our area. Our current goal is to try and keep the roasting operation up for as long as possible and explore other avenues for our products, including the recently added local delivery option. In the end, as with so many others during these unprecedented times, we are just trying to survive as a small business.
Did unionization play a role in the decision to close retail locations?
Unionization played no role in the decision to close our retail locations.
We understand, given the timeline, why some have concerns about the reasons for our closing. We struggled to stay operational during COVID-19, and while the PPP loan served its purpose, keeping us financially afloat for 8 weeks, there was a lot going on behind the scenes.
It had become nearly impossible to fill a schedule for some locations. Some employees had limited availability or were self-quarantined because they feared contracting the virus or to claim the enhanced unemployment benefits. During the same time, multiple managers stepped down, self-quarantined, or resigned within weeks of each other, citing stress of the current work environment as a major factor in leaving.
Seeing other local businesses close down due to active COVID-19 infections among their own employees, financial stress, being understaffed, and missing the management needed to operate retail locations, we could not justify the risk of becoming the next “essential” victim of the virus.
Who is staffing Augie’s warehouse and delivery operations?
It’s been our goal throughout this situation to keep as many Augie’s staff members employed as possible. Though we’re unsure why there are claims circulating to the contrary, operations at our warehouse and for the newly created delivery service are staffed entirely by long-term employees, sharing a combined 50 years of Augie’s experience between the 11 staff currently there, and we hope to bring more back when we can.