Ébrìk employees describe difficulties with ownership

Miscommunication issues, safety concerns and no scheduled breaks cause problems for managers. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Ébrìk Coffee Room’s slogan is “Community, Comfort, Culture.” However, Ébrìk’s managers allege they’ve experienced the opposite: a toxic work environment.

Alongside multiple allegations of inappropriate texts from co-owner Abbas Barzegar, managers Farah Mohamoud and Andrew Dugger described a dysfunctional coffee shop, regular miscommunication between baristas and management and an overall stressful environment.

Ébrìk is co-owned by three people: Abbas Arman, Basel Nassri and Abbas Barzegar,  who is a former assistant professor of Islam at Georgia State.

Ébrìk opened in 2014 and has three locations at Emory University, Decatur and downtown Atlanta.

Mohamoud has been working at Ébrìk’s Downtown location for about three years. He became a manager about two years ago.

“I came in as a customer in 2014 and kind of built a personal relationship [with the employees at the shop] from there,” Mohamoud said.

Dugger, who has been working at Ébrìk since July 2018, said he finds that “the people are great” but “the ownership is a nightmare.”

One of the major issues that Mohamoud and Dugger say they have with Ébrìk is a lack of scheduled breaks for employees.

“I’ll work from, like, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., but we don’t have scheduled breaks,” he said. “Because there are no set break times, you take it when you can, and that rarely happens.”

Dugger said if he’s not working a double shift, a typical shift is about six hours. But if he is working a double, Dugger expects to be there for about 13 hours.

Despite those long hours, Ébrìk’s management doesn’t offer any scheduled breaks.

“[Breaks consist of] trying to stuff something in our faces for ten minutes or go to the bathroom and that’s about all the break freedom we have,” Dugger said.

Both Dugger and Mohamoud have communicated to the owners that they should be receiving breaks for their 12-hour-plus shifts.

But the email response to this request on Oct. 22 from Barzegar was that he had “done a lot of research on what standards and ‘laws’ are, and they don’t work in the employees’ favor” and said they as a team should come up with something they could all agree on.

This agreement never occurred, according to Dugger and Mohamoud.

“In the past, it’s been a kind of informal thing with a full staff. It’s been a bit of trouble over the last year because we’ve had some turnover,” Barzegar told The Signal, explaining the lack of a break system.

Neither the Fair Labor Standards Act nor Georgia law require breaks or meal periods be given to workers. However, many employers still provide them.

According to the federal government regulations website, rest periods (or 5-20 minute breaks) are standard in the industry and “they promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as work time.”

Similarly, it states that proper meal breaks are not work time but are considered rest periods. An employee must be completely relieved from duty in order for it to count as a meal break.

Communication between management is also dysfunctional, according to Mohamoud and Dugger. 

“With Barzegar, [communication] depends on whether he likes what he’s hearing,” Dugger said. “If you say something that he doesn’t necessarily like or agree with, communication normally stops right after your last statement. And if he does respond, it’s sometimes hours or days after you reach out to him.”

According to Dugger, the air conditioning has been broken for some time, which he said is partly the fault of the building manager.

“I spent two hours trying to figure [the A/C] out, and [the owners] weren’t there [to help],” he said.

According to a WhatsApp message sent by Dugger on Jan. 16, this issue still has not been fixed. In text messages with Barzegar, Mohamoud said he vomited from the high temperatures in the store and had to leave early on Jan. 15.

Barzegar’s response was that leaving was “extremely inconsiderate and not the kind of thing a supervisor would do” because it caused another manager to have to stay until closing time.

Mohamoud said that he reached out to another owner via phone call to let him know that he was leaving.

There was also an issue last semester in which Barzegar used “inappropriate” language, according to the managers, regarding inventory.

On Oct. 10, Barzegar told Mohamoud, “This s— ain’t new or news, what’s going on?” when new products weren’t on display and boxes were not put away.

In another message, Barzegar said, “How the f— we supposed to sell s— if it ain’t out on display or if you ain’t ordering it?”

“Wow, this isn’t the right way to go about any of this. You can’t be a community activist and talk to your employees like they’re trash,” one of the employees responded in the group messages.

Barzegar provided that he used this language only in specific circumstances.

“Even when I did use foul language, it was about the environment; it was never directed toward anyone,” Barzegar said.

Montana Brown, a former manager at Ébrìk, also felt that communication wasn’t clear while working. 

“Communication between the owners and staff [was not enough], and it was always sort of BS,” Brown said. “We found out things last minute all the time, and it took a while to get things done.”

Dugger and Mohamoud also allege multiple safety issues at the store, including multiple certifications that have expired. 

According to a photograph of their ServSafe, which is required for all restaurants to operate in Georgia, it expired Feb. 21, 2019 — almost a full year ago.

The certification verifies that management has been trained on potentially hazardous foods and safe food handling practices as well as other food safety, according to the Fulton County Board of Health website.

Dugger also mentioned this issue through messages, such as one incident on Dec. 30.

“Here comes the part where I start asking if we’re gonna get ServSafe taken care of before school starts again. Classes start 1/13,” he said in the message.

Dugger clarified this, saying it was supposed to be resolved over the Christmas break and that the shop had been points deducted  for the past two health inspections.

According to Barzegar, Ébrìk began as Georgia State’s only independent coffee shop just five to six years ago. 

“Now we are surrounded by seven within a quarter mile,” he said. “Needless to say, the market saturation has virtually destroyed our ability to do business.” 

Barzegar says sales have dropped nearly 30%.

“I say all of this to provide some context on why there may be so much stress in the work environment,” he said. “We have tried to mitigate such stress but clearly are falling short but are always willing to grow and learn.