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OCF Closes All Philly Coffee Shops Amid Union Push From Staff

OCF Coffee House has permanently closed all of its Philadelphia outlets after 13 years in business, leaving just beans, aprons and angry employees behind.

The chain had operated three locations, but abruptly shuttered them on Monday, just a week after staffers said they would unionize.

OCF Coffee House on Fairmount Avenue.

“I certainly woke up yesterday knowing that the only decision we had before us was to close,” owner and area real estate developer Ori Feibush told Bisnow Tuesday. “But I had expected that closing to unfold over a much more orderly runway than the same day. And the events that occurred on that day, regrettably, sort of dictated the pace of the closure.”

Feibush said the closures followed announced staff meetings Monday at each location to discuss a “transition plan.” Those meetings drew few attendees, and the coffee shops closed for good later that afternoon, according to an announcement on social media and an email sent to staffers.

Ongoing losses at the shops, rising costs and the financial burden of a legal response to the employee union push caused Feibush to make a faster-than-expected decision, he said. Feibush also owns OCF Realty, which he said helped subsidize the struggling shops.

A majority of OCF Coffee House's 45 staffers last week sent a unionization effort letter to Feibush requesting recognition to join The Philadelphia Joint Board Workers United Local 80. The workers had hoped to become part of the union's barista-focused bargaining unit, which has helped local Ultimo and Bluestone Lane locations become union-staffed shops.

“We are the true experts of our workplaces,” the employee letter to Feibush said. “Despite this, too often our requests and suggestions for improving cafes go unheard.” 

Philadelphia Joint Board Workers United Local 80 did not respond to requests for comment. But the union has now posted a petition stating that the closures were retaliation against organizing efforts and demanding that Feibush “pay for union busting,” including offering severance pay.

Feibush acknowledged that the unionization effort was something of a last straw, but said it was far from the only reason for shutting the chain down.

Over the last week, there were “some limited, but specific, acts of graffiti at two of our locations,” among other issues, Feibush said. “I had gotten feedback from customers that they felt uncomfortable because of some things that were going on [at its 1745 South St. location].” 

Feibush said that the stores' revenue never recovered to pre-pandemic levels and had collectively been operating at a loss. With lease expirations coming up this year, he planned to close one store at 2001 Federal St. and was considering closing South Street to make way for a new location that would emulate its Fairmount Avenue cafe.

The lease at South Street had already expired, and the company was in renewal negotiations with a landlord, he said. The Federal Street lease was set to expire within a few months.

After learning of the union push, Feibush said he started talking to lawyers and didn’t think much of it until the numbers to do daily negotiation work came back.

“I realized the obligations that a business has, and a business owner has, to properly respond to these types of efforts. I'm not even saying to respond in an antagonistic way. Just to be on the up and up with filings and communication created a cost of burden on the organization that exceeded anything I could have fathomed,” Feibush said.

“We were spending, and this is sincere, thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars every single day on communication with council, on consultants, on a whole world that I had not appreciated.” 

According to CNN reporting on the Paycheck Protection Plan, federal loans that were dished out during the pandemic, OCF Cafe LLC received between $150K and 350K in April 2020. 

The shops remained open during that time, Feibush said, offering steady wages to staff that might have otherwise been laid off, even as the chain operated at a loss. Now, retirement and health benefits as well as wages of about $20 per hour have evaporated, Feibush said.

“The whole situation is terrible,” he said.