Featured photo: The Green Bean has been closed since Sept. 9 after all of its employees walked out citing pay, management concerns. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
UPDATED (9/14, 5:25 p.m.): This article was updated to add a sentence in which Amy Foresman clarified a quote.
UPDATED (9/14, 10:52 p.m.): This article was updated to correct a timeline of when Galen Foresman stopped being an owner of the Green Bean.
UPDATED (10/3, 12 p.m.): This article was updated to add more information about pay for staff at Common Grounds.
Disclosure: TCB’s managing editor Sayaka Matsuoka’s husband, Sam LeBlanc, who also works as TCB’s webmaster, works for Borough Coffee from time to time.
As hundreds of visitors flooded the streets of downtown Greensboro on Sept. 9 for the second day of the annual NC Folk Festival, the doors of popular coffee shop the Green Bean, on nearby Elm Street, was closed. And that’s because just one day earlier, all of the staff walked out.
According to interviews conducted by Triad City Beat, former Green Bean employees allege a pattern of mismanagement and a lack of adequate pay as reasons for the mass exodus.
Since then, screenshots of conversations between past employees and the owner, Amy Foresman, have been making the rounds on social media. While the main issues captured in the screenshots involve conversations around “living wages,” the employees who spoke to TCB complained of Foresman’s disengagement in the business, accusing her of mismanagement, as well as a lack of respect for the unhoused community who live downtown.
“Green Bean was a staple in the community for many years, but [Amy] took credit for that even though she didn’t do anything,” said Enid Coogan, the former manager. “This kind of thing is important for transparency when it comes to business owners taking advantage of their employees or their community; people should just know.”
For this piece, TCB spoke to seven former Green Bean employees, most of whom quit in the last week.
“I left because it was basically emotional warfare for the last couple of weeks,” said EK, who spoke to TCB on the condition of using their initials only. “At some point, we all just decided that this wasn’t worth it.”
Since its opening in 2002, the Green Bean has been a mainstay in downtown Greensboro. Besides Tate Street Coffee, which opened in 1993, it is one of the oldest coffee businesses in the city.
In the last two decades, the business has changed hands from the original owners of Pete and Anne Schroth to Katie Southard, the general manager at the time in 2009, according to an article by Yes! Weekly. In 2015, the business was taken over by Joe Van Gogh, a Hillsborough-based coffee company. In August 2020, Amy Foresman and her ex-husband, Galen, bought the business from Joe Van Gogh, changing the official business name to Green Bean on Elm, LLC, according to a business filing with the Secretary of State. At the time, Amy owned 51 percent of the business, while Galen owned 49 percent.
Galen Foresman told TCB on Thursday evening that he had not owned the Green Bean since December 2021. In the company’s April 2023 annual report, Galen was no longer listed as a company official.
Shortly after the screenshots from Slack made the rounds on Instagram and Reddit, one of the front windows of the store was smashed in.
According to Coogan, they received a call from Alarm Guard around 2:30 early Wednesday morning alerting them to the fact that the window had been broken. Coogan said that they likely got the call because their contact info was still listed on file with the security company.
Based on redacted 911 call recordings obtained by TCB, one caller who witnessed the break-in described the perpetrator as a male who was wearing blue jeans and had a backpack. No additional information has been provided by the GPD.
This is the second time in the last year and a half that one of the store’s front windows has been broken. According to past employees, in May 2022, an unhoused customer who was banned from the shop after verbally assaulting customers, was arrested after breaking a window.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it is unclear who smashed the window this week or why. A police incident report notes that the vandalism was reported at 2:14 in the morning. TCB has also requested 911 call recordings connected to the incident.
What has the owner said?
For the purposes of this article, TCB reached out to Amy Foresman on multiple occasions including via email, text and phone call. Originally, Foresman had agreed to a phone interview that was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but a few hours before the scheduled call, Foresman canceled and sent TCB a statement instead.
“The Green Bean has been using coffee and hospitality to build community and create connections for more than 20 years, and a major driver of our success has been the dedication of our employees to serving customers and making them feel welcome,” Foresman wrote. “We are deeply committed to treating all employees fairly and compensating them appropriately. We continuously look for ways to make improvements for our team and customers, including making investments in our facility. The Green Bean is currently closed to take care of some much needed renovations and upgrades, and we look forward to a grand reopening in October.”
Since then, emails, calls and texts to Foresman had gone unanswered.
On Wednesday evening, this author ran into Foresman at Double Oaks and asked her for a comment, to which Foresman replied, “I would prefer to just let it die.”
After the article was published, Foresman reached out to TCB to clarify that what she meant was that she preferred to just “let it die down.”
TCB also reached out to Galen Foresman, Amy’s ex-husband, as well as Audrey Sheldon-Ortiz, who ex-employees said formerly managed the Green Bean and was recently hired by Foresman to help manage finances for the shop.
Galen Foresman did not respond to TCB’s calls.
Like Amy Foresman, Sheldon-Ortiz originally scheduled a call with TCB for Tuesday afternoon but then on Tuesday morning, responded with a short statement in lieu of a call.
“I have been working with Amy Foresman, the owner of the Green Bean, as a general consultant on a as needed basis in several capacities since she and Galen took ownership of the Green Bean in 2020, including work to begin to develop a compensation plan that worked for both the employees and the business,” Sheldon-Ortiz wrote. “Unfortunately, the staff made the decision to resign before we were able to communicate the new plan, which would have given them options that addressed their concerns. We are actively recruiting new staff and will use the time needed to hire and train them to make some overdue updates to the coffee shop. The Green Bean will reopen soon and carry on its 21-year tradition of using coffee and hospitality to build community and create connections.”
A domino effect
According to the former Green Bean employees, the trouble started in mid August, when a longtime manager of the coffee shop was fired. A few days after that, the kitchen manager quit.
Afterwards, Coogan said that they were promoted from their assistant manager position to manager to fill the gap. But less than a month later on Sept. 2, Coogan quit after trying to bring up the issue of pay raises.
Brooks Berdeen, a former barista and the media manager who had been at Green Bean since October 2021, quit on Sept. 4.
Olivia Constantinidi, who was hired in August 2021, gave her notice on Sept. 7 and ended up walking out mid-shift.
Then, on Sept. 8, the rest of the staff quit, too.
The inciting domino, ex-employees said, was the lack of direction and help from Foresman when she fired the manager in August. The issue of pay exacerbated the frustrations of an already tired staff.
All of the Green Bean ex-employees TCB spoke to said that, while Amy Foresman was the owner on paper, she was an absent figure who didn’t properly know how to run the business. So when she fired the previous coffee manager and the kitchen manager quit, the business began to suffer.
A few of the employees also alleged that Foresman had incurred some debt from failing to pay rent on the building that houses the Green Bean.
When TCB reached Stu Nichols, the building owner by phone, he chose not to comment on the allegation. Instead, Nichols said that “as an owner and manager of real estate,” he doesn’t get involved in the management of businesses that operate in his buildings. Nichols also owns the buildings that house Scuppernong Books, Pangea and Iron and Cloth Barbershop.
“I love the Green Bean,” Nichols said. “These are businesses that I am proud of housing in buildings that we own. They are very important to downtown Greensboro.”
Still, the employees who TCB spoke to said that while they loved the role that the Green Bean played in downtown Greensboro, that Foresman was an incapable owner.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really had a manager or owner do so little behind the bar,” said EK.
Emmeline MacMillan, who was hired in October 2021, said that Foresman didn’t know how the store was run including how to do inventory, payroll, stocking or making drinks.
A few of the employees said that Foresman would sometimes come into the shop during rush hours and put in her drink order in front of other customers.
“She never provided any support whatsoever,” said Emma Honeycutt, who joined Green Bean in March 2022.
In a Slack thread that took place during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3-4, staff tagged Foresman in messages alerting her to the fact that the shop was out of the housemade plain cream cheese. To that, Foresman told staff to use pre-packed cream cheese that she would order and would be delivered on Sept. 6, due to the holiday. In that same message, Foresman asked the group to put inventory away when it was delivered, something that in the past, managers did. But by Sept. 3, both of the past managers had either been fired or had quit.
MacMillan responded to Foresman by saying that regular baristas don’t often have time to put inventory away during busy shifts.
In response, Sheldon-Ortiz, whom Foresman had hired to help with financial consultation, responded that both her and Foresman were aware of the lack of help and that they wanted the baristas’ help to “keep the flow of the day to day systems happening smoothly.” She also suggested that employees could “stay after shift for this or to step away from the bar when things are not so busy.”
Constantinidi responded that she personally wasn’t willing to stay after a shift to put orders away, and the “expectation of us to pick up the slack from three people who are now gone is not acceptable….”
As an alternative, she and other employees suggested that Foresman step in to help, to which Foresman replied that she “[has] obligations outside of the Bean that currently limit [her] day to day availability.”
Foresman’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles list owning Green Bean as her only current job. In the past, Foresman has worked for FORVIS as a marketing manager and at UNCG as a university program coordinator. Foresman also has two young kids according to her Facebook posts.
To alleviate some of the stress from the staff, on Sept. 7 Foresman announced on Slack that her son, Caleb, would be stepping in to help temporarily.
In Slack threads, Foresman said that Caleb would act as “bar back, liaison, inventory controller, bank runner, pretty much your go-to point person when [she is] not available.”
After employees pressed Foresman and her son about how much experience he has and how much he would be making, Caleb responded directly in the Slack saying that he wasn’t being paid and that he would not need to be trained because he would “only be an extra smiling face at the cafe, cleaning up as needed, bussing tables, sweeping, etc.”
According to the employees, Caleb’s first scheduled shift was set to take place on Friday, Sept. 8 at 10 a.m. When the staff quit around 11:30 a.m. that same day, they said that Caleb had yet to come in.
A living wage?
In the midst of two managers leaving in one month, the remaining employees began more aggressively pushing for wage increases, something that past managers had already been advocating for.
Many of the employees initially took the job knowing that it paid about $9 per hour plus tips, but with the extra work expected of them, they felt like they deserved a higher pay.
“I think the pay is a symptom of a bigger problem,” said Constantinidi. “We’ve been in agreement that going into it that the pay wasn’t ideal. I know we would have worked for $9 an hour for a while. I don’t think we were financially shocked to receive the pay that we did — it’s coffee. But the pay became a problem when we had no manager and no one running the place and no one in charge and these things became expectations, and there was no money behind it.”
After the longtime manager had been fired in August, the ex-employees said Foresman told them at a meeting that the savings from the manager’s salary would go towards offering staff a “living wage.”
In the last few years, the concept of a living wage has become a national talking point, particularly in the midst of and after the pandemic. Much of the conversation has been dominated by increased activism around a national $15 minimum wage, something that has yet to be implemented. But in the last decade, many companies including Starbucks, have implemented a $15 starting hourly rate. However, that’s not the same thing as a “living wage.”
According to the Living Wage Calculator created by MIT, a living wage for a single adult with no children in North Carolina would be $16.83 per hour. Data collected by Apartment List calculates that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Greensboro is $1,265 while a one-bedroom averages $1,095. In August 2022, TCB reported that the rent for one-bedroom apartments increased by 74.2 percent in Greensboro, making the city top in the country for biggest increase in rent over the previous year.
Analyses by experts additionally note that the current minimum wage in the United States — $7.25 per hour (the same in NC) — does not provide a living wage for most, if not all, Americans. The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009.
According to conversations with ex-employees, all of the baristas who were working at Green Bean were making an hourly rate of $8.50-$9 per hour, plus credit card and cash tips, paid by direct deposit every two weeks. That would amount to about $1,620 per month in take-home pay before taxes taken out or tips added if a barista worked 40 hours per week.
A quick search of ProPublica’s PPP loan tracker shows that the Green Bean received a $10,625 loan that was approved in February 2021 to pay for payroll. The loan, like many businesses that received PPP funds during the pandemic, was ultimately forgiven. According to SBA data, the average PPP loan for a “Snack and Nonalcoholic Beverage Bar” business, which is how Green Bean was categorized, was $52,375. (Editor’s note: TCB also received PPP loans during the pandemic.)
By early September, every time Foresman or Sheldon-Ortiz asked staff to take on extra responsibilities, members of the group would ask about potential pay raises. In subsequent messages, both Foresman and Sheldon-Ortiz used the phrase “cost of living wage increases,” rather than “living wages.” But by definition, a living wage takes into account the “cost of living,” according to the MIT calculator.
Because they had been asking for living wages and because staff said Foresman had used the term in the August meeting, the ex-employees expected something close to $15 per hour. But on Sept. 6, their hopes were dashed when Foresman posted on Slack that everyone’s pay would be increased to $9.50 per hour with the exception of one employee who was working as the head barista.
That’s when the conversation devolved.
Almost immediately, MacMillan responded to Foresman’s message by stating that a “fifty-cent increase is not acceptable and does not constitute a ‘living wage.’” She went on to say that “earning less than $10 an hour in this economy is insulting.”
According to data released by the Bureau of Labor on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 3.7 percent from 12 months earlier, up from 3.2 percent in July. The CPI is a measure of the average change in prices over time in a fixed market basket of goods and services. Overall, the rate has fallen from a pandemic-era peak of 9.1 percent in June 2022, according to CNBC.
On Sept. 7, Amy responded in Slack messages that have since been circulated on the internet.
“Everyone, we hear your concerns,” she wrote. “I have never used the term ‘living wage’ so please do not say that you were ‘promised’ anything.”
In subsequent paragraphs, Foresman appeared to double down, stating that a living wage “is a construct that [she does] not believe in,” and that it “does not apply to the restaurant industry. Coffee, yes, in some cases.”
She then pointed out how the wait staff at Natty Greene’s down the street makes $2.50 per hour plus tips, which “incentivize the employees to show up, put their best foot forward, treat the customer as grand as possible.”
Foresman then goes on to state that the current pay range with credit card tips, but not cash tips, is between $16.50-$23 per hour, something the employees have pushed back on.
Honeycutt told TCB that for the last month, her average hourly rate came out to about $13 after adding credit card tips. Copies of pay stubs that Honeycutt and MacMillan sent to TCB for mid July and August confirm this.
Honeycut also said that wages could skew widely depending on which shifts were worked because some were busier than others.
“There’s a gap,” Honeycutt said. “That’s the thing about relying on tips. There’s a huge difference in getting $100 and $12 at the end of a shift.”
As an alternative, Foresman then offers pay options for the remaining staff to choose from. They can either continue to work and only receive cash tips or have tips be shared by everyone on shift for the entire day. Constantinidi walked out mid-shift that day.
The next day, on Sept. 8, Foresman created a new channel in Slack, labeled “living wage.” There, she offered new pay options. The first was an increase to a $17.14 hourly wage without credit card tips but with cash tips included. The second option was an increase to $10 per hour with both credit card and cash tips.
However, the options go against tip regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In December 2020, the federal Department of Labor updated its rules, which went into effect on April 30, 2021, that expressly prohibit employers from keeping employees’ tips “under any circumstances.”
By this time, many of the messages had been posted on social media, resulting in negative reviews on the Green Bean’s Google page. In response, Foresman told the remaining employees to choose one of the new pay options and then “go online to Google and respond to all the one*negative [sic] reviews blasting the reputation of the green bean, stating that you all make a living wage or at least we’re [sic] given the option.”
After that, all of the remaining employees quit.
Treatment of unhoused individuals
In the aftermath of the walkout, the Green Bean remains closed.
As referenced in Foresman’s statement to TCB, she notes that the business is undergoing “much needed renovations and upgrades” and that they “look forward to a grand reopening in October.”
But former staff members have a hard time believing that the business can succeed with Foresman at the helm. In addition to her lack of management, staff pointed to her treatment of customers and members of the unhoused community as being antithetical to a community-centered business.
On more than one occasion, ex-employees said that Foresman specifically targeted people she either knew to be unhoused or looked unhoused.
Coogan, the former assistant manager who was promoted to manager after the previous one was fired, said that in one instance, there was a houseless woman who had bought a cup of coffee and was sitting outside of the shop. Upon noticing that she was there, Coogan said Foresman approached the woman and told her to leave even after Coogan pointed out that the woman had paid for the coffee.
Another time, MacMillan said Foresman threatened to take away the public water pitcher in the shop, insinuating that the houseless community was taking advantage of it.
All of the issues surrounding Foresman’s treatment of the unhoused came to a head when in March, Lance Ross Williams, often referred to as Lanceford, was shot and killed. Williams, who was 37 years old, was an unhoused man who was beloved in the downtown area and known by many of the area’s employees, including those who worked at the Green Bean.
“Lanceford was a really important person in our space,” Constantinidi said. “He used to come in every single morning and ask for hot water with sugar in it. But then Amy said that he couldn’t come in. She told us to start charging him for hot water. When we found out that he passed, she cried, and I could not believe it.”
Last year, when the store’s front window was broken, employees said that Williams helped pick up the shattered pieces of glass that littered the storefront. But when Coogan was interviewing for the assistant manager position, Coogan said Foresman pointed at Williams who was inside the store at the time.
“She pointed at him and said, ‘You need to ban him,’” Coogan recalled. “I felt like it was a pressured test and like this job position was on the line.”
Now, less than a week after the staff walkout, many of the former employees wonder what’s going to happen to the Green Bean next.
The statement from Sheldon-Ortiz states that the business is actively hiring to reopen and on Sept. 2, the shop’s Instagram posted a photo calling for interested parties to apply. Their last post on Sept. 9 announced that the shop was closed that weekend without giving an explanation.
Green Bean’s Google page notes that the shops is “temporarily closed.”
Despite the way things ended, each of the former staff members told TCB that their goal isn’t for the Green Bean to close permanently. In fact, they would love the opportunity to own the business as a co-op in the future if the opportunity ever presented itself.
“We would if we had any money,” joked MacMillan. “I would love for the Green Bean to not go away. I just hope that Amy does not continue to be the owner.”
“I don’t want the building to go down,” he said. “I want someone with a soul to take it over.”
And that’s because staff say they understand the role the two-decades-old shop plays not just in downtown Greensboro, but as part of the growing coffee community in the city.
“I just love the people that I work with and the community so much,” Constantinidi said. “Over the last couple of weeks, the regular customers have supported us. They said, ‘Whenever you want us to stop coming here, we will.’ The people who come to the Green Bean go to the Green Bean because of us, the community that we created…. Amy kept threatening us saying it was our responsibility to uphold the reputation of the Green Bean, and I think we are. This is the reputation of the Green Bean, and she’s just left with who she is.”
What do other shops pay?
In the last year, the coffee scene in Greensboro, particularly in downtown, has grown immensely.
As part of this piece, TCB called other local coffee shops in the city to ask what their starting hourly rate for employees is. Here’s the list:
- Tate Street Coffee: Owner Matt Russ told TCB that pay “depends on experience” and that they “don’t have a set number” for starting pay but that it is “definitely higher than minimum wage.” According to Austin Jeffries, the former manager of Tate Street Coffee, when he left to start Borough Coffee in April 2021, every employee started at $7.25 an hour with the highest paid employee being $12, plus tips.
- Common Grounds: A manager told TCB that starting employees make $7.25/hour plus tips, managers make $8.50/hour. In an email to TCB on Oct. 2, owner Dustin Keene said that “while new baristas start at $7.25 hourly, our baristas average anywhere from $15- $35 an hour with tips. Store managers start at $15 hourly plus tips and general manager salary is based on tenure and experience and includes a profit share.”
- Northern Roots: In an interview in June 2022, owner Trina Apple told TCB that all employees make $14-16 per hour plus tips.
- Borough Coffee: Co-owner Austin Jeffries confirmed via text message that all employees make at least $15 per hour. (Note: TCB’s managing editor Sayaka Matsuoka’s husband, Sam LeBlanc, who also works as TCB’s webmaster, works for Borough Coffee from time to time.)
- Coffeeology: An employee told TCB over the phone that employees make $11.50 per hour plus tips
- Dolce Aroma: The owner of Dolce Aroma only has one employee, herself, so the question did not apply.
- Vignette Coffee: The owners of Vignette Coffee also are the only employees, so the question did not apply but co-owner Mandy Spirito told TCB that paying a living wage was important to them as a business for any future hires.
- Starbucks: The national chain has been paying employees a starting $15 per hour since mid 2022. A call to a local location confirmed this. The manager on duty also told TCB that pay for shift supervisors starts at $19 per hour plus tips.
- Arrowhead Coffee: According to a barista working behind the counter, Arrowhead pays $10 per hour plus tips.
- Clutch Coffee: In an online job posting, the pay for Clutch Coffee is listed as $11.75-15 per hour.
The following businesses did not respond to TCB’s multiple requests.
- 33 & Elm
- Awoo Coffee
- Union Coffee
- Thrive Coffee
- Home Grounds
- Green Joe’s
- A Special Blend
- Caribou Coffee
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