Friday, November 15, 2013

Stumptown Smackdown

So I was gobsmacked two days ago when a barista in Stumptown coffee on Third Ave. here in Portland went out of her way to tell me that putting my bare feet up on one of their couches was both a “health code violation” and that I also shouldn't do it “just as a courtesy to other customers.”

This is a place I've been hanging out for over a year, almost daily, for hours, because it's such a great place: Cool eclectic baristas and customers, where loud good music is played, which keeps the cellphone talkers at bay. I'm on a first name basis with some of the employees, and they all know my drink.

As soon as I heard “health code” my jaw tightened, I have a terrible poker face. But, her tone was surprising—kind of talking down to me, snooty. So, I couldn't help but snoot back, and asked her if she could provide me with copies of the 'health codes.' She said yes, flustered, but of course didn't, and backed down, though still saying it was as a courtesy to other customers.

So that just put me in a bad mood. I really like this place, it's a 'place I can trust', where I can do work and enjoy myself. Or, it was.

So, I wrote a letter to the company from the contact page of the Stumptown website:


Today, one of your employees at the 3rd Avenue cafe informed me that I am not allowed to take my shoes off when sitting on the couches, because it violates "health codes." When I asked her if I could see a copy of these health codes, she said, "Sure, but it's really because other people sit on those couches." Which, I'm not even sure what that means, but she didn't provide me with a copy. Because there are no health codes. If they are, could you please provide me with a copy? Or send me a link to where I might read them?

I've been a loyal customer, coming almost daily for over a year, and really like everyone that works here, and appreciate that they remember me, and my drink. I was actually really surprised I was singled out, and made to feel like I was committing a crime, by taking off my shoes. In my mind, Stumptown is like a second home, where I can feel comfortable. I suddenly don't feel comfortable.

Please clarify to me and your employees what is going on.

Thank you,

And here is Jason Overby's reply:

[begin quote]

Hey John,

I'm so sorry that you were made to feel uncomfortable at our downtown café. It is not a matter of health code violation by any means. However, as a courtesy to our other customers it is our policy that everyone must wear shoes while in the café. I've spoken with Jeremy who is the manager of the café, and he knows you well and has very kind things to say about you. I hope that you'll continue to spend time with us and feel like you can relax in our space. Could I send you a gift card as a token of our appreciation of your business over the years?

Please send your address to me, and I will get something to you right away.

Thanks and warm regards,

Jason Overby

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

[end quote]

Here's my reply. Please let me know if you think I'm being 'that guy' (ie crazy dude). And/or suggestions/comments.



Thank you for responding. I think we both agree that there are other things we'd both rather be doing. Still, I don't feel like I've done anything wrong, yet I'm still feeling that you think I'm doing something wrong.

To clarify: When I sit at the couches in the café, I like to tuck my feet up under me, cross-legged, to be more comfortable. I make sure to take off my shoes so as not to get any dirt on the couch. This is what I think of as 'courtesy.' Tucking my feet up on the couch, barefoot, is also what I would do at home on my own couch. It's also what I would do at a friend's house. To me, it's what couches are for: to get comfortable on. This is how I feel (or felt) about Stumptown: that's it's a comfortable place to hang out.

I think though, that by using the word 'courtesy' you are trying to be polite, and actually mean something else. But I don't understand what.

Please keep in mind that 'courtesy' is subjective. There are many things that people do at Stumptown that I think are not courteous, such as:

-Leaving dirty dishes on the tables when leaving
-leaving coffee spills on tables when leaving
-dumping paper on the floors in the bathrooms
-using the bathrooms without being a paying customer
-talking loudly on cellphones
-playing videos/music on electronic media without headphones
-using offensive language
-putting feet in shoes up on the couches

Please note that one of the reasons I like Stumptown is that this stuff happens less than at some other cafes. Also, I'm adult enough that if someone is doing something discourteous, I will ask them to stop. My point is, I don't see how having shoes on while sitting on a couch is a 'courtesy' to anyone, or is discourteous.

This situation is silly, and I'm sure you feel the same way, though perhaps for different reasons. Still, where does this go, logically? Is there a 'proper' way to sit on a couch? Is putting your shod feet on a couch ok? Are hands ok? What about babies? Can they, like I've seen, crawl on the couches without shoes? What about transients who haven't bathed or washed their clothes in a while? Are they even allowed to sit down at all?

Please understand that I don't have a problem with any of those situations, nor do I think most of your customers.

What I would like is to be able to continue to come to Stumptown and not made to feel like I'm breaking the law, and/or like 'that guy' for defending myself, which is how I feel now.

Thank you,

John Yohe

And his reply (surprise):

Hey John,

I understand where you're coming from, but this is a rule that we have to apply consistently to be fair to everyone. Again, I hope you continue to give us your business, but this is a general requirement in all of our cafés.


-J reply back:


I'm disappointed, for a few reasons. One, you haven't seemed to be listening to me in this whole exchange. Two, you haven't explained exactly what this 'rule' is, nor what you mean by 'a courtesy to other customers.' In fact, I'm left feeling that I haven't been treated with courtesy, by you or the Stumptown employee.

If I understand you (which I don't really, because you haven't explained yourself very well, or at all) sitting on the couch with shoes is ok (no matter, apparently, how dirty) while sitting on the couch in bare feet (in part, so as not to get dirt on the couch, but also to be more comfortable) is not ok.

I'm also not clear when/how/why this 'rule' was made, since, as I said, I've been going there for a year, almost daily, with no problem from anyone, including the employee who said something (again, rudely) this past week. No one else besides her, and you, seem to have a problem with what I've done.

I could speculate about the real reasons, but you have not been honest nor helpful in your emails to me, so I won't know for sure, though I suspect because you know that this 'rule' has no logical/legal basis.

I'm surprised that something like this could happen in Portland, of all places. I really enjoyed Stumptown Coffee, especially the people who work there, and I think the feeling was mutual. Except, I guess, this one employee. Nor did I ever get the impression that I ever offended any customers with the horrible offense of putting my bare feet on a couch.

I will take my business somewhere else, and I will be sure to share how you've treated me with everyone I know here in Portland.

John Yohe

Enough, craziness! Ya basta!

Just got this from the actual manager of the place (no relation to Jason, I think), which is interesting because he says he's a barefoot runner! I still don't think he understands what was going on, though he's surely seen me, and I've talked to him before. I just don't know if it's worth replying to him or not.

Hi John,

I manage the cafe. I am the tall thin guy with glasses. I am also a barefoot runner, trail runner and secret distance lover. Last week, I just did my first 15 miles barefoot on trail!

It is never easy to approach anyone with concerns, complaints and confrontations. Right or wrong..? I cannot make that judgement. I am sorry all this happened. I wear my Bedrock Sandals on my runs into work and put on boots while working. Unfortunately, as a barefoot health believer, I have to wear closed-toed shoes while serving and working behind the bar. It is required by the health department while serving food to have close-toed shoes. Moreover, I would bump, knock and destroy my strong lovely feet while working. The cafe also encourages customers to have shirts, bottoms and shoes on while in the cafe. It just is the case.

It is apparent you want to argue about why, and publicly tarnish the cafe I love and work in daily. And do this in a small community that I am part of. Ouch. You desire documented reasoning. My apologies, I do not have that for you. My employee's reasoning was incorrect, and she felt uncomfortable about the whole thing. Jason and I felt bad that this happened because I recognized that it was you who was singled out and I had a sneaking suspicion that you were a barefoot runner. From one barefoot runner to another, I have seen tons of glass broken on that carpet, and the cafe floor almost daily. Our professional carpet cleaner cannot guarantee that the carpet is hazard free. Don't hurt those feet! I am sure you have worked hard for them.

Again, I am sorry you felt singled out and sorry that this has spiraled downward. I am saddened and hurt.

Have a good run, man.

Jeremy Robillard
Downtown Cafe Manager
Stumptown Coffee PDX

My reply to Jeremy (note, this is after his note in the comments section below):


First, I am sorry have posted you personal phone number online. I thought it was the Stumptown number, since it was under your job title. I have taken it down.

Second, thank you for admitting that you do not have “documented reasoning,” though this leaves me wondering why you still seem to be implying that I did something wrong. To review:

-There are no health codes cantaining anything about bare feet. There are no health codes.
-The Multnomah County Health Department is more for things like medical and mental health services. If you can find anything about bare feet, please provide me with a link.
-The 'rules' you are talking about are actually OSHA guidelines, which are only for employees.
-I've seen you actually on the job, walking behind the counter, in your huaraches, and it was fine, nobody freaked out.

I'd like to clarify: we are talking about me putting my bare feet up on the couch, correct? That is was Sarah said to me, and that is what I stated to Jason. If we are talking about something else, please let me know. I'm willing to go there, but my complaint to Jason was about Sarah's complaint about me sitting with my bare feet on the couch.

As for glass, I'll take your word that broken glass happens there, but please give me the benefit of the doubt that I can see it. Anyways, I don't think you are proposing that there might be broken glass on the couch? This is what makes me think you actually mean something else besides sitting on a couch?

By “tarnish” Stumptown's reputation, you seem to be implying that I have been lying, and or changing facts. I haven't. I've been posting your and Jason's exact words.

As for the other things you said in the comments section on my blog, if you think I've insulted your intelligence, please imagine how I feel, since neither you nor Jason seem to be addressing my concerns, nor even really listening to me. As for your love of running, I have no doubt of it, nor of your love of coffee. I don't know how you got that impression, though I am sort of puzzled, you being a barefoot/minimalist runner, how you could feel that bare feet on a couch are not “courteous,” though again, I do not know exactly what you or Jason mean by that.

As a barefoot/minimalist runner, you might try visiting the Barefoot Runners Society website:

There's lots of information about running, health, and yes, legal matters.

Just to summarize: No documentation. No definition/explanation of “courtesy to other customers.” No evidence (presented to me anyways) that anyone other than Sarah and Jason and you care about me putting bare feet on a couch. And yet, you were all rude to me when I complained and defended myself. I would say Stumptown's reputation rests on your actions, not mine.

And yes, I will tell others about my treatment. If a company was rude and dishonest with you, wouldn't you do the same?

And now, in my best British accent, I say, “Good day, Sir.”