The Chicago Board Game Cafe — the Bucktown restaurant opened by Cards Against Humanity this past February — will have to adjust to life without Max Temkin, the co-creator of the CAH card game and one of the faces behind the project. Temkin, under a blizzard of accusations of sexist and racist mistreatment levied by former subordinates, stepped down from his post at the Chicago-based company, as reported by Eater’s sibling site, Polygon.
As the protests condemning the killing of George Floyd and systemic anti-Black racism have swept through the country, Chicago restaurants have also been put on notice. Fat Rice, the award-winning Logan Square restaurant, closed earlier in June after a wave of ex-employees said they were mistreated by chef and owner Abe Conlon. Instagram has become of vehicle for protests, with accounts popping up dedicated to revealing bad actors in the hospitality industry.
Cards Against Humanity is a popular card game that markets itself as “a party game for terrible people.” The game prides itself on being risqué, challenging perceptions of racism, misogyny, and transphobia. But as Eater sibling site Vox reports, this ironic brand of humor may have harbored a toxic culture. Former workers shared examples of being singled out because of their race as evidence of a toxic workplace. The allegations detailed in Polygon did not center around the cafe, but Temkin’s departure could have an impact. The pandemic has forced the restaurant, meant to be a friendly gathering place for gamers, to temporarily close.
“I’m embracing the discomfort I’m feeling right now and trying to turn that into positive change,” Chicago Board Game Cafe chef Aaron McKay wrote in response to a series of questions sent by Eater Chicago. “People are hurting, angry, and scared. We want to be a place of respite from those feelings eventually, but right now, until there are meaningful societal changes it’s hard to urge people to escape that discomfort without dealing with the systemic issues that have made many people feel fear, pain, and extreme anxiety for a very long time.”
McKay, a Chicago restaurant vet who’s worked at places like Michelin-starred Schwa, writes that Temkin had “very limited, unpaid role at the cafe.” Temkin’s responsibilities will now be split among other members of cafe management. “We remain committed to supporting and amplifying organizations we believe in, and that is bigger than any one person,” McKay writes.
When the cafe opened earlier this year, McKay had aspirations that the restaurant would do more than serve food. Temkin, who worked for Barack Obama’s Senate campaign in 2004, is politically connected has worked with a plethora of organizations, raising money for groups like Worldbuilders, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. McKay hoped to continue that momentum by hosting fundraisers and other events at the cafe. But that could be in jeopardy as word of the allegations spread. For instance, C2E2, the annual Chicago comic book convention, has severed its relationship with CAH. C2E2 would use CAH’s theater off the Elston Industrial Corridor for auxiliary events during the convention. That relationship was primed to expand in 2021 with the potential use of the cafe for such events.
Part of Temkin’s responsibilities was marketing, to use his network and bring exposure to the restaurant. The cafe employs nine full-time managers and 12 full-time hourly employees. Another 15 hourly employees are currently furloughed due to the pandemic, according to a statement published by the gaming company. Temkin no longer has an active role in the company but continues as a stakeholder.
Chicago’s restaurant community is in an unprecedented situation as the country eases restrictions brought on by COVID-19. Meanwhile, restaurant workers who have been cooped up during stay at home have been sharing tales of mistreatment online. While Temkin’s departure has made national headlines, the narrative for Chicago Board Game Cafe fits in what’s going on across restaurant all across Chicago.
“We will open back up for business, hopefully soon, but the work of creating and sustaining an equitable, inclusive, and welcoming space for our community is unending,” McKay writes.