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Kuma’s Corner Apologizes for Toxic Workplace Culture

Plus, Big Star pledges to help neighborhood taquerias stay open

Kuma’s Corner in Avondale.
Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Kuma’s Corner — the heavy metal burger bar chain that debuted 15 years ago in Avondale — is figuring out its next move after allegations surfaced that leadership created a toxic workplace. The company, which also has locations on Fulton Market and suburban Schaumburg, was the subject of several Instagram posts that criticized Kuma’s Director of Operations and President Ron Cain for homophobic, sexist, and racist behaviors. In the context of the Black Lives Matters police brutality protests, there’s also criticism of Kuma’s food discount for police officers.

The posts from Kuma’s workers first appeared in June. They detail stories of unfair treatment, insensitive remarks, and failures to address harassment claims. Last week, Kuma’s issued an apology on social media, announcing a new direction for the company. Kuma’s pledged to institute “third-party led diversity and interpersonal sensitivity training.”

“We are taking a number of steps to ensure that as a company we provide a diverse, safe, and positive environment for everyone on our team at all of our stores,” the post reads.

“The ownership/leadership of Kuma’s Corner recognizes that in some cases it has failed to foster a safe, non-threatening, and inclusive work environment,” the statement also reads.

Ron Cain of Kuma’s Corner
Marc Much/Eater Chicago

The company also announced that Kuma’s had elevated longtime employee Luke Tobias to “take over all aspects of management and operations of Kuma’s Corner from here on.” Past employees hailed the decision and Tobias’s promotion. However, Block Club Chicago reports Tobias, who has been with the company since 2008, has resigned days after his appointment. Tobias said he just shared different philosophies “that just aren’t going to work together.”

Meanwhile, Cain remains at the company, but his role hasn’t been defined. In an email sent last week to workers, he again apologized. He also said he wasn’t “going away and, if you feel you interests are best served addressing them with me, I remain available.”

Cain’s brother, Mike Cain, founded Kuma’s in 2008. They’ve since opened locations in Denver and Indianapolis. Known for loud music and thick burgers named after metal and punk bands, the chain also gained the attention of the Catholic church for the controversial Ghost burger that came with a communion wafer. Kuma’s garnered a huge following, and even hosted a music festival. Ron Cain has handled the operations after Mike Cain moved out of Chicago. Ron Cain’s wife, Sonia, also worked for the company. Instagram posts criticized her role as head of Kuma’s HR.

Kuma’s did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In other news...

Big Star, the Wicker Park and Wrigleyville taco spots from One Off Hospitality Group (the Publican) known in large part for its patios and margaritas, announced that it will partner with Chicago taquerias to give them exposure during the pandemic, according to a Facebook post. Each week, Big Star in Wicker Park will sell an item from another taqueria, with a portion of sales going to the taqueria as well. This week features a birria quesadilla with salsa roja, munster cheese, cilantro, onions, and consume from Flo’s Kitchen food truck, helmed by chef Florentino Gutierrez. Big Star, which describes itself as a honky tonk taco spot, has long been the subject of critique in Chicago, primarily for its presence in a gentrified neighborhood and appropriation of Mexican culture and cuisine. While not directly related, last month, One Off issued an apology after criticism from workers on social media. It committed to creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, among other efforts to do better.

Save Chicago's Taquerias! We are partnering with local taquerias to highlight some of their most beloved menu items....

Posted by Big Star Chicago on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

— Cultural appropriation is also at issue in Logan Square, where the white owner of fledgling vegan popsicle business Peachy encountered backlash after posting a photo of a blue ice cream cart to Instagram, Block Club Chicago reported. Commenters noted the cart’s strong resemblance to those used by paleteros, and many accused Peachy’s ownership of appropriating and detracting from Latinx vendors who face severe economic challenges due to the pandemic. Critics also pointed out that a white vendor wouldn’t encounter the same harassment as Latinx street vendors have from police and racist neighbors. In response, Peachy’s owner John Lawrence Geary told reporters that he’s nixed the cart and is focusing on developing a counter service spot in the former Boulevard Bikes space beside Logan Square Auditorium.

— Ownership at Wicker Park pastificio Tortello has appointed Sieger Bayer (the Publican, Nellcôte) as the new chef de cuisine, according to a news release. Owners are also expanding on retail offerings, adding produce from Nichols Farm and Orchard, imported Genoese preserves, burrata from Puglia, and more. Patrons can dine on Tortello’s sidewalk patio, or pick up meal kits with fresh pasta and a selection of sauces and toppings.

— Mammoth food service vendor Compass Group, which works with Northwestern University, has announced that it will permanently lay off 230 workers, which adds up to 40 percent of its Northwestern-based employees, according to the Tribune. The layoffs come in anticipation of a reduced number of on-campus students, staff, and faculty on Northwestern’s suburban Evanston campus for the fall term. In April, Compass Group CEO Gary Green said that workers were being furloughed with the intention to hire them back. More than 80 percent of Northwestern dining hall or hospitality workers are Black or Latino, according to dining hall workers’s union Unite Here Local 1.


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The Publican

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Big Star

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