Café Gratitude Is a Cult?

The East Bay Express recently published an exposé on the local vegan raw food chain, Café Gratitude.  Allegedly, the restaurant forces employees to adopt their spiritual views and illegally pay for “life-changing” seminars, tracks employee’s spiritual progress and/or resistance to indoctrination, and fires staff who do not follow the Cafe’s spiritual path:

Yet it’s the philosophy, not the food, that appears to drive the company. Managers and the owners often describe Café Gratitude as “a school of transformation disguised as a cafe.” The [founders] created a board game for self-reflection, called “Abounding River,” and the cafe is meant to be a place for people to play the game. Managers lead daily “clearings,” during which employees answer a series of questions before “re-creating” each other in a process aimed at freeing the workers to be present and alive in the moment for the job. Hugging among staff is frequent.

After being promoted, [Ash Ritter, former manager] says her first manager’s meeting involved managers sharing their experiences at [Landmark Forum (classes for crazy people)]— often emotionally explaining the ways in which it changed their lives. “It was the theme,” she said. “‘Landmark saved my life.’”

According to Ritter, the leaders of the meeting then asked every manager to enroll ten people to come to an introduction to Landmark. They didn’t say it was a required part of the job, but Ritter felt pressured to attend because they asked all managers to e-mail the district manager every time they spoke to an employee who had not attended Landmark about giving it a try. She said they encouraged managers to keep track of the people they talked to, even if they declined the invitation. (Full article text)

What happens to Café Gratitude from here?  Will it become another empty storefront because people are rational and will not support a brain-washing cult?  Or will Café Gratitude become the next FIJI Water: in spite of all its abuses, it’s still trendy to eat grass on a cracker?


67 Responses to “Café Gratitude Is a Cult?”

  1. Juan says:

    I wondered if this story would get picked up anywhere else. Cafe Gratitude’s food gave me a stomach ache, and their servers creeped me out with their new age exhortations, but hey, people seem to like it. It seemed like a safe haven. Commence vegan vs. antagonists comments!

  2. TJ says:

    “Commence vegan vs. antagonists comments!”

    Ha, judging by past threads those two groups are hardly mutually exclusive.

  3. Name withheld says:

    I’m hoping more outlets pick it up. Given the economic conditions, many employees at Cafe Gratitude many don’t really have a lot of other employment options out there, so they are essentially being preyed upon. Yes, Landmark Forum is a predatory cult. Cafe Gratitude’s food isn’t really that good either.

  4. Mission Mistaken says:

    Anyone with any radar could tell that the minute they walked in the place. But cult food is not always bad food. There is a long-lived cult-operated restaurant on the Berkeley-Oakland border that I used to eat at a lot because the food was excellent and affordable. I find neither to be the case at CG.

  5. Aaron says:

    This blog post is perpetuating a complete misreprentation of what the article says and is therefore is a lie.

    The article does not say that Cafe Gratitude is FORCING people to adopt their spiritual views. It does not say that in the article.

    I guess people see what they want to see. As for the commenter who says that many employees don’t have alot of other employment options so they are being preyed upon: Give me a break!!! By that logic, any employer who reccomend training or requires training for managers in an area where the job market is tight is preying upon people.

    This is the way the taking a job works: Here is the job. This is what the job pays. These are the hours. This is what is required. This is the training you will recieve. This is what it takes to advance in your career. Take it or leave it.

    If an Amish person didn’t want to use a computer at a job because of his religious prohibition on using elecricty, you would not say that the Employer was trying to force spiritual beliefs on them!

    The woman that is the subject of the article not only said that she was told all of these things at the time she began the job, but that she learned alot and was glad for her time at the company.

    Use some reason and lighten up!!

    • Read the article yourself. The company forces employees to go to spiritual training (freedom of religion?) and requires that they pay for them. If they don’t, they are fired. How is that ethical?

      Yes, other companies send employees to conferences and training, but it is the scope of the profession and paid for by the company. I do not see how religious indoctrination has anything to do with serving food. The article even cites a court case in which requiring employees to spend money for their job was found to be illegal.

      So, what was your point again?

      • Aaron says:

        I have several points. BTW: I did read the article myself and it doesn’t say landmark is a religion. I personally don’t do religion. I did landmark, it is not any more like a religion than Mac Expo used to be.

        My main point however is simply that companies can require what they want as part of the design of their business. The market decides if it works or not. People deserve more credit than you this post is giving them. People are not sheep, Landmark is not brainwashing, do what you want in life and stop complaining.

        Yep…. That is about it.

    • Mission Mistaken says:

      Aaron, your personal transformation is clearly complete. You may drink the regular kool aid now.

  6. Mike says:

    Cafe Gratitude always gave me the creeps. Landmark is also creepy, so this is not a surprise.

  7. max says:

    crappé gratiturd

  8. doubleface says:

    I’d like an “every thing’s an affirmation” with a “stomach ache in nirvana” and a “pushing farts into my chair at work” please.

  9. ihatehippies says:

    Their food tastes like dirt, the staff is constantly stoned, and they’re a meance to the neighboord, as bad as “One Taste”, the SoMA sex cult is.

  10. Dave says:

    Cafe Gratitude has overpriced food so I’m not really a fan. I’ve done Landmark classes and found them valuable. I do not find them ‘spritual’ in any way at all. They were full of practical info which my career and relationships have benefited from. I disagree that they are a cult – they do aggressively sell their seminars but it’s not any worse than you would find at a condo time share presentation. Far more cult-y activity at an organized house of worship.

  11. Sean says:

    I’m surprised we haven’t seen more pro-Landmark voices here. The one commenter supporting Cafe Gratitude makes no sense, so I’m curious to see how their practices are being defended.

  12. Stanley says:

    Okay, I read the article. Yes, Landmark is spooky. Yes, Gratitude’s not my favorite restaurant (apart from their awesome smoothies and “milk”shakes). But here’s an honest question:

    What responsibility do we feel businesses have to hire/promote/retain employees who disagree with the founding principles of the business?

    If Landmark is as an important part of Gratitude as the article states then it doesn’t surprise me that, in order to rise in the organization, you need to at least attend trainings about what it is (though forcing people to *believe* things is a much trickier thing to prove).

  13. Mission Mistaken says:

    You guys are all too darn young to remember est. I envy you that. Landmark is est 2.0

    One of my favorite est related quotes every, was from my brilliant friend Virginia (who lived SF large in the 70′s and can actually remember it all): “Any 36 hour group session where they won’t let you go to the bathroom all day, as part of the ‘training,’ is to be avoided.”

    • Ricky Rossy says:

      est was one of the most amazing things that ever existed for people to do that was out of the ordinary. People wish it was still around. You did’nt not like it? That is you. I am guessing you are old, wrinkly looking, smoke like a chimney and dislike everybody and everything.

      • smb says:

        LOL! Bizarre and incoherent! Do go on, please, and show us how much you were “helped” by est. So before est, am I to believe you were even more misguidedly mean-spirited and less coherent than before?

  14. SFDoggy says:

    I hope that CG isn’t as well-armed as Your Black Muslim Bakery.

  15. justanothercommenter says:

    Also note the current article about Landmark in this month’s Mother Jones! Fun timing!

  16. Eric says:

    Q: What are you grateful for?

    A: Not being in a cult. And not eating really shitty food that (let’s be honest) looks like vomit on a plate.

  17. Pbot says:

    Yep, CG = Landmark.

  18. jacobe says:

    Is this really news?

    Wasn’t it already a little bit obvious?!?

  19. dlm says:

    With this audience, I feel like I must start with this disclaimer.
    I am not a big fan of Cafe Attitude. Nor am I a fan of pressure. but non-the-less here I am.
    Landmark is many things, and to some it is creepy. to other it has saved their lives. but two things it is not. it is not a cult. and it is not evil. it is effectively a multi-level marketing business, and it definitely has its issues. but what self help business doesn’t?

    • Gary says:

      Okay, maybe not a cult, but they certainly are culty in their rabid recruitment, use cultish techniques (e.g. denial of bathroom breaks, etc.) until people have “breakthoughs” and do not tolerate dissent on any level just like like cults to. But no, they’re not a cult.

      • Mission Mistaken says:

        Oh, its a cult alright.

        In SF, us old timers know a cult when we see one.

        The question is, are all cults bad?

        No. But they tend toward being deeply unsettling and annoying.

    • jack says:

      just finished watching an hour long french documentary on landmark seminars, “Journey to the Land of the New Gurus”.

      There is a reason ponzi schemes are outlawed. I would say there is also significant reason to outlaw any other business who uses psychological conditioning to create converts who alter their life to devout time evangelizing their product.

      The joke is they have offices with 30 people all ‘volunteering’ doing accounting and cleaning floors and printing out leaflets for a for-profit business. I can think of a few small businesses who could be making a fortune with an operation like that. An all unpaid zombie-worker 24th st. McDonalds mm..

      • Ricky Rossy says:

        Cafe Gratitude and Landmark Education are not “cults”. So laughable.

        People with different agenda’s (xians, loaners, career victims) chuck the C word around for the immediate harmful ominous sounding stockpile it brings with it. And thoughtless internet sheep repeat it ad nauseum. So silly.

    • Anonymous says:

      Landmark Forums, formerly known as Erhardt Seminars Training; aka Est changed their name to avoid all the bad press they got in the late 70s – early 80s. It seems people were accusing them of being a cult.

  20. Jocelyne says:

    I am Gassy! Dammit, I love the food. My boyfriend was right, he is gonna love this. I liked the spiritual vibe, but the landmark thing is really creepy I know people who have done LMF and are normal again, but it is a super weird cult with it’s own language (a typical cult trait). Now i just need to decide if that is enough to keep me from giving them my money. Dammit, I hate when my BF is right. lol

  21. JJohns says:

    Am I missing something here. Employee complains about training class required by employer. How is this news? It doesn’t really seem to say anything about Landmark or the Cafe, other the Cafe wants employees to take this class. I’ve had my employer require me to take some classes, and to me it was a big who cares.

    • Georg says:

      What’s the deal? It’s not “training.” It’s indoctrination.

      • Ricky Rossy says:

        You can call anything anything you want – it does not make it so. Call Landmark or Cafe Gratitude any names and labels that make you feel comfortable, it is still only your opinion. I would not attempt to minimize or take that away from you, but it is useful to not mistake your point of view and personal frames of reference as reality.

        In my opinion, Cafe Gratitude is operating with fairness and openness and I don’t give a hoot whether you or Ash Ritter (who knew about the training aspect well in advance before taking the job and then has the nerve to cry foul about it) likes the way they do things or what their job and managers requirements are and what easy labels you put on them. Go eat and work somewhere else. The world owes you diddly squat.

      • the thing is they target weak minded people that need a little support. Little do they know that support should come from their loved ones….mother, father, sisters. I for one never fell for this lie even though I worked at Cafe Gratitude in SF CA where they OBLIGATE you to take these seminars if you want to be a manager or sup in their restaurant. They go to any lengths to promote these seminars. They even lie about pay when it comes to immigrants, they told some spanish speaking workers that if they did not attend they would be fired or suspended. I remember after a year of working there everyday I had to constantly deny their Land mark Forum. 1. I didn’t have the money 2. no time 3. I was a full time student and 4. I was happy with my life, but for some reason when I said this that ” I loved everything I was creating already” they would try so hard to pick me apart for something negative. It was weird, and everyone that did fall for it harassed me on the daily. When I didn;t want to hang out with the managers on their meetings because I had school work or I just wanted to go home to my now ex- husband to cuddle the Inviter would say ” aw! how boring” yeah they insulted me for being a strong minded individual that loved everything I was at that time.

        • Scott says:

          Thank You Carina for your example. Even if forcing you to pay for a seminar and harassing you for not playing there game wasn’t illegal its good enough reason for me to warn people away from Cafe Gratitude. Don’t support this cult and nobody should work there if they have a choice. If you do work there, know your rights and fight against their brainwashing.

    • Jambird says:

      “Employee complains about training class required by employer. How is this news?”

      The difference is that the normal gamut of required classes (sexual harassment, time management, what have you) are ususally directly related/can be tied back to the job itself. But how does changing your personal philosophies improve your ability to work at a restaurant and do well at it? It doesn’t.

    • Janet C says:

      It’s training required by the employer that the employee pays for. IANAL but I’m pretty sure that is illegal.

  22. cultfood says:

    They’re all over this story on Rick Ross’ Cult Education forum:,75451,page=1
    Café Gratitude enrollment,75852,75852#msg-75852
    Landmark Education – why you should stay away

  23. Hadi Satria says:

    nice info… thanks for sharing

  24. Windy says:

    Businesses do not have the right to interfere with the private lives and beliefs of employees. This isn’t a matter of market forces or that kind of crap. Fortunately labor law explicitly protects against abuses of this kind.

    Read the Express story: daily clearings are the not the equivalent of a weekend computer class. It’s also hard to argue why confessing painful private moments is essential to restaurant managers.

    Landmark isn’t a religion or a cult, although CG is certainly cultlike (if you’ve ever had the misfortune of being there on someone’s birthday, you’ll know what I mean). As noted above, it’s a classic MLM scheme. The people on top get rich.

    BTW No one at a Landmark training today is prevented from bathroom breaks. But like the now defunct Lifespring, Landmark never stops selling to the next level, and it teaches that “no” doesn’t mean “no.” The MJ article is great.

  25. noodlebowl says:

    It isnt just that people who want to aim for management positions at Cafe Gr(attitude) are reportedly pressured to do Landmark. The East Bay Express article also alleged that employees had to participate in nutbar holotrophic breathing workships at the CG warehouse.

    That’s going too far. If the owners of Cafe G are so into this stuff, they should just run the business as an offshot of Landmark and have it staffed with all Landmark volunteers. Problem solved.

    Note: There are two new restaurants in planning stages, purporting to serve ‘vegan mexican food’ that will be called Gracias Mama. One is at the old Cafe Gratitude site on 9th Avenue and Irving and the other is on Mission Street, between 19th and 24th.

    I went by both places and happened to read the paperwork in the window and in both cases, it was stated that the owner of the business was ‘Cafe Gratitude LLC’.

    So…let us hope that the owners have learned their lesson and will not push management candidates at Gracias Mama to take Landmark or do group breathing workshops.

    My momma never made me take Landmark or Est.

  26. Employee says:

    I work for Cafe Gratitude and I have never had to attend Landmark or anything else. I love this company.

    • nazanine says:

      I am very interested in working for cafe gratitude. Love the food! I am a yoga teacher and vegan. How does one go about getting a job there? I was interested in cupertino since I live in san jose.

  27. Laura says:

    Cult-made or not, Gratitude is delish. As are all of the other delectable veg stops in SF — Golden Era, Ananda Fuara. Cults can make my dinner any day.

    Landmark, however, is creepy. It brainwashes people, sucks out their pocketbooks, and relies on volunteer-work of these brainwashees to make ass-loads of money. …Which would be forgive-able, if they made delicious vegetarian food. But they make nothing! Just creepiness.

  28. Seadog says:

    Just a little fact that hasn’t been adequately addressed on the subject yet. In November 1988 the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) issued a memorandum which stated that LGATs (which Landmark is even if they themselves can’t decide that point) by virtue of their philosophical teachings are considered religious by implication.

    As a result it is illegal for Cafe Gratitude to make attendance of the Forum or any other LGAT a condition for advancement or employment whether openly stated or not.

    I’ve never tried their food so I can’t comment on that.

  29. Peter Adams says:

    Currently reading “Battle for the Mind,” written by William Sargent, a physician who in the 1950′s studied the similar effects of traumatic, emotional events (as in PTSD) with techniques of religious conversion (trance states, revival services). Interesting correlations to the tools used by e$t/Landmark: ultra-long sessions that produce fatigue, making the mind more suggestible than normal; trainings in enclosed rooms where windows are blocked out (loss of sense of time); exercises designed to invoke deep feelings of shame, terror, grief, alternated with relief through ecstatic and “spiritual” experiences. As a participant your every move is observed, you are expected to surrender your freedom to come and go – creating a subconscious submission of your will to authority…. oh and then there’s the whole jargon trip. Honey I know, I went through it. Most of the people really do want to help others, but one must understand the mechanism behind the show (the wizard, if you will.) BTW Erhard (aka Jack Rosenberg), his own mother said he could sell anybody anything! Was he not influenced by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, creator of Xemu and other bullshit? …. come on, people!!

  30. Bonnie says:

    I love Cafe Gratitude! Thank you for all the allergen free food made with love. Whatever you guys are doing, it’s working. :)

  31. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    Creepy vegans.

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