Image from Fleishers' Instagram account
Aug 4, 2021
Dozens of Fleishers staffers walk out after owner insists on removal of BLM, Pride signs
Employees at all four butcher locations stage a walkout after millionaire owner Rob Rosania orders CEO to take down signage
Employees across all four popular Fleishers Craft Butchery locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Connecticut staged a massive walkout on Friday, July 23, after the majority shareholder asked the company’s CEO to remove Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBTQ+ signage from the shops’ windows.
The signs, which former employees say were installed as long as seven months ago, had apparently upset someone familiar with the shareholder, Robert Rosania, a wealthy real estate mogul and champagne collector. A hand-written sign in the Park Slope outpost earlier this week read “Fleishers will be closed indefinitely—workers have chosen integrity over profits.”
Of the seven former employees interviewed by Brooklyn Magazine, five agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The call from Greece
John Adams had been Fleishers’ CEO for almost three months when he received a call from Rosania, the majority shareholder, who was vacationing in Greece, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation. Rosania had received a text from a friend visiting the Westport location, complaining about Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBTQ+ signage in the shop’s window. Rosania asked Adams to take down the signs, say these sources.
Adams is Fleishers’ fourth CEO in as many years. During his short tenure, he had, according to a former employee of Fleishers in Park Slope, earned the support of the staff by promising to be a “barrier” between them and Rosania—a man who, according to former staffers who spoke with Brooklyn Magazine, is not beloved by Fleishers’ employees.
“In most employees’ minds he viewed it as a vanity project,” says one former Fleishers Park Slope employee, citing the time he shipped a $20,000 steak to Las Vegas, years of frustration over wages, and slow support for repairs to shop equipment and furnishings.
“He didn’t care about the meat [at his shops], he didn’t care about the craft of butchery. It was just kind of for his massive ego,” says the Park Slope employee.
“At Fleishers we take pride in paying our employees competitive wages with … generous benefits packages,” Rosania wrote in a statement to Brooklyn Magazine.
In a separate statement addressing the lack of infrastructural resources, Rosania wrote: “Since 2015 when I personally became involved in Fleishers we have been and remain committed to ensuring our shops have the resources they need to succeed and I have reinvested my own capital into the company during the pandemic to return our stores to being cash flow positive, which they now are.”
Fleishers was founded in 2004 by Joshua and Jessica Applestone. The couple expanded Fleishers into four different locations, becoming known for their Feed to Fork policy—a process of sustainably raising and butchering animals. But behind the scenes, the company, according to former employees, had trouble turning a profit. The Applestones sold their stake in 2013. Rosania invested two years later, becoming the majority shareholder, but, according to former employees, the company has continued struggling to achieve profitability.
After talking to Rosania, Adams traveled to the Fleishers in Westport, according to Divone Thompson, the shop’s longtime manager, and others familiar with the incident. Thompson, who was working at another job, was in the middle of a shift when Adams asked to meet him at Fleishers.
By the time of publication, Adams had not returned requests from Brooklyn Magazine for a comment.
When Thompson first saw Adams, he says the CEO looked “disoriented” and “not like himself,” with a “look on his face that he’s going to deliver news he doesn’t want to.”
Adams, says Thompson, described the conversation with Rosania. Thompson, who is Black, says he was incredulous. Around half of the Fleishers staff at that time were Black or non-white—including three of four shop managers—or identified as queer or non-binary.
While working in the Westport Fleishers, Thompson says he experienced racism from customers, and viewed the signs “as a shield for myself, and for my colleagues who are part of the Pride community.” In the months they were up, he recalled no other complaints, and had seen some customers take photos in apparent support.
Adams, Thompson says, told him that if the signs weren’t removed, “You won’t get fired, but Rob will be upset.”
After an emotional conversation, Thompson agreed to take them down.
The next morning, the entirety of the Westport Fleishers staff, including Thompson, walked out of the shop.
Meanwhile, that same Friday morning, Adams arrived at the Fleishers in Park Slope. When he explained Rosania’s request, a member of the staff refused to oblige. Adams removed the signs himself, say witnesses. Shortly after, the employees of the Park Slope Fleishers, learning that the Westport and Greenwich shops had walked out, decided to follow suit.
“It felt like [Adams] abdicated his responsibility to us,” says Ajani Thompson, the former manager of the Fleishers in Park Slope (who is unrelated to Divone Thompson at the Westport shop).
During a 1 p.m. phone call between Adams, the shop managers, and retail consultants, emotions boiled over. According to one former employee who was on the call, Adams, realizing he was facing a revolt, “was very contrite.” The shop managers took turns “expressing their disgust with the decision, and with the way the decision was carried out,” the former employee says. “I’ve never seen such a tone-deaf move that resulted in corporate suicide so quickly.”
Following the call, Rosania reached out to Thompson, the Westport manager, hoping to find, in Thompson’s words, “common ground.” But in the course of that phone call, Rosania told a joke that Thompson felt was racist.
“He goes off by saying, ‘There are some things that you’re good at that I’m not good at, and there are some things that I’m good at that you’re not good at, but one things that you’re good at that I’m not good at is jumping higher than me, because white men can’t jump,’ and he laughed,” says Thompson, who put the call on speakerphone while sitting in his car with a former co-worker. “I didn’t laugh at it. And when I unmuted my phone he was laughing still, and was like, ‘Do you get it?’ And I was like ‘No, I don’t get it.’”
A Fleishers spokesperson says the comment was intended as a joke—one that fell flat—in reference to the 1992 film “White Men Can’t Jump.”
Rosania went on to propose a meeting with Thompson over coffee that Sunday. Thompson agreed, but never showed. Instead, he submitted his resignation.
In the evening following the heated management call, Adams replaced the old signs, say staffers. But the damage had been done. Dozens of employees—well over half of the total staff—resigned in the following days. Rosania has since apologized in a letter to employees, obtained by Brooklyn Magazine, which details a plan to create a more supportive work environment.
“You deserve to feel heard, valued, and fully supported at work,” Rosania wrote in his letter. “I realize removing the signs that express support for the basic human rights of our black and LGBTQ employees and customers was not in the spirit of supporting your feelings, along with a longer-term lapse in communications as we’ve gone through growing pains. For this please accept my heartfelt apologies.”
In the letter, Rosania promises to engage diversity and inclusion consultants while the shops remain closed and the company regroups. Whether the departed employees return remains to be seen.
“We were doing what we loved, but when you tell a significant part of your workforce that they basically don’t matter, we’re not going to put up with that,” says a former employee of the Fleishers in Park Slope. “That’s not a company that we’re willing to fight for.”
Another Park Sloper adds: “Having that apology doesn’t really effect anything. People are still done, you know?”
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