Oakland coffee shop employees say viral anti-Israel graffiti was in restroom for months

Farley’s East, an Oakland coffee shop, is closed through the holidays after a viral video showed anti-Israel graffiti in the restroom. 

Farley’s East, an Oakland coffee shop, is closed through the holidays after a viral video showed anti-Israel graffiti in the restroom. 

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Former employees of an Oakland coffee shop said they were “thrown under the bus” after a video of anti-Israel graffiti in the cafe’s restroom went viral on social media, leading three employees to be fired.

Farley’s East in Oakland has been shut down since last week, when a video showing the phrase “Zionism = fascism” written on the restroom’s mirror was shared thousands of times on various social media platforms. But employees said the graffiti had been up for months and the business owners never addressed it until it started getting attention online.

The video was taken on Dec. 3, according to Former Farley’s East United — a group of current and former employees speaking out about their treatment. The group said in a statement that the customer approached staff to complain about the graffiti. After letting the woman speak, a manager then asked her to step aside so the staff could continue distributing drinks, but the woman refused and became agitated, according to the statement. 


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It’s at that point the group said the woman began filming the workers asking her to leave and blocking her access to the restroom. Eventually, the video shows the employees letting the woman film the restroom, and then saying “free Palestine” as she left.

The day after the video, another customer complained about the graffiti both in person and later over the phone, when she began to argue and yell, according to Former Farley’s East United.

Adan Ortega, a former assistant manager at Farley’s East, said the graffiti had been on the mirror since October, but that the owners never addressed it or cleaned it off. There were several other pieces of graffiti and stickers on the bathroom walls and fixtures, none of which had ever been removed before, Ortega said.

After the second incident, Ortega told owner Chris Hillyard about the harassment and asked him to take down the graffiti in order to prevent more customers from complaining. But employees allege Hillyard didn’t take actions to investigate the two incidents with customers or remove the graffiti until the video began to go viral. 

Privately, Ortega said, Hillyard sent an email to employees calling the workers’ comments “inappropriate” but saying the video didn’t capture the full context of the situation. Publicly, Farley’s East posted a since-deleted statement on social media saying staff “handled the situation poorly” and calling the graffiti in the bathroom “hate speech.”


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That statement, and one other, were later deleted and replaced by a longer statement that said Farley’s East would not tolerate behavior making anyone feel “unwelcome or unsafe” and announced that the three employees in the video had been fired.

None of Farley’s East’s statements addressed how long the graffiti had been up or whether management was aware of it. A representative for the coffee shop declined to comment further and said the cafe would remain closed for the holidays. All current employees are still being paid during the closure, according to the representative. 

By Thursday morning — four days after the video was taken — Farley’s East’s phones were ringing nonstop, with some people telling employees they wanted the cafe to burn down and other saying they hoped the employees died, according to Ortega. 

That night and the following morning, the three employees seen in the viral video were fired, Ortega said. Three other employees, including Ortega, later resigned in solidarity over the owners’ behavior.

The workers pictured in the videos continue to be harassed and doxed online, according to Former Farley’s East United. The group has called for a boycott of the cafe until the owners meet several demands, including apologizing to the employees.


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Ortega acknowledged that Farley’s East’s owners were making decisions while dealing with intense harassment of their own. But he said the statements posted online seemed to be “throwing staff under the bus” in order to appease online critics. Ortega, who had been working at Farley’s East since before the pandemic, said he felt confused and hurt.

“I never felt that (the owners) had anything but my best interest in mind, and this situation, them siding with a stranger over one video instead of trusting and standing with their staff of several years, has left me quite disheartened and saddened,” he said.

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