The founder of restaurant chain Tatte Bakery & Café is planning to transition away from her current role as CEO to focus on more creative aspects of the business, the company said.
In a pair of letters to employees obtained by WBUR, founder Tzurit Or said the company plans to announce a new CEO, and that she has been thinking about stepping away from day-to-day management for the past year. The company confirmed the decision.
The move comes after several weeks of criticism from a group of current and former Tatte employees who say the company has a longstanding problem with racial bias and racial insensitivity. The group recently called for Or to step aside, although the company said that was not the reason for her decision.
According to Tatte's website, Or started the business in 2007, and has overseen its expansion to 15 locations across Boston, Brookline and Cambridge, with two upcoming locations planned in Washington, D.C.
In early June, a group of current and former employees started a petition alleging that, "Time and time again, employees have seen or heard racially charged or insensitive behaviors or statements from those in leadership positions at Tatte."
In response, Or acknowledged that systemic racism is a societal problem, and said "it is beholden on organizations of every kind, including Tatte, to now conduct a thorough self-review and challenge themselves to be part of the solution to the problem."
In a letter sent to employees a couple of weeks later, Or acknowledged that her leadership style may have been part of the problem.
"My strength lies in creating the bakery, food and design that makes Tatte what it is, not in day-to-day management," she wrote. "Before now, I have not fully appreciated how impactful, and at times hurtful, my management style has been to some of the people around me and for that I apologize."
Bringing in a new CEO is just "step one," said Elle Marston, who joined former and current Tatte employees in writing an open letter, which alleged that managers at the Tatte have made racist or sexist remarks at work. "We have a list of demands and those demands have not been met."
The demands include increasing pay for all employees, diversifying the company's predominantly white executive team and a new mission statement that includes "fair and equitable treatment for ALL workers at Tatte, especially BIPOC, LGBTQ+, womxn, and differently-abled folx."
The current and former employees have also called for annual implicit bias training for all managers and executives.
In response to the criticism, the company said it has taken several actions including donating $25,000 to social justice groups, hiring a diversity consultant, engaging a law firm to investigate complaints of racism, professionalizing its human resources department and committing to bring more people of color into management positions.
Or stepping away from CEO duties is "a necessary step in the company's endeavor to become a genuinely anti-racist organization," said Katharine McGuire, who is among the current and former employees calling for change at the company. "But I would like to see tangible change from the organization. For instance, I would like to see a professional HR manager appointed and made accessible to every employee [including those whose first language is not English]."
The company said it plans to share the diversity consultant's recommendations with the staff, and will create a new tip line so employees can anonymously register complaints.
"This is a big turn in the bend for them, if they are willing to take it," said Marston, but she said current and former employees plan to keep putting pressure on the company. "A new [CEO] has not been appointed, so we need to know whoever this is is actually going to take these things seriously."