Cafe's Entire Staff Quits Over Owner's Coronavirus Denial and Alleged Harassment

Employees claim that the owner of Killer ESP in Virginia told customers that masks weren't necessary and refused to provide PPE to staff.
June 19, 2020, 11:00am
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In mid-May, a Yelp reviewer wrote that she ordered a coffee at Killer ESP in Alexandria, Virginia, and then immediately threw it away after noticing that none of the baristas were wearing face masks or gloves, and they were sharing a single computer screen. "[T]he business should provide masks for the workers," she wrote. "None of these small steps of courtesy and common sense are hard to implement. I hope the owners of Killer ESP will read this and change but it is already mid-May and if they haven't done it by now, it seems fairly unlikely."

According to some now-former employees, ignoring coronavirus-related safety protocols was very on-brand for Killer ESP, possibly because the owner still isn't convinced that the ongoing pandemic is really a thing. Kristyn Crow told Alexandria Living Magazine that she heard owner Rob Shelton tell customers that masks weren't necessary inside the coffee shop, and that employees had to supply their own face coverings when they became mandatory for foodservice workers in the state. "I think with him being in charge, I think it was disrespectful of him not to implement it into our lives because we’re his employees and he didn’t look out for us," she said.

Another former Killer ESP worker who spoke anonymously to the magazine alleged that Shelton "encouraged people to sit inside when it was not allowed," and that it was up to employees to remind everyone that they were limited to takeaway orders only. Shelton's casual insouciance about an as-yet-incurable illness was only part of the reason why the entire Killer ESP staff quit, and why some local suppliers have vowed not to work with the shop again.

The other reasons include allegations of sexual harassment, and very controversial social media posts, including calling coronavirus "the biggest scam in history."

According to Washingtonian, Killer ESP's now-deleted Twitter account had liked a number of tweets related to QAnon's conspiracy theories and several that suggested that George Floyd's murder and funeral had been staged. (The account also responded to a tweet that asked people to name their favorite thing about President Donald Trump by writing about his "BALLS OF STEEL.")

Shelton told the outlet that although the likes and the tweets were found on his @Killer_ESP account, he didn't do it—and he suggested that it was a deliberate attack of sabotage by an employee who knew his login information. "No one in their right mind with a family and a business that they busted their ass on is going to like and comment in any fashion like that on social media,” he said. “I’m not political. I’m not red or blue. I’ve always just lived my life right or wrong.”

What complicates his Shaggy-style "It wasn't me" defense is that most of those troubling posts seem to align with his actual beliefs. He told Washingtonian that he thinks the science behind coronavirus "doesn’t actually match up" with reality (or at least his version of it); he believes wearing a face mask is a sign of "conformity and submission"; he's an antivaxxer, and he also isn't "going to accept" the facts about George Floyd's murder.

Shelton has also not been impressed with the recent surge in support for Black Lives Matter. “I don’t understand Black Lives Matter, because I want all lives to matter," he said. "But if you say that, then I’m denounced for doing that. People online are brought down for saying that. Black people have their problems. I have problems too. Mine aren’t any less because theirs are so big.”

Shelton's now-former employees repeated their allegations that he wouldn't provide masks, nor did he adhere to social distancing requirements. Seven former workers also alleged that Shelton sexually harassed them, either by making inappropriate comments, by touching them in ways they weren't comfortable with, or both. (When Washingtonian mentioned one woman's concerns about the way he'd touched her, he said she was "a young girl looking for some kind of attention," and then described her as a "very large-breasted girl" who had hugged him in the restaurant's kitchen.)

On Tuesday, the @KillerESP Instagram account posted a message acknowledging the "offensive social media postings" that were "allegedly authored or authorized" by Shelton. "I am working hard to find out who posted them, as well as to change the allowed access to the shop's social media in order to make sure that this does not happen again," he wrote. "In the meantime, I understand your reaction to those outrageous postings, and I am sorry you were subjected to them."

A GoFundMe has been set up for the former staff of Killer ESP, to help them until they can find other jobs –– maybe even jobs where nobody pays attention to QAnon.

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