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June 11, 2024

OCF Coffee House abruptly closes, with CEO citing costs of unionization push

Ori Feibush says the chain's 3 shops never have made money, and that the legal expenses tied to his workers efforts to join Local 80 make business unsustainable.

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OCF Coffee Closures Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

OCF Coffee House permanently closed its three locations Monday, citing rising operational costs and legal fees tied to its employee's unionization push. Above, a file photo of the Fairmount location.

OCF Coffee House permanently closed its three coffee shops Monday – one week after employees announced their intentions to unionize. 

In an email sent to employees on Monday afternoon, Ori Feibush, CEO of OCF Realty, said his coffee shops always have operated at a loss, and the decision to close was partly due to rising operational costs, reduced sales and the expiration of a few leases. But he also cited workers' decision to join Philly Workers United Local 80. 

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"The administrative and legal costs associated with your desire to organize has regrettably moved us beyond any cost that we could sustain," Feibush wrote in the email, obtained by PhillyVoice. The email said employees will be given three months of dental, vision and health benefits. 

The first OCF Coffee House opened in Rittenhouse in 2011. Its locations in Point Breeze and Fairmount followed in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

On Friday, employees received an email asking them to meet with Feibush on Monday afternoon. The reason for the meetings, to be held at each location, was not disclosed.

Ava Alabiso, a barista and assistant manager at OCF Coffee, said direct meetings with management often are used as a form of union-busting, so many employees opted not to attend the meetings. She said other employees could not make it because they work at other jobs on their days off.

"It said in the email that the meeting was not mandatory, and the tone of the email was not urgent," Alabiso said. "Then ... we get an email saying he has closed down all three stores."

In an interview, Feibush said he called the meetings in hope of creating a strategy for closure with employees — he anticipated keeping the stores open for at least a few more days. But after no one attended, he said he didn't believe he could reliably expect staff to show up at work the next day.

"The decision had been made to close, and no one was aware of that publicly, but certainly internally I accepted the fact that that was what was going to be the outcome," said Feibush, who runs OCF Realty. "But I had never imagined that we would be closing that day. When I woke up that morning that wasn't the expectation." 

According to Alabiso, baristas and kitchen staff at all locations were on board to unionize in hopes of gaining a voice in workplace decisions and more consistent wages. 

With tips, Alabiso said, employees made anywhere from $15 to $20 per hour, but tips were inconsistent based on the time of year. Most employees' base pay started around $9 or $10 hourly, she said. Her base pay was $13 – among the highest. Feibush said employees made $20 to $25 hourly including salary, tips and benefits.

Alabiso said the employees had not had the chance to solidify their demands, because the closure came before they could begin bargaining. OCF Coffee House is the latest local coffee chain to attempt unionization, following efforts from Bluestone Lane, Elixr Coffee, Vibrant Coffee, Ultimo Coffee and ReAnimator Coffee.

"Personally, it's all been very shocking," Alabiso said. "I was not expecting this at all, I wasn't expecting for us to not even get into bargaining."

According to Feibush, there were also "discreet" incidents of vandalism at two locations, but he declined to share specifics. Alabiso said those claims are untrue. 

Feibush said that he has no plans to reopen the shops, and OCF Realty will attempt to find new operators at all three locations. But anything new won't be run by the real estate broker.

"There are no winners, this is awful for everyone involved, for anyone that's participated, that it's touched, that's been involved," Feibush said. "This is an awful situation."

Employees held a rally Tuesday morning outside the Fairmount location in protest of the closure. Local 80 opened a GoFundMe campaign for the employees. 

"I really don't know what the next steps are, I know that our next step is that we're not going to stop fighting this," Alabiso said. "I don't think he should be allowed to just rip the rug out from so many people for, in my head, with no cause."