SAN FRANCISCO—The original Boba Guys location in San Francisco permanently closed as first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, December 14.
Co-founders Andrew Chau and Bin Chen confirmed the closure in a statement that read:
“Know that neither of these decisions was made without many hours of deliberation and review of the impact this has on our team and community.” They did not give an exact reason for the closure. Employees that remained at that shop were sent to different Boba Guys locations.
The owners started a temporary closure back in October claiming financial hardship. They fired a large portion of their staff at the time.
The company faced multiple controversies before the permanent closing of the location on 19th and Valencia.
On October 16, over half of their employees expressed their concerns regarding the cuts in hours in a meeting with management. An employee named Madeline Urso was among those who spoke up in the meeting, saying the hours offered will no longer be enough to cover rent. Many were working less than 30 hours a week at $20 per hour.
She allegedly made an inappropriate comment that was captured on video about Chau. According to reports, after the recording was exposed Urso was fired for sexual harassment.
Urso and other employees claim they were not made aware that they were being recorded or that there was a possibility that they might be. It was also not found in their employee handbook.
California requires that all parties involved give their consent before a private conversation can be recorded.
Those found guilty of illegal audio recording face a fine of up to $2,500 or imprisonment for up to one year, with subsequent offenses carrying a maximum fine of $10,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year.
Urso believes she was fired for disclosing unionizing efforts on the company’s Slack channel as a form of retaliation.
Former employees posted signs on the business that read “union busters,” “upper management retaliates against boba employees” and “Boba Guys employees can’t make rent.”
Some of Boba Guys controversies go back a few years. The company first began operating in 2013.
In 2020, Boba Guys employees alleged racial discrimination and sexual harassment with several employees claiming a work environment that was “anti-black” and that they experienced repeated microaggressions. In 2018, they had to fire a manager for posting racist comments on social media. Boba Guys publicly stated that they advocated for civil rights, social justice, and supported Black Lives Matter.
A former employee at the Mission location claimed that he experienced sexual harassment from a manger he worked with. The manager allegedly frequently asked Wen Neale out on dates and when he was not interested. He went to upper management to make a complaint about the harassment and the issue was never addressed.
There were allegations that employees endured attacks from customers that were said to be racially motivated. Union Square staffer Tamia Proctor told The SF Eater that management would tell employees in these circumstances that they [the employees] were the problem.
Both the owners Chau and Chen stated that they were surprised to hear of the allegations.