Boba Guys & Gals,
We've been getting a lot of questions over the last few days about our response to the Four Barrel (now The Tide) situation as first uncovered by the SF Chronicle. Our reaction is pretty straight-forward: we are a hurting world that needs to be better. We hear and support the victims.
It's hard to fully articulate a response that adds to the dialogue already happening. We want to avoid sounding trite, because we owe it to you all to be radically transparent (one of our core values). Therefore, this post will be a bit longer than most of our Founder memos. While the situation is straight-forward, our range of emotions are complex, because as we write this, we know there will be financial impact to an organization that still has good people with families and loved ones to support...
We are leaving Four Barrel / The Tide, our coffee partner in the SF Bay Area, despite their sincere efforts to change. We sent an internal email out immediately on Friday when the news broke to our team that expressed our initial thoughts. We then took the weekend to figure out how it affects our operations. We also spoke to the Four Barrel team and expressed our disappointment, sadness, and hope for redemption and reconciliation. Now, we're communicating the next steps to you.
We still don't know what it looks like logistically, so we ask that you be patient if our drinks taste off. Despite us being a boba shop, we serve quite a bit of coffee, so our team is scrambling to onboard a new coffee partner over the next month.
A few of you ran into us this weekend asked us to explain the rationale. Some want to give people a second chance. Some felt that a clean break is necessary. The best way to explain everything is to simply say we believe in accountability-- it goes hand in hand with our #TransparencyWins mantra. Radical Transparency equals Radical Accountability. As we told the Four Barrel team, we wish them the best and genuinely hope they transform their company. However, it doesn't mean we forget all that's happened.
In the meantime, we are focusing on the brave women who spoke up. After working with the team for five years, we knew many of them as friends and colleagues. We cannot fully empathize and fathom what it's like to carry the weight of those experiences. To the victims, we can only offer you our unwavering support. We hope that your courage is the light in what is truly the dawn of a new era.
A Bigger Thought (Separate from the Four Barrel Situation)
Given that eyeballs are on us at the moment, we hope you don't mind us delving deeper into the issues of today. We get emails/comments to this day about our thoughts on the election, but it's been a while since we last took the time to express our views and give you a deeper understanding of how our company runs.
We shared the following thoughts with our team in our leadership meeting yesterday. We believe it may be pertinent to the public, our fans, and those who are following this story. As you can see from our blog posts, we're pretty vocal about topics ranging from race to cyberbullying.
First, there isn't much to add beyond what's already said in the media about sexual harassment. We're obviously in a watershed moment. Being two guys, we are not thought leaders on how to react to this topic-- we are just following the lead of the women who are speaking out.
However, we acknowledge that it is our responsibility to proactively mobilize a group we do know a thing or two about: ethnic minorities. We urge fellow ethnic minorities, especially Asian men, to speak out against oppression (including dominant patriarchy) and harassment of any kind: by race, sex, sexual preference, gender identity and the oft-forgotten divide of socio-economic class.
The last year has often been described as a pendulum swing. Despite our best efforts, we still see an ever-increasing polarization of American society. Most of you know about our involvement with local and federal government-- we rarely address these experiences directly, but the tension in these meetings caused by cultural differences and ideology is always palpable. It's a fine line between relativism and tolerance and there probably isn't a clear-cut answer, but we do a really sh*tty job working in the grey.
If you're reading this, we understand you aren't fully invested in our company culture, but we want to share with you something that we always tell our team: it's not just about tearing down a culture, it's about building a new one. A bit of it came out when we gave our response to Eater regarding the insensitive NY Times article.
It takes a massive, hegemonic culture to sustain decades (maybe centuries?) worth of misogyny, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination. The tipping point is occurring in almost all ecosystems with imbalanced power dynamics: Hollywood, journalism, politics, tech, etc. (the notable missing one is Wall Street). If it takes decades to build such a leviathan, it will take even longer to transition out of it and into a new, more inclusive, still imperfect union.
Our mission is to bridge cultures. And yes, we're just a tiny ass boba chain, but we also have nearly 5,000 unique people who step into our ten stores every day. We look up to companies like Patagonia who lead not just on principle but with a voice. As bi-cultural/third culture kids, dissecting culture is our natural lens. It's why we empathize with and vocalize support for women, immigrants, minorities (especially African Americans) who feel marginalized like second-class citizens. But it's also why we occasionally defend non-Asians who unintentionally exoticize or "Columbus" our cuisine, but are targets of reverse discrimination and over-shaming.
In order to bridge cultures or to find some semblance of reconciliation, you need to be an ambassador and help others cross the bridge. This isn't about being a PAA (Progressive Asian Activist, a derogatory term for open-minded Asian Americans), this is about building a sustainable model for humanity: how can individuals from various cultures get along? Is it even possible? Should we sometimes just chalk it up to "cultural differences" and leave it at that? We don't have a definitive answer, but we do know that empathy (or a visceral understanding) is missing from all of this.
We're not saying we need to empathize with or defend the oppressors, but we need to understand that a larger hegemonic culture is creating these individuals and we need to address the systemic issues. In order to do that, we must understand how it works and why it works in order to thwart it from growing and gaining traction. And after it's contained and/or extinguished, we need to address the broken people that it left behind-- similar to the spirit of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation commission , which both us are incredibly fascinated with and inspired by.
There is no perfect solution as cynics often think our efforts and words are futile. I (Andrew) once heard that whenever a company posts about big issues, it's just "mental masturbation." How sad. ANYTHING is better than what we have now. And yes, we just sell boba, but we deal with cultural misunderstandings everyday as part of our business. We get hate mail (possibly more after this post) from people saying we're too this and too that. Food is deeply personal and happens to be a microcosm of what is going on in the world.
We can't solve world peace, systemic racism, or sexual harassment alone, but the one thing we offer is an ecosystem and culture within our control. We can take a stand and make an impression on our 200 (and growing) team members. We can get our fans to go deep and indulge us on these thoughts. And who knows, a few of you might share this with someone who might find it useful (or completely off-base). What's futile is expressing our thoughts solely in our echo chambers.
We just want to take a step back and spur on a better version of society. We're all in on that. We hope you are too.
Grace and peace,
Andrew & Bin