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Kuma’s Corner Responds to Allegations of Harboring Racist, Sexist, Homophobic Culture

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The metal-themed restaurant, Kuma’s Corner, has finally responded to allegations leveled over two weeks ago that its owners and management harbor a racist, sexist and homophobic culture. In addition to a public statement addressing some — but not all — of those issues, MetalSucks has obtained an internal email sent by the restaurant’s owner to its staff.

In both the public statement and private internal memo, Ron Cain, owner of the restaurant chain which now has five locations across three states, acknowledges some of the issues raised by anonymous former employees while completely failing to address others. Cain, who is turning over day-to-day operations to an associate and is launching “a monthly meeting in a neutral place” where staff members can openly discuss any grievances they may have, among other inclusivity measures, makes no mention whatsoever of the multiple accusations that his restaurants give special attention and discounts to police officers, a practice that makes some members of the staff uncomfortable.

The allegations were first brought to light via an Instagram account, @the86dlist, which was “launched to “anonymously share stories of racism and abuse in the Chicago restaurant industry.” It has picked up over 20,000 followers since its launch in early June and has attracted attention from not only Chicago but beyond, during a moment when the nation is having frank discussions about race, gender, sexuality and workplace culture in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

The public statement, issued on Monday, July 13, reads as follows:

“The ownership/leadership of Kuma’s Corner recognizes that in some cases it has failed to foster a safe, non-threatening, and inclusive work environment.

“First, we owe many an apology.

“We apologize to the people we have hurt by failing to address the many issues fostered within the culture of our company.

“We are sorry and we hope to be given the opportunity to prove we are serious about doing everything we can to make it right.

“We are committed to rebuilding the operational culture of our company from the ground up.

“Beginning immediately and from here on out, we are taking a number of steps to ensure that as a company we provide a diverse, safe, and positive environment for everyone on our team at all of our stores.

“Kuma’s has always prided itself on its diverse and multicultural staff, which includes racial and religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community. In addition, Kuma’s is and always has been unequivocally opposed to all forms of discrimination and inequality.

“Moving forward, Kuma’s leadership team will be making several immediate changes to our culture which include:

“Engaging mandatory third-party led diversity and interpersonal sensitivity training for all staff and managers
Establishing a safe, neutral space and consistent time with staff and managers to come together and communicate openly about all topics

“Through open and encouraged discussions, we will identify areas for improvement and establish recommendations and protocol for resolution to better our culture. We will continue to take more positive measures as we learn what is important to provide a well-balanced, supportive and safe working environment.

“To make sure our plans are properly implemented, Luke Tobias will take over all aspects of management and operations of Kuma’s Corner from here on.

“Luke has been with Kuma’s since 2008, starting as a line cook at our original location to eventually become an operator and partner in Kuma’s Indianapolis location.

“Together, we are committed to making Kuma’s Corner a leader of equality in the industry.

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves.

The following internal memo circulated amongst Kuma’s employees has been obtained by MetalSucks from an anonymous source:

“To Kuma’s Staff and Management:

“I am writing to apologize to our entire staff and management team for having to deal with the negativity from the attack that Kuma’s is undergoing on social media and in our restaurants. I realize that it has been difficult for everyone and for you in particular as the frontline face of Kuma’s. I take all allegations very seriously. Although many of the claims are baseless, some are true. While my natural instinct is to defend the reputations of Kuma’s, its entire team, and me, I believe it is much more productive to address my failures internally, in a constructive manner, with the people who I truly care about instead of responding to the allegations on social media and now in the media.

“People who know me, know this: I support racial and sexual diversity and I deplore racism, misogyny, homophobia and all types of harassment. I know that I have made mistakes guiding the culture of Kuma’s to breed a sense of social and racial equity, to create a safe and comfortable work environment for our entire team. One significant error was to retain individuals and place them in positions of authority when they clearly behaved inappropriately. I was being shortsighted in thinking that I was employing people who I thought loved Kuma’s, despite their unacceptable behavior. I didn’t realize that, by failing to terminate those staff members, I sent a message to everyone at Kuma’s that inappropriate behavior was tolerated. I was focused on the overall business of Kuma’s while not realizing that, in the long term, promoting a healthy culture creates a better, sustainable business model. My lack of insight put people at risk and hurt others. I made mistakes and we are all now suffering consequences. I am truly sorry for my errors.

“While, under my control, Kuma’s has always been a racially and sexually diverse environment; but, I realize that merely employing a diverse staff is not enough. There must be intent and action to ensure an inclusive and supportive environment, free of racism, sexism, abuse, bullying or any other type of inappropriate or toxic behavior. Moving forward, Kuma’s is committed to maintaining the highest quality standards and policies that will create a better and safer, more supportive environment for everyone.

“To that end, I have made the very difficult decision to step away from the day to day operations of Kuma’s and to pass the torch to an experienced and capable person. Beginning July 1, 2020, Luke Tobias will assume the role of Director of Operations for Kuma’s Corner. Luke will become your point of initial contact for all operational matters. Luke has been with Kuma’s since 2008, starting as a line cook at the original location, and moving through all of the ranks to eventually become an owner, operator and partner at our Indianapolis location. He has seen a lot at Kuma’s over the years and I believe he is the right individual to steer this ship. I am not going away and, if you feel your interests are best served addressing them with me, I remain available. I care deeply about Kuma’s Corner, which is why I have entrusted Luke to improve the day to day business and culture of our organization.

“The leadership team, of which I will remain a part, has discussed and will be making a number of immediate changes. As our first steps, we are planning to:

“- Actively engage third-party led diversity training for all staff and management
– Establish Listening Circles – A monthly meeting in a neutral place with a self-elected representative group of staff members and Managers/Leaders to create a safe and open forum for communication on any and all topics. We feel that these meetings will help us identify areas of improvement and, hopefully, produce recommendations to better our culture.
– Establish Crisis Management protocol which will provide guidance and tools for recognizing boiling points and dealing with issues even before they rise to the surface.

“More steps will evolve as we learn more about the process of creating a balanced, safe, working environment.

“Thank you for your loyalty to Kuma’s and for being a part of our family. Luke and I hope that you are willing to do your part to help us create a successful culture for Kuma’s Corner restaurants. I want nothing but the best for the future of Kuma’s and our entire staff.

“Sincerely,
Ron”

MetalSucks reached out directly to Kuma’s at the time our initial article was published. A person handling the restaurant’s Instagram account offered to connect us with management and sent an introductory email, but no response ever followed.

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