Tue, Apr 27, 2010
By Sudip P. Mukherjee
It may have been raining, but the crowds returned to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Prospect Place in Park Slope to get a cup of joe from Gorilla Coffee. Yet questions remained unanswered inside the seven-year-old establishment.
The storied coffee shop was temporarily closed after April 9 when nearly the entire staff quit over working conditions. In a letter sent from the former staff to several media outlets, the writer indicated a “perpetually malicious, hostile and demeaning work environment” that was also “unhealthy” and contributed to their collective decision to leave.
Still, customers who frequented the shop before its closure were glad it reopened, and braved the rainstorm to get some of Gorilla’s brew.
“It’s definitely the best coffee I’ve had in the city,” said Yang Miller, a 34-year-old filmmaker from the Upper West Side who stops by the shop when he visits friends in the neighborhood.
“The product is a such a great, refined product,” Miller said. “I wish I could just wake up every day to a cup of Gorilla’s coffee, black. That would be my ideal way to start the day.”
Gorilla Coffee opened in 2003 with beans that are roasted daily, a few blocks away. The shop gradually built a local customer base that praised the coffee so much that it earned mentions in The New York Times, Slate and New York Magazine.
Cory Magamaoll, 26, is one of two employees left from the previous staff. He trained for two days at the shop before the rest of Gorilla’s employees quit and decided to stay on because of the product and because of store management.
“It is a great place to work at, and people come here in droves for the coffee,” Magamoll said. “People have been streaming in today, despite the weather, which I think speaks volumes about our coffee.”
Magamoll, who worked at another coffee shop called “Gimme Coffee” in Williamsburg, said the 8 to 10 employees who had left Gorilla Coffee have been replaced.
Today, Magamoll assumed the roll of trainer, instructing one employee how to find the right price for a lemon scone in the store’s register system.
The exact nature of the complaints that led to the sudden departure of several employees of the Park Slope hotspot still remained a mystery Monday afternoon. Complaints about unfair, unhealthy work conditions and an inhospitable boss were not clarified. The Brooklyn Ink inquired with Darleen Scherer, one of the store’s co-owners, who has yet to respond.
Caitlin Geoghan is a new manager at Gorilla, though it was unclear whether she replaced the manager former employees had complained about to the owners. Geoghan explained that she worked with new staff during the store’s brief hiatus to help with a moderate renovation effort.
“We painted the walls with this new rich brown color, redid the wood floor boards,” Geoghan said. “It was already a nice establishment, but we took advantage of this time to spruce up the joint.”
Even Geoghan was unsure what sparked the initial labor dispute, saying the quarrel was “never really clarified,” but the new manager was reluctant to speculate further.
What was clear on this cloudy day was Park Slopers had a chance to get their fix of Gorilla’s homegrown coffee after a seemingly brief two-week closure.
“Yeah, it was torture man,” said Lillian Robbins, a 29-year-old freelance graphic designer from Clinton Hill.
“I work with some other designer nearby and I’d always make a point of coming to Gorilla and getting a maple latte,” said Robbins, who confessed to shopping at Gorilla before the work stoppage three times weekly. “Their stuff is so good, it’s so addictive. I don’t care how I get it, I’m just glad I have it back.”