We closed our doors on
April 22nd 2018!
To put it honestly, it’s stressful to run a storefront essentially on your own. And it’s even more stressful to go to work when the people that surround you harass you. Over time, that harassment leads to a lack of will to keep going.
I opened Gateau as a pop-up out of my home in Plaza Midwood back in 2015 with the idea that celebration food could help bring my community closer together and give common ground as the city of Charlotte expanded. Our menu was exciting and adventurous, my passion was overwhelming as I put in 20-hour days at times, and we were extremely well received by neighbors.
As we started to get traction, I figured it would be best to grow and was looking into building a food truck. The week I had planned to buy the truck, I got a call from the Executive Market Director of 7th Street Public Market, Chris Clouden, asking if I’d consider opening a stall at the market in November of 2016. I jumped at the opportunity and by November 23rd, 2016 we were open for business.
From day one, I should have known that there would be problems at the market. I remember asking Chris if it was my job or his to talk to the business next to me- Local Loaf- about our menu overlaps. He told me that it was mine but that he’d sit in on the conversation. So, the day after I signed my lease I pulled Adam Spears, the owner of Local Loaf, aside and told him that I heard that he wanted to start doing donuts and ice cream (insight Chris gave me) and that those were our top money makers, so if he agreed not to do those, out of respect for him I’d agree not to do any danishes, breads, or croissants. Adam told me that he wouldn’t be steam rolled and that he knows I must have slept with someone to get this space. Y’all: I hadn’t even painted the walls of my stall yet, and this person was already behaving so aggressively towards me. I left the meeting in tears and sent Chris this text to which he replied to with a call:
I was so upset at my first impression at the market but was told it would be handled and that Chris agreed it was not okay the way Adam spoke to me.
We moved in, set up, and Adam kept making aggressions towards me. Name calling, following me with a video camera, blocking my access from my kitchen to my front of house, and a rumor (told to me by five people what worked in the market) that he was going into our kitchen after we left and was working on our recipes. There’s more to all that but I won’t say beyond the fact that each time something happened, it was Chris that I called or texted and every time I did, I was told it would be handled. I was also told by Chris that it was “my word against Adam's so there wasn’t much he could do”.
I’d like to point out that I gained nothing from involving myself in this mess. If anything, my complaints hurt my relationship with the market management and the other businesses in the market began leaving me out of collaborations. I told Chris that this was the reason women don’t come forward about harassment and once again I was told “it would be handled”.
The ball really dropped when, in mid-winter 2016, Adam told me that if I didn’t close the curtain that separated our spaces that he’d be waiting in the parking deck for me so I had better not walk up there alone that night. That’s when I filed my first police report.
At this point, I had brought a countless amount of complaints to Chris about Adams behavior and each time (you guessed it) I was told “It would be handled”. I never saw any change, or that it was being handled, so I began recording every interaction with Chris and/or with Adam in case I needed to file for a restraining order.
The second time Adam threatened violence, I was quick enough to take a photo of the incident report I filed with the market and recorded my conversation with Chris leading into me writing the report below. I was told by Chris that I needed to fill out the form so “all this could be documented and we could have a record. We’ll do the same thing with Adam’s folks. It will be reviewed this week and I’ll determine whatever that course of action is, up to and including suspending owners from the property for a conducted about of time. And that’s gunna escalate, so clearly the code of conduct needs to be created because people can’t behave like adults. And the escalation of this code of conduct will center around suspensions from the property cumulating lease termination..... between the text messages I got today, the video I watched (one of Adam following me as I asked to be left alone), I’m done being a babysitter”
I was being harassed and the action was to tell me I could be suspended from the market if it didn’t stop? This is why women don’t come forward. People can’t act like adults? As if my concerns for my safety qualified as childish behavior? At no point was Chris a babysitter- he was the director of the market and that means it was his job to make sure that things run smoothly (which they weren’t).
Instead of addressing Adam's threats to me, the market management put a door in so I wouldn’t leave the curtain open anymore. This was now a physical action by the market management that dismissed what was happening to me in favor of Adam.
At this point, it’s reasonable to understand why I was starting to hate my job. I went into work every day just to be harassed and lumped in as if I weren’t the victim of harassment. Our numbers began to drop off as my will to keep pressing forward was dwindling. My days went from exciting and determined to rushed, and regardless of what needed to get done I just wanted to leave everyday ASAP. As if it wasn’t hard enough to run a business, this person directly next to me and the person directly over me were both contributing to a hostile work environment and I was left feeling helpless and stuck.
Two days later, I had a meeting with Chris Clouden, Adam Spears, and Ben Wiggly (head of maintenance at the market). Also in the room was an employee of mine that I had sit in to act as a witness. Here’s that recording:
Chris did nothing tangible to make me feel safe in the market. Adam's behavior never quit. I wanted to file for a restraining order but was pushed not to by the market. I stopped reporting issues to the market because what was the point? Obviously my outrage was being used as an instrument against me. I even asked to meet with the board to address my problems (Chris’s bosses) and was told there would be no meeting. Why are the people who I give rent money to each month not willing to meet with me? I don’t know that Chris ever even told them I wanted to meet... but I guess I won’t ever know that, either.
From then on my focus transferred from my current shop to: how do I get out?
I looked at dozens of spaces and nothing felt right. Our lease ends in April and while I’d love to relocate, the timing hasn’t worked out and after all the harassment, I am worn and burnt to a crisp. I feel drained of all creative energy. The entire point of the 7th St Public Market is that it’s a non-profit with the mission to incubate small start-ups. They take donations from Blue Cross Blue Shield, OrthoCarolina, Charlotte Center City Partners, Bank of America, and Atrium Health (to name a few) and for what? Being in that space did the opposite of incubate me. That environment, its policies, and its staff wore me down to the point of giving up.
Talk about a tax write-off.
Being in the market, trying to get by with Chris’ half-hearted promises to “handle it”, and Adam's harassment turned my passion for food and community into a daily struggle of how to stay safe and afloat. That was bullshit.
If you’ve booked a wedding with us after April 22nd 2018, have no fear- we’ve already rented out private kitchen space to accommodate for your day! As for every other day of the year, I’ve taken on an office job in North Charlotte with the hopes of a slower pace, a steady income, and overall less stress. Plus did I mention actual paid time off, health coverage, and a retirement plan!? I think these things feel normal to most people but they are most definitely new to me. I’m sad to leave the bakery behind, especially given why, but I'm excited for what the future holds for my metal health and quality of life.
In regards to our staff: they are not left without work. Everyone has other jobs or is going back to school in May. Deciding to close did not come without thought as to what would happen to them as a result.
If there’s anything for anyone else to take from my experiences in the past three years, but even more so from the past year and a half at 7th St. Public Market, it’s that regardless of your circumstances it’s important to stand up for what’s right- in whatever capacity that may be at the moment. For me, this meant holding off on this story until it was safe for myself and business to talk about.
You are powerful, smart, and capable as an individual but when community comes together, even just in small groups of friends and neighbors, you can be those things and then some. I don’t know that I would have been able to make it out of this situation without the love and uplifting from a friend who told me “don’t die on this hill”, my parter, travis, and my parents' unwavering guidance and support. I truly see this entire experience as a lesson and as sad as I am to go, starting a bakery and running it for three years from ages 21 to 24 is an accomplishment. For me, failure would be to keep pressing when I know it’s not healthy anymore.
Everyone’s support has been overwhelming and there aren’t words to express how appreciative I am to those who shopped with us and those who stood by and comforted me through hardships.
So, with that, farewell and goodbye!
With love and tiredness,
Owner and Head Baker
The Gateau Baking Co.
Today I met with a group of individuals representing the Charlotte Center City Partners and the 7th Street Public Market. These individuals were Robert Krumbine, the SVP and CCCP Chief Creative Officer, Moira Quinn, the SVP and COO, and Chris Clouden, the Executive Market Director. They asked me to meet with them because they wanted “to go over the situation one more time”.
I feel that it is important that you all, as public stakeholders of the non-profit entity that is the 7th Street Public Market, hear with your own ears what I am experiencing from CCCP and the Market Management.
I want this situation to be resolved. I want the vendors of the 7th Street Public Market to be successful. I want the market to truly be an incubator for small businesses in Charlotte. But I do not believe that the way Market officials are handling my experiences- and the experiences of those who have come before me, which I have a LOT of evidence of- is creating an environment that can do so. Below you'll find some of my notes regarding the statements made throughout the above audio.
4:16 “Without having something to give us the real detail, we just wanna hear from you exactly the kind of things that Adam did…”
Why would they want me to repeat what I’ve already published? I have numerous instances of documentation which includes emails, texts, formal complaints, audio recordings, and a very lengthy blog post on my business website. Why do they need more? Either they want to try to trip me up and undermine me in a high-pressure situation, or they have not investigated this at all until this moment. Which is worse?
6:00 Regarding filing police reports: “…there was nothing there for us to act on… there isn’t a report for us to work with…” “I talked to the Captain of the Central Division on Thursday” “I know you filed them… We absolutely believe you”
I emailed the 7th Street Public Market management to inform them that I had filed a police report in January 2017. Why are they looking into this for the first time, more than one year later? If they truly had my best interests in mind, why did they not try to review the police report when I was speaking up and saying that I feared for my safety? Either they were being negligent or willfully ignorant. Which is worse?
8:49 “Clearly, we take you very seriously… the concern is that… we are hearing from both parties similar stories… Adam is also telling us very similar stories about harassment and so on…” and 11:48 “he claims that you’ve been saying that you’re going to continue to harass him…”
This is the first time that any representation from the market, or anyone for that matter, has told me that Adam is coming forward with “similar stories about harassment”. If this were the case, why didn’t the 7th Street Public Market Management address his concerns when they happened? Why did they wait to tell me about these alleged (and very vague, broad) complaints until now? Why was my alleged behavior never asked to change? Over the course of my lease, I was diligently presenting and documenting my complaints of harassment against Adam. When I did so, Chris told me that “Adam will be talked to” (and I have audio to prove this). If this is how the Market handles complaints, why was I never spoken to about my alleged harassment towards Adam until today? Again: have they been behaving negligently or under willful ignorance?
9:27 “We are the landlord of a space that simply is leasing space to businesses…”
The 7th Street Public Market management is not “simply leasing space to businesses,” and never has. All vendors/owners are required to adhere to numerous rules and regulations, including the amount of time that we are open and operating, the style/aesthetics in which we decorate our booths, and even the way we interact with one another as tenants. These are very clearly outlined in the “Tenant Handbook” that all vendors/owners receive when they sign their leases. To make the argument that the 7th Street Public Market management only has the capacity to lease space to businesses and cannot step in when there is a vendor dispute is beyond unreasonable, and easily disproven by the contents of their own handbook. Do they not know their own bylaws? Or do they merely enforce their bylaws and power when it serves them best?
11:28: “I think you know about the harassment training that has already been scheduled… it was for everyone, it was for the business owners and for management…”
So, this training? The vague email that was sent a month ago, directed towards vendors/owners with no mention of Market Management or CCCP employees participating?
13:33 “it’s [the aforementioned harassment training] been something that we’ve known that we needed to schedule…” “…we’re all thinking of that as something that’s needed. We know that it’s needed, so check that box.”
How did they know that they needed to schedule harassment training in the market? Think about it. What could have possibly been happening for years that would make them “know” that they “needed” to schedule harassment training?
14:00 “Chris has talked about a Code of Conduct…”
Over a year ago, Chris mentioned creating this alleged Code of Conduct. Why has it taken over a year for them to make this happen? Where is it? Why are they just taking action to make this happen now? It’s also worth mentioning that they did not give any concrete timelines to be creating this Code of Conduct, and they most certainly have not invited me to have a seat at this table in the forming of this document (which I feel I could be very helpful with).
16:07 “I’m sorry you feel that way”
I’ll just let you read this.
11:25 “We take your safety seriously…”
How are they taking steps to prove that? Did they investigate my claims in a timely manner? Did they create and/or enforce rules to prevent me from having to interact with Adam when I was conducting my business in the market? Since I’ve come forward with my story, have they prevented my assailant from being present on market property while I am there? Did they NOT post my name on a Facebook post, jeopardizing my safety while maintaining the anonymity of my assailant? Spoiler alert: no.
17:35 “anybody can do this online…”
They clearly do not believe in the validity of my claims, and the claims of others who have stepped up to share their experiences. How many people need to come forward before someone takes action to remove Adam from the market? I am going to include excerpts from individuals who have stepped forward to corroborate their similar experiences with Adam below.
- “As someone who has worked at 7th Street I can attest to how horrendous harassment is here.”
- “I was a vendor at 7th Street Market about 3-4 years ago and was both verbally and sexually harassed by Adam and his employees regularly. By the time I left I couldn’t wait to get out of that place, as it became very toxic to me. I had complained to the manager (it was someone different at the time) on more than one occasion and nobody gave a shit.”
- “I work at [vendor redacted] in the 7th Street Market and deal with these people on a daily basis… [Adam] has harassed most of our employees countless times…”
- “As a former employee at the 7th Street Market, I had many horrible run-ins with Adam Spears. It’s a shame he has gotten away with this for so long…”
I also have dozens of emails and correspondence from a business that previously operated within the 7th Street Public Market, who also encountered hostility from Adam, and had voiced their complaints to Market Management with no solutions until they were forced to move out of their booth. These complaints date back to as far as 2014.
Here’s the bottom line:
Adam Spears of Local Loaf has shown a consistent pattern of disrespect, intimidation and abuse to vendors and employees of the 7th Street Public Market. The 7th Street Public Market Management has been notified of his problematic behavior for years and has repeatedly turned a blind eye towards it. The 7th Street Public Market Management has shown that it does not prioritize the safety of the small businesses that work with them until the public puts pressure on them, and even then they put the onus on others to make it right for them.
If at this point you have not yet signed our petition, I urge you to do so. If you've already signed it, please share it! Let's work together to make a lasting change and to ensure that no one who works in the 7th Street Public Market ever has to deal with the hostile work environment that I and numerous others have experienced. I truly want to see the businesses in the market thrive, but that can't happen if something doesn't change with the way Market Management operates.