In the middle of June, just a couple blocks away from Malcolm X Park, a little yellow cafe was overcome by allegations of wage theft, anti–Blackness, and manipulation. On July 1st, it closed permanently. The reason, the owners said, was a swift drop in revenue due to the controversy.
Mina’s World, sitting on 52nd Street between Hazel and Larchwood, was founded in February of 2020 on the principles of social justice. The two majority owners, Sonam Parikh and Kate Egghart, define themselves as queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) and strove to make their cafe a safe space for others like them. Mina’s World sold local artists’ goods, covered community members’ meals when they couldn’t afford them, and offered lower–priced coffee in an effort to make often–elitist coffee culture accessible to lower–income customers. Mina’s World also funds and maintains The People’s Fridge, a food bank outside of the cafe.
How, then, could such a progressive business perpetuate malpractice, and be forced so swiftly to close? Oddly enough, the situation at Mina’s is not as unique as it seems. The public “radical accountability process” undertaken by its owners and employees has made their case’s inner workings highly visible, but in reality it is not alone. From other independent Philadelphia shops like Franny Lou’s Porch and Green Line to national corporations like Starbucks, coffee is a major part of the post–pandemic labor reckoning that’s linked to the Great Resignation and Anti–Work movement.
This new labor movement is vindicating and powerful to witness. As individual power feels smaller and smaller in the face of national and international exploitation, it’s inspiring to see Starbucks workers unionize against their giant, unsympathetic bosses. But what happens when this fighting spirit turns against a smaller, well–meaning target? The results aren’t as pretty.
In a now–deleted video, owners Parikh and Egghart first apologized for “harm committed” by themselves and the Mina’s World cafe. They alluded specifically to the cafe’s role in the gentrification of West Philadelphia, but remained vague about other “harms.” Then they announced a plan to cooperatize the cafe, giving equal ownership to each of their four employees to atone for this harm. Their only obstacle was the third partial owner of the cafe, E.J. Egghart—Kate Egghart’s mother—who owned 18% of Mina’s World. E.J. was unsupportive of cooperatization, so the employees and other two owners planned to buy her share of the company. Shortly after the video was posted, the four Mina’s employees formed an Instagram account representing their collective interests and posted a GoFundMe whose stated goal was to purchase both E.J.’s share of Mina’s and the building it occupied.
Both the owners and later the workers received criticism for being vague about the “harms” committed by the cafe—harms so severe that they could only be resolved by the sudden and forcible co–operatization of the business. Confusing, winding trails of subtweets and allusions across social media made it near–impossible to locate the original accusations and judge their truthfulness. Comments on Mina’s World’s Instagram questioned why the co–operatization had begun so quickly, why unionization wasn't an option, and why E.J. could not be negotiated with. They also gestured to the stilted tone of Parikh and Egghart’s initial video, interpreted as a reluctance to record it. Based on this, Instagram users suggested that the owners had been coerced into co–operatizing rapidly by their employees, even though they stated that becoming a co–op had been an eventual goal of the cafe. The owners later confirmed this in an Instagram story detailing Mina’s closing.
There, the owners explained that they intended to co–operatize Mina’s once it became profitable. When their employees brought up co–operatizing earlier, the owners tapped the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative (BBWC) to mediate discussions, and the collective began also pushing for early co–operatization.
Co–operatizing a business, on the whole, is often a good thing. It gives employees the power to protect themselves and reason to favor their workplace’s best interests and can help redistribute wealth. Mina’s co–operatization, though, is more complicated. Coercion is a morally gray approach to restorative justice, especially when the subject of coercion is actively supportive like Parikh and Egghart were. Plus, co–operatization is a complicated approach to running a business. It involves passing decisions through more people and putting more people at financial risk if the business goes under. And in the two years it existed, Mina’s World had never become profitable.
Mina’s World was sustained by funding from E.J. Egghart, Kate Egghart's mother. Amidst accusations lobbed at Mina’s over Parikh and Egghart’s roles as gentrifiers of West Philadelphia, the employees of Mina’s also targeted E.J. for her wealth and her resistance to co–operatization. The owners originally kept E.J.’s identity as the third owner quiet, but Mina’s employees quickly revealed E.J’s identity and called attention to the fact that she is a multimillionaire, currently working as an accountant for multiple Native casinos on the West Coast—businesses predominantly owned by white men who manipulated Native populations, according to employees. The employees portrayed E.J. as an unsympathetic rich mogul with no concern for the wellbeing of Mina’s QTPOC employees.
In a reply posted through a friend’s account to Mina’s Instagram, E.J. showed a different side of the story. As a poor single mother who immigrated to America from Korea in her 20s, she became an accountant to gain financial security. She supported the opening of Mina’s World due to her daughter’s belief in social justice, despite recognizing it was unlikely to be profitable. E.J. gave over $70,000 of free rent, loans, and accounting to Mina’s over its two year lifespan. Based on this, she claimed that Mina’s could not co–operatize profitably, and pushed back against employees “coerc[ing] employers to hand over their 5 years’ work for free” through “postings ridden [sic] with hatred.” When social media attacks against E.J. and the other owners continued, she listed Mina’s World’s building for sale.
Employees sounded the alarm and amplified social media attention toward their GoFundMe, claiming E.J. was threatening their livelihoods. One employee, Diente Celele Franco, went so far as to doxx E.J’s home address and call her a “white Asian,” amongst other insults. Franco later apologized, although discussions on other forums like Reddit pointed out Franco never apologized to E.J. in their video—only to their coworkers. Employees encouraged customers to continue to visit Mina’s and tip employees heavily to support their efforts, but the warring online deterred them instead. The cafe closed a week later.
It’s clear that from the beginning Mina’s World was founded on idealism. E.J. Egghart funded an unsustainable dream for her daughter and daughter’s partner, and the two aimed to use it to better West Philadelphia. However, their efforts and inexperience became Mina's World's downfall.
While restaurants tend to operate at a loss in their first few years, Parikh and Egghart prioritized impact over profitability at their new business’s most vulnerable stage. By funding the Community Fridge, closing their dining area longer at employee request, and underpricing their ethically sourced (expensively produced) coffee to make it more affordable, Mina’s supported its community but could not support itself. This forced the owners to delay their employees' $0.25 raises, which employees say they did without explanation, leading to accusations of wage theft. Additionally, their aspirational tone combined with their lack of business experience to disillusion their employees.
Mina’s employees, too, idealistically portrayed co–operatization as the only adequate response to harm they could not define. Despite being paid $15 an hour and being consulted with about Mina’s business decisions, they chose to enact a hostile takeover against their QTPOC bosses. Additionally, they doxxed E.J. and created a GoFundMe whose use they refused to clearly state; would–be donors offered large sums on Instagram in exchange for budgets that were not provided. Today, the GoFundMe has earned over $11,000 and remains open, despite Mina’s closure. This money will still be received by the employees who have not been publicly held accountable regarding its usage. Commenters on Reddit and Instagram have alleged that the “radical accountability” campaign of Mina’s might have been a grift constructed for employee profit, although this cannot be confirmed.
Fault is not equal in this situation, but no one is faultless. Mina’s might have been better off as a nonprofit from the beginning, focusing on its mission instead of diluting it with cafe aesthetics and tangentially trying to profit. Regardless, now the only queer–owned cafe in Philadelphia has closed, and West Philadelphia has lost a small business striving to be an agent for good.
Mina's World shows us that a dream cannot feed someone, and good intentions cannot fill someone’s wallet. However, it’s still sad to see the lights go down on the sunshine–yellow tiles.