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Strange Brew Coffee Controversy Explained: What to Know

female barista using coffee machine for making coffee in the cafe

Whether you’re a local or simply keep up with coffee news, you’ve likely heard of the controversy surrounding Strange Brew Coffee House in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The cliff notes version? A long-term employee at the Strange Brew Coffee House in Tupelo was fired over a text message due to not paying for a $3 pastry. The employee acknowledged her forgetful mistake and immediately offered to pay for the pastry.

Apparently, this was not enough for Strange Brew owners Shane and Katelyn Reed.

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What Happened?

In March 2021, Robyn Umphers Jackson, the mother of an employee, at Strange Brew Tupelo took to Facebook. Her post shared a screenshot of a text message exchange between the young employee, Brooke, and her employers Shane and Katelyn Reed.

The messages showed that Brooke, the employee, was confronted by her employers for not paying for a $3 pastry. According to camera footage, Brooke ate the pastry at 5:30 am, but she forgot to pay for the pastry in question at the end of her shift presumably 7-8 hours later.

Brooke, once confronted, apologized and offered to pay for the pastry as she planned. However, the Reeds saw this action as grounds for dismissal despite it being a first and minor offense. The kicker? They did it over text.

The post received over 1,000 comments before Jackson decided to delete the post. The concerned mother followed up with another post, which remains up, that thanked the community for their support while asking that they maintain civility.

Former employees of Strange Brew came out of the woodwork, commenting on the Facebook post that they, too, had similar experiences with the Reeds.

woman holding a smartphone
Image Credit: MarieXMartin, Pixabay

Allegations of Racism

With these additional allegations come claims of racism toward employees. Allegedly, text messages between a former employee and the owners show racist claims against a POC employee.

However, Strange Brew Coffee House owners assert that there are two sides to a story and that the claims of racism are false.

Strange Brew’s official statement, released on Facebook, reads:

“These social media posts are false, malicious, and hurtful for all of us at Strange Brew, and they are offensive to our community as well. People attacking us should know the truth. To be perfectly clear — we have never sent racist texts or had similar conversations in the history of our shop. That is not who we are, and we stand against hate in all forms.”

Possible Age Discrimination

According to Mississippi State University’s student newspaper, The Reflector, the Facebook post went on to state that the employee was terminated for reasons beyond a pastry problem.

They also stated that they regularly interact with their “young employees” over text.

However, that statement alone raises the question of how the so-called “young” employees of Strange Brew Coffee House are regarded by the owners.

Calling to attention the younger age of the employees suggests that, due to their age, these employees do not warrant or deserve in-person communication when it comes to termination or other notable employment events, a right that most employers respect.

Whatever the reason, texting job termination is like a bad break-up. Some believe that everyone deserves to be told straight to their face, regardless of their age.

But what does this all mean for the “young” employees of Strange Brew, as well as the owners, and the community that patronizes this establishment?

female barista making a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Jacob Lund, Shutterstock

A Community Divided

The Tupelo and Starkville communities are standing with and against Strange Brew Coffee House. Some individuals took to Facebook and other forums to assert their support for either side.

On Facebook, Strange Brew supporters took to the keyboard with warm words of encouragement for the owners.

Facebook user Leslie Smith Hollowell commented, “I love Strange Brew and can’t wait to get coffee this week!!”

Meanwhile, on Reddit, a chorus of comments favor the employee’s side of things.

Reddit user miriamness states, “I used to work for them, and it was miserable. They eventually threatened to fire me because I couldn’t work Sundays”.

Another user, GayCatDaddy, referenced a slew of complaints from former employees, “A few years ago, I remember hearing about some employee drama. I didn’t know all the details, so I took it with a grain of salt, but I keep hearing more and more stories about the poor treatment of employees.”

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Conclusion

Strange Brew still stands in both locations today. Strange Brew Coffee House Tupelo and Starkville are going strong with a dedicated following of locals and students alike, despite the alleged mistreatment of employees.

According to local sources, there is little closure to this story. The outrage seems to have frittered away without the claims of either side being substantiated. Strange Brew Coffee House continues to serve its fan-favorite blended drinks and coffee creations to the Tupelo and Starkville communities today.


Featured Image Credit: Art_Photo, Shutterstock

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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