Letters for August 26 

Readers sound off on our dining reviews and Cafe Gratitude's ties with Landmark Forum.

"Classic Americana Revitalized at Scott Howard's Five," Restaurant Review, 8/5

Singing Prose

I'm writing to say how much I enjoy Matthew Stafford's beautifully written restaurant reviews. His descriptions give a context to the food and his prose just sings. His review of Five, where my husband and I dined Saturday night with friends, was particularly lovely. I appreciate good writing in general and have come to savor a well-written restaurant review. He certainly delivers.

Toni Mayer, El Cerrito

"I am Annoyed and Disappointed," News, 8/5

Doing Business Differently

I am the president and founder of the chair massage company On the Spot Massage LLC, and I am a Landmark Education graduate of which one of the Cafe Gratitude founders led a course I was participating in and the other was one of my coaches. The courses are a Socratic method of posing questions in a manner that allows one to dig deeply, give space to and create a stretch in one's human potential. You could say very much like how scientists work in an area of the unknown to create a breakthrough where there may not have even been a language for what they are looking to achieve, they keep bumping up against variables, possibilities, and new openings, and a breakthrough occurs. This is also a design-inquiry paradigm that humans can access and experience peak performance, new awareness in an area that occurred like a closed book or a jar with a lid on it. The courses are very practical and at the same time very transformational.I got insights into what was possible in regards to really taking my business to a higher level with an elevated purpose using the principles and new language to expand the experience and achieve the results I said I wanted to have.

While I have experienced being a vegan, eaten raw food, and been a pioneer in the natural-foods industry, my experience and patronage at Cafe Gratitude was not because I needed a raw-foods fix, although they do that quite well, it was to get in the atmosphere of doing business differently in thinking, speaking, and doing things that expand the conversation of love, gratitude, and the possibility of oneness. While I can be just as bugged as the next cynical resigned person, I choose to continue to stretch myself and run my own business aligning with the Landmark Education principles and Sacred Commerce principles that Cafe Gratitude owners have written about.

I am aligned with and swim in the same conversation also sharing the opinion that it is an invitation and that means making sure to be very clear with employees or contractors what they are stepping into, even to the degree that potential managers are given a clear picture of the desired vision and mission that is being held. While all civilizations and cultures are an invention of some compelling faction that prevailed, there is also always reaction and resistance, as is one of the key principles in Sacred Commerce "Being the space for all of it" means just that "being a space for ALL of it." I would continue to invite employees to Landmark courses and expand and develop an even stronger internal training program to train managers and leadership as this is legal to require of employees when you have a training and development course that does not require money out of their own pocket as part of a requirement. I love and support my visionary Cafe Gratitude founder friends and hold the space that those who left or were asked to leave who are incomplete and upset have an opportunity to get complete and have their point of view respected, heard, and acknowledged so everyone is clear, left in good shape, and we can all keep playing in the experiment to do business differently. Remember that our country's founding fathers invented the current business paradigm. How that going?

With gratitude, love, and service,

Shoshana Frumkin, Berkeley

I am a Snitch?

In the working-class lingo it's called management searching for snitches.

Leo T.West, San Leandro

Thanks for Not Calling it a Cult

It would be easy to slap the cult label on Cafe Gratitude and its philosophical sugar daddy, the Landmark Forum. Thanks to Sam Levin for not going there. To do so would detract from the banal coercion that the "human potential movement" derivatives use to fleece to naive, well-intentioned people out of their hard-earned money.

Looking past Cafe Gratitude's pop psychology, you can see that its management structure is cunningly refined to create a workplace where every individual thinks that they are the only one feeling such earthly hindrances as wanting to keep their paycheck to pay their rent. The "no gossip" policy prevents them from realizing that they are not alone.

I commend Ash Ritter for having the presence of mind to realize what was going on and stand up to it. I also appreciate the spine that it took to use her real name and to go public with her story. This type of exploitation has a long history in the Bay Area. We need more whistle blowers in order to hold such crooked institutions accountable. For an excellent history of the human potential movement and its offshoots, see the BBC documentary, Century of the Self.

As for ever eating at Cafe Gratitude again? I am doubtful.

Ian Elwood, Oakland

P.S. If the East Bay Express is willing to sponsor it, I would attend a Landmark Forum event as an embedded reporter, I can crank out 2,000 furious words in a weekend. Let me know if you want to see my clips.

What's the Real Beef?

I have eaten at the cafe many times and found it to be a very pleasant humane atmosphere promoting contact and conversation between some most unlikely folk. Dialogue actually happens there. How terrible to foster the idea that human beings are interconnected and heaven forbid that they are indeed interdependent!

I know this is about employee-employer relationship but, was not the question posed from the beginning if the employee was up to Landmark? Why didn't she then use her common sense? And ask questions? This is how non-thinking fall-for-anything people end up in cults and then want to be rescued. So what is her real beef? Whine, whine, whine!

It is obvious that she clearly was not empowered to handle herself at this time. Life is not structured to fit us! We must acquire the tools to deal with what ever comes our way or not deal with it. She was challenged and she didn't like it. She was about to get some much-needed help and she blew the benefit. Too bad! Sometimes when we are forced to look in the mirror it is painful because we don't like what we see. Any education would be helpful in this case!

Yvonne D Thomas, Columbia, Maryland

They're Hypocrites

It was with great interest that I read your article on Cafe Gratitude. I have eaten there a number of times, and been put off by their over-eagerness to instill one's dining experience with their philosophy, however well intentioned or right-hearted the philosophy itself may be. Each time I found myself wishing I could just eat my meal and be responsible for my own gratitude, on my own terms, without having to incur the didactic tone of its servers' proddings.

I was completely taken aback when I learned of its ties to the Landmark Forum. I myself am intimately familiar with Landmark's seminars; I am now 26, and I completed their Forum, Advanced Course, and Self Expression & Leadership Program, all by the time I was sixteen. Although the seminars and their concepts do not consciously cross my mind on a regular basis, and though I have not been involved with Landmark for almost ten years, I consider myself to undoubtedly be a different person (for the better) as a result of having integrated their ideas during such formative years of my life.

It is with this personal experience with Landmark's Forum that I approach the Cafe Gratitude issue with such disappointment and, frankly, utter disgust. It is reprehensible to me that their management would display such intolerance and insensitivity toward employees who have expressly indicated that they have no desire to take the Forum, and see the Forum as potentially conflicting with their beliefs. In the end, it matters not what possible insights may be gained or changes made through the partaking of the program. These are completely irrelevant when held up against the innate sovereignty of the individual, their essential right to live their life however they see most fit, and their ability and right to decide to take, or not take, the Forum.

When I think of the Forum, both the virtues it extols and my experiences during and subsequent to participating, there is one quality that most quickly comes to mind, that I feel lies at its core and is perhaps its essence itself: a heightened relatedness with and connectivity amongst others (friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.). I can truly think of no better way to systematically sabotage a sense of relatedness than to force one to do the seminar.

In my opinion, Cafe Gratitude has taken what is often a wonderful and beneficial experience, and not only have they given it a horrible name, but they also clearly missed something crucial, as their actions betray a heart that lies in direct conflict to the concepts they claim or seek to espouse.

Morgan Klein, Berkeley

Your Reader Is Now Annoyed

I was so disappointed to see Sam Levin's Cafe Gratitude article, pushing for the juicy story by exaggerating slander. From what I read, there are a handful of disgruntled employees who don't subscribe to the Cafe Gratitude culture — which, the article makes clear — all employees are made aware of both at the time of their hire and when they are promoted to management. This article was nothing but poor journalism. For instance, in Levin's use of words such as "cryptic" to describe questions that are asked during a clearing, he shows himself to be writing subjectively, inserting his own opinions about this employee practice rather than simply letting a reader make up their own mind. And what better example of trying to squeeze scandal out of a story than the way Levin continually came back to the employees who were disgruntled — again and again — while allowing very little face time for those employees who have really benefitted from a workplace that genuinely wants to invest in them? I have never attended a Landmark Forum, but I've known many people who have, and some describe them positively and others don't. I don't see where Cafe Gratitude asks employees to attend and *agree* with everything — what I recognize is simply that it was made clear that they wanted to create a certain workplace culture, and Landmark was the vehicle they believed to most clearly express/help/promote that culture. Employees aren't required to *agree*, they are just asked to attend. Furthermore, Landmark is not a spiritual or religious group. Abuse of the "religion card" to claim one's civil rights have been violated in order to get out of participating in something they don't want to participate in is ridiculous, and only creates resentment among those who might genuinely have conflicts between workplace and religious practice. And last — what could be wrong with asking an employee about their resistance to a workshop? It sounds like this workshop was out of the employee's comfort zone. If the employee knows that it's part of the culture to attend these workshops, and they have resistance to it, the employer has a right to ask why they might have resistance. Is it possible that they were asked in an effort to help make the workshop experience more comfortable for the employee, to try to help find a compromise so that the employee could attend in a way that felt better to them? Seems like in Levin's search for the juicy drama to write this story, that aspect was overlooked.Let's cut the drama — this could be any institution that requires its employees to subscribe to a certain method of employee training or philosophy. For example, talk to any public school teacher who has been put through the hell of No Child Left Behind — they'll tell you they didn't particularly love those in-service days, but they attended because this was the culture expected of them at their place of work. Many workplaces expect employee training or workshops. Nowhere is it written that employees have to *agree* with the workshop.

I'm not a Gratitude employee, nor am I a raw foodist, nor am I even a vegetarian. I am just someone who believes in the philosophy they are promoting — one of looking more deeply at oneself and the world we live in, and asking what we can enjoy as well what we can give back. Rather than taking the snarky approach of condescension in the pursuit of a scandal, Levin — and Express readers — would be well served to have a more objective profile of a unique Bay Area business.

Kate Swoboda, Berkeley

Call It a Mind Fuck

If last week's article about the Cafe Gratitude's employment policy is correct, the cafe's upper management would appear, ironically, incapable of discerning the human soul's will to freedom. Anyone whose a priori position is that he or she wants to cure you is telling you that a) you are diseased and b) because of your supposed disease state he or she is right and you are wrong if you disagree with either the diagnosis or the proposed cure. Such disenfranchisement of persons is the hallmark and mechanism of fundamentalist oppression. We old hippies used to call this a mind fuck.

The pressure applied to employees of Cafe Gratitude to attend Landmark seminars is indeed reminiscent of the manipulations used to pack 'em in at Erhard Seminars Training (EST) in the 1970s and '80s. Those who define themselves through authoritarian pressure (either applying or receiving it) seek emotional release through unequal power relationships. Freer hearts and minds do not confuse the relief of pain from a cessation of external force with the joy of personal revelation or healthy personal relationships.

The Cafe G.'s owners' and managers' admissions of forcing employees to engage in non-work-related activities (continuing to pressure and/or firing those who refuse) is abuse of more than the employees' religious freedom. California labor laws also forbid harassment. If the self-defined altruists at Cafe Gratitude actually practiced what they claim to preach, wouldn't they be grateful to have independent managers like Ash Ritter among them?

Glen Kohler, Berkeley

It's a Cult

I have to say I was very happy to finally see an article about the group Landmark. I have had the same personal experiences as the people that work at Cafe Gratitude. It's about time a news organization shines light on this cult. I had a dear friend in college who ended up getting involved with Landmark. It was the same thing, the pressure for everyone he knew to join. He lost all his friends from college because of this. You couldn't be around him without some reference to Landmark and their teachings and the constant asking to attend their meetings. I find it interesting as well to see a pretty big connection with Landmark and Burning Man, but that is from my own personal viewpoint. As well as I have noticed there is an acceptance of polyamorous relationships among the people I know who belong to Landmark. Not to say everyone that is involved in the group is that way, just the ones I know.

I think there really needs to be more investigation into this group more. I find it very similar to the Church of Scientology in that you have to pay more and more money to get to higher levels.

I hope the East Bay Express and other news organizations expose the group for what it is, a cult.

Lisa Zwirner, Alameda

Miscellaneous Letters

Your Events Listings Need Help

Last night a friend and I wanted to do something, we had a car, and we went to THREE events listed in the calendar, and NONE of them were happening as listed. Two of them weren't happening at all (the outdoor film showing at Jack London Square, and the open mic at the Nomad Cafe). The other, an open mic at Cafe Mediterranean, was happening an hour a half after it was listed.

This is the last time in a long time I'll check out East Bay Express online, unless you can assure me and other readers that you've cleaned up whatever problem there is.Thanks for listening.

John Lindsay-Poland, Oakland


In the shopping section of our August 19 Insider's Guide, we printed the wrong name of the business at 6309 College Ave. in Oakland. It's now called Heartware.

In our August 19 story about Combat Music Radio, ("Combat and Noise,") we incorrectly identified the location of Amanda Hines' Lava Nights shows. They occur at the Stork Club in Oakland.


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