Local coffee chain that made national news in 2018 opens new shop in Durham

Local coffee chain that made national news in 2018 opens new shop in Durham

A North Carolina-based coffee chain that made the national news in 2018 for an incident at the Duke University store has opened a new location in a Durham office building.

Joe Van Gogh was first established in Chapel Hill by Robbie Roberts. With the store in SouthCourt, a six-story office building near University Drive and Shannon Road in Durham, the local chain has six Triangle locations, across Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

The coffee shop serves traditional coffee drinks, seasonal specials, tea and baked goods such as muffins, scones and cookies. Sandwiches, salads and hot breakfast foods are also available.

About Joe Van Gogh

The local coffee chain has grown from a single cafe in Chapel Hill, where coffee was roasted just inside the front door, to a company with six locations across three cities. The latest store, inside the Durham office building, celebrated its grand opening May 8.

One Durham cafe, which Joe Van Gogh’s website no longer lists as an open location, was at a former Gulf service station on West Chapel Hill Street in the Kent Corner area of the city’s West End neighborhood, The News & Observer previously reported. The cafe shared a space with Local Yogurt.

Joe Van Gogh even has a coffee subscription program, where customers can get coffee beans delivered at a frequency of their choice.

The company has a focus on green initiatives. Solar panels cover the roof of the Hillsborough building where Joe Van Gogh roasts its coffee, according to the company’s website. And Roberts, the company founder, bought the first Loring Smart Roaster, common in the industry among companies wanted to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and energy usage. Plus, almost all of the single-use products used in cafes are compostable.

Backstory: Joe Van Gogh at Duke

In May 2018, Larry Moneta, then Duke University’s vice president for student affairs, visited the Joe Van Gogh on the university’s campus, The News & Observer previously reported. While there, he heard a rap song — “Get Paid” by Young Dolph — that offended him. The song contains the N-word and the F-word.

He later said in a statement emailed to The N&O and The Duke Chronicle that he was “shocked” to hear lyrics “quite inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others.”

Barista Britni Brown, who was working in the shop at the time, said she turned off the music, apologized and offered Moneta his muffin on the house, but Moneta insisted on paying.

After that, Moneta said he shared his concerns with Robert Coffey, the university’s executive director of dining services.

Brown and Kevin Simmons, another Joe Van Gogh barista working at the store when Moneta came in, lost their jobs just days after the the incident in question. Joe Van Gogh’s leaders said that “Duke wanted them to terminate us, and that there was nothing that they could do and that their hands were tied,” Brown told The N&O.

Responses from Duke officials and students:

  • After the baristas’ contracts were terminated, Moneta wrote on Facebook that “it was never my intent” that any of the coffee shop’s employees should lose their jobs, and said that “if my actions in any way lead to their dismissal, I apologize and hope that the JVG management consider ways to reinstate their employment with the company,” The N&O reported.

  • In a statement, Duke said it regretted “the pain this incident caused to those who look to Duke to uphold the highest values of fairness and equity to all members of our community.”

  • The university’s president, Vincent Price, sent an apology email to students, faculty and staff. He said he was sorry for a campus climate damaged by recent racial incidents and for Moneta’s complaint about the music, which resulted in the termination of two baristas.

  • More than a dozen protesters gathered outside the Joe Van Gogh store on campus, blasting the rap song that had offended Moneta. Students and some coffee shop employees, including the two who were fired earlier in the week, attended the demonstration. Eventually, the group entered the student union, where Moneta’s office was, and he let some of them inside to talk.

  • Moneta retired from the university following the 2018-19 school year, after 17 years at Duke.

Responses from Joe Van Gogh:

  • On May 11, Roberts, the owner of Joe Van Gogh, said he was closing the shop on campus to preserve the company’s “brand independence without conditions,” The N&O previously reported. All of the employees who worked at that location — including Brown and Simmons — would be offered jobs at other stores or in the production offices, Roberts said. Brown told The N&O that she didn’t plan to return to the company.

  • Joe Van Gogh also posted a message on its website apologizing to employees, customers and the community for how they handled the situation. It went on to say, “We attempted to understand Duke’s position in this case, but we should have taken a different approach in making personnel decisions.”

Response from Stephen Colbert:

“The Late Show” host had some thoughts about the whole situation. In an episode that aired shortly after the news broke in 2018, Colbert said, “Hold on. If we’re allowed to complain about the music at coffee shops, I would like a warrant signed out for Michael Buble’s arrest.”

Questions raised by the incident

Moneta was already being criticized for insensitivity in his working of an email sent to students, whom he was encouraging to take part in a survey about campus sexual assault and harassment. The Joe Van Gogh incident renewed those concerns.

There were also issues regarding the way Duke treated contract employees, like those working for Joe Van Gogh, who lacked some workplace protections that full-time university employees were afforded.

And the incident brought up the topic of race relations at the university; at the time, Duke’s student population was less than 10% African American.

News & Observer reporter Martha Quillin contributed to this story.

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