Former Smiling Goat workers start their own café

Former employees of the Smiling Goat coffee chain who say they're still owed money are launching a coffee shop of their own — in the very same spot.

'It feels really liberating to be able to pursue our own vision'

Lorelei Carey, 22, is the new manager of Glitter Bean Café, opening at the site of the former Smiling Goat café on Spring Garden. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Former employees of Smiling Goat who say they're still owed money are launching a coffee shop of their own.

Glitter Bean Café was created by workers who lost their jobs when the embattled business moved out of the Spring Garden location this spring. Suppliers, landlords, lawyers and former employers have filed lawsuits against Kit Singh totalling tens of thousands of dollars.  

They say the owner of the Smiling Goat Organic Espresso Bar failed to pay them.

The new café will open in the very same spot in the middle of July, says manager Lorelei Carey.

"It feels really liberating to be able to pursue our own vision instead of just kind of scraping by under the people that we work for," said Carey, who's worked in that location for about four years. 

The café will be a "worker-owned co-op" where employees can buy-in and have a say in how things are run. There will also be a small board that oversees operations. 

Carey said the dream is to turn it into a community space for members of the LGBTQ community.

Lorelei Carey and Glitter Bean Café board member Charlie Huntley are getting ready to open the shop by the middle of July. (Emma Smith/CBC)

It's about creating a space where people feel "safe to come into work, where you aren't going to get harassed or mis-gendered or mistreated in the way that folks in this community are," Carey said. 

All employees will be members of the Service Employees International Union, a North American organization that has about two million members.

Smiling Goat employees voted to unionize in March after dozens of them said their paychecks were bouncing. 

Baristas at several Smiling Goat locations voted to unionize in March. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The location at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Carlton Street was once owned by Just Us and workers there were already part of the union before Smiling Goat took over.

Some Smiling Goat employees have also filed a grievance with the Nova Scotia Labour Board after alleging many of their cheques bounced. 

Carey said all the money that's owed still hasn't been paid. 

"[The union] offered us a lot of protection under Smiling Goat," Carey said. "We probably would not still be here if we hadn't had the protection of the union. Even though it didn't fix all of our problems, it gave us a way to take a stand against our mistreatment."

Right now, there are nine workers at Glitter Bean, who are also owners, most in their 20s or 30s.

Glitter Bean co-op members hope to create a community space where members of the LGBTQ community feel welcome. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"There were a lot of things that we didn't have a say in but we were more or less running the place. But now we'll actually … be able to run it in our vision," Carey said. "We'll be able to do what we want with the space."

There's a lot to do in the next few weeks, including applying for permits, forging relationships with suppliers and creating a wall entirely made of sequins — an ode to the café's moniker. 

"We were looking for a name that resonates with the queer community. Queer people love glitter. It's kind of like lighthearted and playful. I feel like it speaks to the community space that we want to build here," Carey said. 

Lorelei Carey and Charlie Huntley are among a small team of workers who are also part owners. (Emma Smith/CBC)