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Gideon’s creator ‘just wants to make cookies’ after anonymous posts raise concerns

“We are the Ghosts of Gideons,” the May 11 Instagram post read, “a collective voice representing the employees whom you have come to know and love. Today we write to you with a desperate plea for help.”

The post alleged unsafe health and safety practices at the Disney Springs location of Gideon’s Bakehouse and the use of racial slurs by upper management. There were complaints about the tip-based wage system.

An eight-page “demand letter” attached to the message threatened legal action for injustices including outdated menu boards and a policy that required shaking cold brew beverages instead of stirring. It called for pay-rate increases and a $400 bonus per pay period for wages purportedly lost due to a policy that prohibited employees from verbally asking guests for tips.

Click here to read the Ghosts of Giddeons demand letter

“Make no mistake, if the following solutions are not implemented with immediate effect, we will do everything in our power to topple this cookie castle permanently,” the social media post read.

It also implored readers to boycott the store.

“Please, we beg you … write to Ownership & voice your displeasure at their reprehensible actions.”

People did. And much of it, says Gideon’s owner/creator Steve Lewis, was dark. Emails. Direct messages. Social media comments.

Lewis, who has spent the last nine years building Gideon’s from a one-man operation (he famously used to deliver cookies to customers on his bicycle) to a world-renowned company for which customers queue at Disney Springs for hours, took it all very personally.

Gideon’s creator ‘just wants to make cookies’ after anonymous posts raise concerns

“We all know how quickly the Internet can be to pitchfork,” he told the Orlando Sentinel, noting that he and other managers received the demand letter via email on the evening of May 10, “… but I could never imagine such a thing would be possible”.

He was shocked, he said, that the message took off.

On accounts where the Ghosts’ post was shared, comments flew in by the hundreds, with many taking the claims at face value. Others wanted substantiation, but there was no one to question.

Social media chain rattling can have dire effects on a business, but the Ghosts were hardly transparent.

“The internet is both a blessing and a curse,” says Orlando-based attorney Mark NeJame, whose law firm handles cases ranging from criminal defense to civil/commercial litigation and beyond. “This is one of the curses: that people can post things anonymously, and there’s no accountability.”

And though “it’s a double-edged sword that also allows those who would otherwise be silenced to bring important things to light,” says NeJame, who spoke to the Sentinel as a legal expert on this matter and is not representing either party in this matter, it can be difficult for people to discern the righteous from the treacherous.

And the damage a business can incur while waiting for the facts to come out?

“It’s incomprehensible,” he says. “You never know the client who didn’t come in because they read the review or the comments.”

So, what can a business do when facing down faceless accusers in a hostile realm with few rules?

Twenty-year public relations veteran Beth Cocchiarella saw the Ghosts’ post not long after it went up. As both the president/founder of EMC Public Relations – and someone whose own family has been deeply impacted by the repercussions of online trolling – the story hit home.

“I was hoping [Steve Lewis] was actively formulating a plan to address it … that he would speak to his employees and his customers. And I hoped he had someone who was guiding him.”

The social media world’s propensity to rush to judgment, she says, is frighteningly real.

“It can impact a business or a person very quickly. Somebody reads it and decides, ‘I don’t want to do business with that organization anymore.’ Or they can make judgments about the person, which is why I’d always advise someone to respond.”

The combined expertise of a crisis management expert and legal counsel, she says, is the best formula. For the Gideon’s Bakehouse situation, which involves potentially serious concerns for employees, such as the alleged use of racial slurs by management (something Lewis called “a false personal attack and outright lie”) and unsafe conditions, she noted, a human resources expert would suit, as well.

“You have to have all the people in the room looking at the situation through various lenses when crafting a statement. You don’t want to be defensive, you want to express concern for the situation and be transparent about what you’re doing to look into it.”

Both Cocchiarella and NeJame noted the importance of addressing employees.

“Some of the demands, if true, are legitimate points,” says NeJame, who owns several businesses. “You can use that as an opportunity to grow properly as a business … If there’s a consensus that you are acting in ways that are inappropriate, you should listen to that.”

But, he says, other allegations “are somewhat preposterous. If it’s just the rantings of an individual who might be a little addled, which we don’t know, because they’re anonymous, that has to be factored in, as well.”

“Florida is a right-to-work state,” he says, mentioning that much of what was noted in the demand letter depends on perception. “If you’ve got a dictatorial situation, the fact is that you’re allowed to yell at your employees, and employees are allowed to leave.”

Most of the content in the demand letter, said Lewis, “was not coming from an honest place and laced with personal attacks and outright lies that have hurt real people with good, hard-earned reputations.”

It’s what upsets him the most, he says.

Other employees, too, were bothered.

Gideon’s creator ‘just wants to make cookies’ after anonymous posts raise concerns

Days after the initial post, one of them, Arden, who uses the Instagram handle @cann1balkid, took to the platform not to defend Gideon’s, but to speak on behalf of coworkers who were looped into what he called the Ghosts’ “smear campaign” without permission. The Sentinel is using only Arden’s first name to protect his identity.

“Claiming to speak on behalf of a collective that you did not ask consent to speak for…is incredibly detrimental to motivating them toward ACTUAL change,” he wrote. “To my knowledge, not one person signed anything, was consulted, was shown anything beforehand, or was even asked how they felt about it in general.”

Arden was employed there for a little over a year, he told the Sentinel. And to his knowledge, “none of my fellow workers at the Disney Springs location are aware of who actually runs the [Ghosts] account or who is affiliated with it.”

In his posts, he called out misinformation with regard to pay, citing wages that, with tips included, averaged between “$18-20ish” hourly.

He defended a maligned manager, as well, calling the Ghosts’ claim of retaliation-based terminations targeting LGBTQIA+ employees “a blatant lie.”

“There is a right way and a wrong way to go about change,” he wrote.

Other employees, too, were bothered.

Gideon’s creator ‘just wants to make cookies’ after anonymous posts raise concerns

NeJame would likely agree.

“They gave an ultimatum,” he says, “which is never a good way to negotiate.”

The Sentinel spoke with four individuals representing the Ghosts on May 14. Only two, neither of whom have worked for Gideon’s Bakehouse since 2021, were willing to go on record. Neither was the voice behind the letter.

One of the four, Alex Rose, was part of the Disney Springs opening team, She was promoted twice during her tenure, which spanned from November 2020 to “around August 2021.” She left the position as a manager, during which time she said she “personally witnessed multiple people having to be pulled inside in terms of heat stroke or being too hot.”

Promises to furnish contact information for these individuals, as well as dated paystubs reflecting the drop in wages, remained unfulfilled at press time despite repeated requests from the Sentinel. No attorney name was provided in connection to the drafted lawsuit.

“This suggests that they’ve spoken to a lawyer, and their case may not be as meritorious as they want to believe it is,” NeJame offered about the now-unresponsive group.

Lewis told the Sentinel that there have never been any heat-related issues with staff in daily reports or workman’s comp records, and addressed questions related to the Ghosts’ demands related to outside working conditions.

“Heat is a subject that the team is rightfully passionate about, and we’re always working in the background on changes we can make. Everyone has had UV umbrellas, personal powered fans, cooling neck towels and hydration at all times,” he said. “As the heat approaches, we prepare to alternate positions so that no one is outside for more than a quarter of their shift at a time.”

Speaking with the Sentinel, Arden confirmed that these items were always on hand.

“We would rotate inside to get away [from the heat] …and were encouraged to come inside and step in the walk-in if need be. My leads have always been very caring for us.”

Arden spent considerable time on some of the threads, as well, in part explaining the tip system to those unclear.

Square, he commented on a Ghost post, is the point-of-sale system used in the store; the tip option – which was never taken away – offers 15, 20 and 25% options. Staffers, he said, would often verbally ask for tips, but were told to stop after a guest complaint.

Days after the initial firestorm, the tide on social media began to turn for Gideon’s. Though many commenters still questioned whether worker treatment was above board, more began to look for proof of the Ghosts’ claims. Questions of this nature appeared on the Ghosts’ account, as well, where on some posts, commenting was later disabled.

“We’ve won!” a May 14 post on the Ghosts account proclaimed, announcing that Gideon’s Bakehouse workers were in the process of unionizing with UNITEHERE! Local 362, which represents workers in Central Florida, including cast members at Walt Disney World and food service workers. Local 362 press contact Eric Clinton only offered “no comment” when asked to confirm.

Lines at Gideon’s, most have reported, haven’t slowed. Lewis said management handled the situation with staffers the same way they always do: with conversation.

“My GM team has been there every day, so my staff always has the opportunity for expression. By the time this had any steam, we were sure it wasn’t coming from a current employee. It was essential to have private conversations so everyone felt safe.”

Of large concern was handling guests who wanted to know details.

“We encouraged staff to be honest and interact on the subject as much as they felt comfortable,” Lewis said.

Each day forward, he said, spirits lifted.

“By week’s end, the store was back to its normal energy.”

Long-term effects, though, remain to be seen.

“I hope I’m right in saying we’ll get through this without a change to our day-to-day, but there is no doubt that it put an unjustified crack on a reputation we’ve spent so long building.”

Going through the court system to take down false or fake reviews or social media posts, Nejame says, is unaffordable for most. And when dealing with an anonymous source, it’s even more difficult, but cases can be brought against a pseudonym.

“You can’t find him, of course, because there’s no such person, but you publish it and go to court and you tell the truth, explaining that the claims aren’t true, what is slanderous, what is false information. Typically, the court will enter an order….

“With an active lawsuit, you’ve got the ability to issue subpoenas that emanate from the lawsuit in order to conduct discovery.”

Which means that those suspected of involvement can now be subpoenaed.

For Lewis, watching countless social media accounts repost the claims he called “misleading or false” was disheartening.

“The days cascaded with false reports claiming everything from me driving a Lamborghini to being anti-LGBTQ. This is a particularly bothersome claim, given that I am the proud son of a gay parent.

“It caused a firestorm of hateful emails and anti-Gideon’s food forum threads,” he said of statements made without evidence, noting Gideon’s’ “nine-year solid record of health and safety reporting.”

Employees with genuine cases, NeJame says, are allowed to sue civilly. But, he says of the language used in the demand letter, “they’re almost extorting him. ‘If you don’t do this, we’re going to bring charges.’”

In situations like these, says the attorney, business owners can simply hope the aggrieved person goes away, “but you never know when they’re going to resurface again. So, in this particular case, they could bring a lawsuit against the anonymous party, ‘The Ghosts of Gideons,’ and then at least you’ve got discovery available.”

Without resources to defend themselves, many accusers will back down.

For those with a righteous position, says NeJame, this is unfortunate, because they can’t afford to go up against the company.

“Alternatively, some people who just think they’ve got endless power when they’re wrong and want to shake people down are going to have to be held to their words.”

In fact, he says, accusations like this, if false, hurt the chances of those with legitimate cases.

“It absolutely compromises integrity and truthfulness in society and in the workplace when false allegations are made, and then, like wildfire, they burn through the Internet.”

Claims of a “class-action suit” in the Ghosts’ letter, says NeJame, don’t pass the test.

“This is not a class-action case, so it was pretty obvious that they were trying to make some false threats … This sounds like an extremely disgruntled person who has seemingly overplayed their hand.”

Lewis says playing the victim is not his way, “but it is disheartening that something like this is so easy to do through the cowardice of anonymity.”

He worries for small businesses that don’t have the same level of community support.

“I’ve spent nine years talking with my community in a very personal way,” he said, noting he was confident that his supporters would call it out, that it felt good when they did.

“This was over where it started in 48 hours, but sadly it didn’t stop Gideon’s from turning into clickbait and spreading it beyond the source.”

Now, he says, he’s ready to move on.

“I’m not into drama. I just want to make cookies, watch cartoons and take photos of my animals. My main focus right now is taking care of my team and maintaining the culture of my little world.”

Source: MSN.com

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