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Blue Moon Cafe reopens after abrupt closure with new staff, hours

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Jul 30, 2021

The Blue Moon Cafe is located at 200 East High Street. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — On July 17, the Blue Moon Cafe was abruptly shut down right before opening time, after half of the staff walked out when the cafe’s owners refused to fire one of its newer managers, Erin Jacobs. Jacobs happens to be the goddaughter of Greg Wise, who co-owns the place with his husband, Tim Smith.

After the standoff took place, the cafe’s owners fired the entire staff, including those who had remained. They then rehired the half uninvolved in the standoff and spent the next two weeks closed, as they trained replacement staff and repaired and cleaned the building.

The cafe reopened, with reduced hours and menu, yesterday afternoon. It will now be open, Thursdays through Mondays, from noon to 8 p.m.

According to social media posts by former staff and community members on TikTok, Reddit and Facebook, the walk out was allegedly the result of a toxic work environment, including underpayment issues and sexual harassment. A controversial social media post made the day prior, on July 16, may have also been at fault.

“Sadly, due to government handouts, no one seems to want to work anymore. Therefore, we are short staffed. Please be patient and kind with our staff that did choose to work. Remember to tip your server and cooks. They chose to show up to serve you!” the cafe’s post said.

The Blue Moon Cafe was forced to close on July 17, and has since spent the time making repairs and other changes. Tabitha Johnston

The cafe’s social media pages have since been shut down for the foreseeable future.

Wise, in a July 22 phone interview, said he regretted his angry reaction in firing all of his staff, following the standoff. He denied the harassment claims and said the cafe’s more than $300,000 in Payroll Protection Program funds had been almost entirely spent on paying his employees’ wages.

“I told [our staff] from the very beginning when COVID started and we couldn’t keep everybody then, that ‘You need to apply for unemployment right away.’ I think they all did. We then got the PPP loan, and that all goes to pay for them,” Wise said. “We don’t get any of that money. It allows us to pay utility bills and rent or mortgage payments, but most of it went to pay employee salaries.”

However, with yesterday’s reopening, Wise said the 22-year-old cafe will be turning over a new leaf. To ensure its staff are all paid a minimum wage, he will be slightly raising prices in place of a required tip.

“If you come into the Blue Moon in the future, you’ll know that your basic tip is taken care of,” Wise said. “We’re going to pay everyone an individual living wage, and then pool all of the tips between anyone who is hourly waged. The nice thing about having the tips split up, is that in the wintertime you’ll make better money!”

As far as his former employees’ opposition to Jacobs’ employment, Wise said it was due to personality differences.

“I think mostly it was because they didn’t like Erin, the manager. It was made as an ultimatum, for us to either fire Erin or lose them,” Wise said, mentioning that two new managers have been hired, in addition to Jacobs, to help shoulder her burden.

“We want to be open. We love being in Shepherdstown. This is so disappointing to us,” Wise said.