On November 26, workers at Acme Food & Beverage in Carrboro went on strike, citing “unfair labor practices” and a “hostile work environment.” 

Almost exactly a month later, this Christmas Eve, 19 workers, mostly front-of-house staff, are still on strike. The restaurant has been serving takeout in the interim. 

Opened in 1998 by Kevin Callaghan, the small restaurant has risen in prominence as a cozy neighborhood spot for high-end Southern fare, and has been featured in national publications like The New York Times and Bon Appetit. Since 2020, Callaghan has served as president of the umbrella business group Damn Good Foods, which includes Plum Southern Food in Durham, Atlas Bar in Carrboro, and Lumina Theater in Chapel Hill.  

According to Madison Burns, an employee at Acme since June 2021 and a spokesperson for the striking workers, management at the restaurant was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations in mid-November and subsequently mishandled them. 

Staff declined to specify the nature of the sexual misconduct allegations.

After what workers say was a “coerced ousting” of bar manager Alison Hinks—described by Burns as a manager sympathetic to worker grievances—workers turned in a strike notice and list of demands on November 26. The list includes the demand that Callaghan “not be allowed to return to the premises,” an apology from Callaghan and upper management to Damn Good Foods staff, the appointment of an official human resources officer, and a concerted effort to “hire more racially and ethnically diverse staff.”

“There are a lot of pretty young white women in the front of the house,” Burns told the INDY over the phone. “We want to see a broader group of people, a more diverse group of people, employed in front of the house, and we think that that’s something serious.”

Shortly thereafter, the restaurant hired the Chapel Hill employment law practice Noble Law Firm to perform an HR audit. The staff made the strike public on December 17 after what Acme employee Ben Greer, who has worked both back and front of house at Acme for several months, described to the INDY as “radio silence from management.”

Drew Ehrler, 22, started working at Acme in June 2021 as a server. He quickly grew close to co-workers, he says.

“When you get close in any workplace, you’re going to talk about the things that you’re upset about,” Ehrler told the INDY. “I started hearing things from my co-workers that definitely run deeper than your typical restaurant-related problems.” 

Raleigh attorney Bridget Blinn-Spears shared a statement on behalf of the restaurant (the same statement was also shared with the News & Observer)

“The management team at ACME Food & Beverage is deeply concerned about the issues brought forward by some of its new employees,” it reads. “Acme is committed to looking into the claims and to finding resolution with all parties involved, which is why it has engaged the Noble Law Firm in Chapel Hill to conduct an independent investigation into these concerns. We’re working toward resolution through that investigation, and Acme has provided an official response with the employees who are on strike.”

Blinn-Spears says that the restaurant is working toward re-opening and has “extended an offer to the employees who have gone on strike to come back.”

“Acme remains committed to providing a living wage to all employees, and closing the restaurant for dining is having an impact on our ability to do that for the staff who remained,” the statement read. 

Earlier this week, Anna Batty, an Acme employee, created a GoFundMe for the striking workers. So far, it has raised $6,212 of its $5,000 goal. 

“After numerous attempts by management to suppress our demands and unjustly prolong the strike litigation process, we have decided to ask the community for financial support,” the page reads. “Please donate to help our career servers participating in a federally protected strike cover expenses for the holidays!” 

Back in November—on the 26, the day that workers posted the 3:15 strike notice—Acme put up an Instagram post announcing that “unforeseen circumstances” had led to the closing room of its dining room, but that takeout orders would continue. Comments were closed on the post. 

“We look forward to serving you soon,” the post reads. “Cheers, The Staff at Acme.”

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