A Letter to Our Community about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Dear Olympia Provisions Community,

Recently we were publicly accused by a fellow restaurant owner that had received a DM from a former employee about incidents in our past.  Part of our culture is that we know mistakes happen and it is what you do after a mistake that defines you. Do you sweep it under the rug or do you own up to it, learn from it, and make a change?  We own our mistakes, learn from them, and make changes.   

In operating a business over the past 10 years we know we have made mistakes and we fully own them.  Some of the accusations were false and some were true and we’d like to address them.

An employee gave us feedback this week that they were upset about our Mexican Fiesta/ Luche Libre themed holiday party from 2015.  We encouraged people to come in festive attire, Tamale Boy catered it, we had an authentic mariachi band, pinatas, a nacho cheese fountain, and a photo booth that looked like it was in the mountains with a live donkey. Through this employee's feedback, we were able to reflect and understand why this party theme was inappropriate, and we now have a deeper understanding of cultural appropriation and cultural stereotyping that we perpetuated at this event.  Our intention was to celebrate a culture- we realize now that our actions demonstrated cultural insensitivity. We are torn up about this as we have always prided ourselves on building a culture that welcomes and celebrates everyone. This made us see an area where we were ignorant and we feel really sad and sorry about that. We genuinely appreciate this employee giving us feedback about this instance and want to openly encourage all employees to bring up issues within our organization - especially ones involving race and culture which can be difficult and uncomfortable to talk about. It is these conversations that force us to look inward, see our mistakes, take responsibility, and change and grow from it.  

Creating a place where all employees feel welcome is really important to us. Elias and I are children of an undocumented Greek immigrant who moved to this country in his 30s and really struggled, who had no money, didn't speak English, and was at one point deported - we want to honor our father and welcome all people, celebrate their cultures, and would never want someone in our organization to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. We understand that this doesn't give us insight into the challenges that people of color and underrepresented communities face, but our father's experience influences our values. 

There were also accusations around us tolerating a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and inappropriate behavior. We do not tolerate behaviors of harassment and hostility at OP, and have always addressed them internally. In the past, investigating accusations took longer than we would have liked, which is why we decided to hire an HR manager to create policies for the quick advancement of investigations around employee concerns.  This is something we are continuously trying to improve, which is why we have made changes in our management and engaged Workplace Change to further develop human resource policies and communication. One of our most important core values is enriching eachothers lives and we don’t tolerate behaviours of harassment and hostility at Olympia Provisions.

The accusation that hit the hardest was that we don’t care about our employees.  We love our employees and we know they are what make Olympia Provisions great. It is really sad to us that someone felt that way in our organization and we will do better to make sure they feel appreciated, heard, and understood.

We want to keep the conversation going with our employees and community, because we feel that this is what the movement is about. To do this, we feel that if shaming is replaced with open dialogue we can all benefit and learn from each other.

Through this movement, we have learned so much already and know we have a lot more to learn. We started an initiative this quarter that includes forming a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board, finishing a study to see if we have pay inequities, engaging Workforce Change to do bias training for all managers, and communicating more in Spanish. Last week for the first time we had a translator come in to help us do some work and it is already making a huge difference. This board is going to be really important for us because we want it to inform the policies and decisions we make and to make sure that all voices are heard.

We are all learning together. This is what we love about our core value-- the relentless pursuit of mastery. It is a culture of learning that we want alive at OP, one where we can say that was a mistake, this is what we learned from it and can do better.  We are all going to make mistakes. You just read some of ours, but it is what we learn from them and do going forward that defines us. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this and we look forward to growing together.

Elias and Michelle Cairo