Over two weeks after the restaurant “failed to listen and support” its Black employees, Luca will reopen and has promised to "keep listening, continue learning and to use our platform to instill positive social change."
The nationally acclaimed restaurant announced its reopening via email on Saturday, but for takeout only. Owner Taylor Mason told LNP | LancasterOnline the restaurant will reopen with an adjusted schedule Wednesday and operate Wednesdays through Sundays. The Mason's other restaurant, Ma(i)son, will also reopen Wednesday for takeout.
Saturday's email from the restaurant also indicated it will be working with the NAACP Lancaster Branch in efforts to be "part of the change that is so desperately needed."
The email, signed by owners Taylor and Leeann Mason, said they had spent the past two weeks working to "doubled down on our philanthropic efforts within the community" and had "established a relationship with a prominent, local social justice organization."
The email did not go into specifics about what organization Luca is working with or who would benefit from the restaurants "philanthropic efforts," but supplied an email for those who were interested in learning more about Luca's commitments.
The restaurant closed June 8 in order to “reflect, listen and evaluate how we can be better business leaders” in response to a video posted by two former Black employees.
In the video, Brian Graves and Janelle Evans detail feelings of frustration after Luca failed to make a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and listen to its Black employees in the days following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in police custody.
In an email sent to LNP | LancasterOnline, Taylor Mason said the "prominent, local social justice organization" Luca was working with was the NAACP. The organization will be facilitating a meeting between former employees Graves and Evans and the Masons.
Awareness training for staff is in the works, Taylor Mason said. A direct donation has been made to the NAACP, though Taylor Mason did not specify how much.
During the two-week period Luca was closed, over 500 meals were donated to front-line workers at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital's COVID-19 testing sites and to the Parish Resource Center for homeless people. Food donations will continue monthly "as a way for us to share what we do best with our community."
Graves, one of the former employees who spoke out against the treatment he experienced at Luca, said he received and read the emailed statement from the Masons and didn't want to "promote or denounce" their commitments.
"How they move on is up to them," he said, adding that he wants the Masons to make decisions on their own and not because they were called out.
Evans, who spoke out alongside Graves, agreed and said that commenting on the Masons's commitments or statements wasn't her responsibility anymore.
Now, Evans said her responsibility is to "tell my story and make sure that's heard."
Luca, since its 2016 opening, has received praise from The New York Times, Food Network's Alton Brown and the New York Post. Most recently, Taylor Mason was nominated for the James Beard Foundation's "Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic" award.
Employees speak out
The restaurant's two-week closure came days after Graves and Evans discussed their experiences with Luca on a dual live video from their respective Instagram accounts Friday, June 5.
On June 3, after several days off, Graves and Evans returned to work, and said they were frustrated with Luca’s silence after the death of Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The response to Floyd's death was difficult to miss as protesters marched throughout the streets for days, in Lancaster city and across the world. Protests began May 30 in Lancaster city — five days after Floyd died.
But when Graves and Evans began their shifts, they were met with continued silence, they said.
“We weren’t necessarily looking to have a conversation about the marches and the protests and the riots,” Graves said in an interview June 10 with LNP | LancasterOnline. “We weren’t looking for that; we were looking for a simple indication of sympathy.”
After that shift, Graves and Evans said they met with a manager and co-owner Leeann Mason to talk about their frustrations. But they still couldn’t get their point across about why Luca's inaction was hurtful.
During the meeting, Graves and Evans were also told to only talk about "work-related" matters while at Luca.
But not talking about race is a privilege, Evans said in the Instagram video. Racism is a "24/7 reality" Black people have to face every day, she added.
“The fact that you can — like a light switch — turn on and off when you want to talk about certain things, that right there is the definition of privilege,” Evans said in the Instagram video. “I don’t have that privilege.”
Evans said racism is not a political issue but an issue of humanity, and everyone — including Luca — should openly speak up against it, even if it hurts their brand.
“If you’re silent, that automatically puts you on the side of the oppressor," Evans said in the Instagram video.
After the meeting, Evans and Graves both quit their jobs at Luca. When asked if any other employees quit in solidarity, Taylor Mason did not reply.
In response to the Instagram video, now viewed over 18,000 times, Luca posted three statements to Instagram. Each statement was met with commenters who said it was damage control or that the statements weren't genuine.
"When a business claims to be supportive of a community, they have the obligation to speak up," one person commented.
Three days after the Instagram video was posted, the restaurant issued a statement that the restaurant and Ma(i)son would close for an indefinite amount of time.
"We will be closed until further notice as we create change from the inside out. We are committed to creating change within our company, community and to being an asset to the Black Lives Matter movement," the statement said.
The restaurant's June 8 statement also included an apology to Graves and Evans.
“We failed to listen and support them when they needed it most. In struggling with operating businesses through the Pandemic, we lost sight of what mattered most: our people,” the statement said.