Restaurant Owner Says Union Protest Has Been Good for Business

First the rat. Now embarrassing fliers. But the neighbors are anything but deterred.

Left: The flier being distributed outside Plenty Cafe in Queen Village. Right: Protest signs outside the restaurant. (Photos by Sarah Doran)

Left: The flier being distributed outside Plenty Cafe in Queen Village. Right: Protest signs outside the restaurant. | Photos by Sarah Doran

You can say a lot of things about the unions in Philadelphia. But you cannot say that they’re not persistent. This is something that Philadelphia restaurateur Anthony Mascieri knows firtshand.

Mascieri and his brother own three Plenty Cafes in Philadelphia: the original on Passyunk Avenue, another on Spruce Street in Rittenhouse Square, and a just-opened location on 5th Street in Queen Village. And it is this third Plenty Cafe that has raised the ire of the electricians union.

Union members first showed up about a year ago after Mascieri’s non-union contractor had already completed the rough-in of the electrical system. The union brought the rat with them. Then they went to the Rittenhouse Square location on Spruce Street and began protesting there for three or four months, and then guys turned up outside of the Passyunk Avenue cafe. All this for a small local business — not some corporate-owned conglomerate.

And now that the Plenty Cafe in Queen Village has opened, members have returned in full force.

This week, union workers have been standing outside the Queen Village location handing out fliers. But these fliers don’t contain the garden-variety union propaganda that we’ve become used to. Instead, the fliers list “repulsive, vile and offensive” health code violations at the Rittenhouse Square location of Plenty Cafe — violations the restaurant received in September.

“They’re out there every single day,” says Mascieri. “Last night, they were on the bullhorn saying, ‘You don’t need to go to Guatemala to see wage abuse. You can see it right here.'”

Mascieri knows that if he hires the union members to do his electrical work going forward, all of this will stop. But he says he’s already got an electrician that he’s happy with — someone who came highly recommended through one of his family members.

“Having a contractor that has a good reputation through someone you trust is invaluable,” he points out. “Besides, this is a free-market society. I don’t owe the union any opportunities.”

As for the violations listed on the union’s flier, Mascieri says that the problems were quickly rectified.

“It’s a little sad and fear-mongering to attack a small business like ours,” observes Mascieri. “We took a building with serious issues that was very old, and instead of tearing it down, we turned it into something beautiful and hired something like 20 people. It’s a little sad to me that they are saying we have no respect for the community or neighborhood.”

A spokesperson for the electricians union did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Other restaurants in the neighborhood have been targeted in recent years, most notably Brauhaus Schmitz. The German restaurant on South Street was visited every single day for months. Here’s a video of a union protestor outside Brauhaus.

We attempted to talk to the Plenty Cafe picketers in Queen Village, but they didn’t have much to say once we showed up. They just handed us a flier.

If the union’s goal is to put Plenty Cafe out of business, Mascieri says their activity is actually having the opposite effect. According to him, neighbors have told him that they’ve visited the new restaurant because the union is trying to make trouble for him.

“People are supporting us instead of boycotting us,” Mascieri tells us. “I pretend [the protesters] are not there. They have such a negative attitude towards life, and I don’t want to give them any energy.”

Additional reporting by Sarah Doran.

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