Coffee shop at center of controversy cuts ties with Duke

Posted May 11, 2018 3:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:42 p.m. EDT

— Days after two workers were fired from a coffee shop on the Duke University campus when a university administrator complained about rap music at the store, the store's owner said Friday he plans to close the operation altogether.

"I have decided to cut my company’s ties with Duke University. I believe it’s the right thing to do to preserve Joe Van Gogh’s brand independence without conditions," Robbie Roberts, owner of Hillsborough-based Joe Van Gogh Coffee, said in a statement.

Duke Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta complained when he heard a rap song with profane lyrics playing in the Joe Van Gogh on campus last week. Staffers quickly apologized and turned off the song, but two baristas were fired on Monday after Moneta contacted the director of Duke dining to express his concerns.

Joe Van Gogh officials said Duke officials wanted the staffers fired, but Moneta denied that was his wish.

Campus activists said they still blame Moneta, saying the incident shows Duke has too much control over contracted workers.

"While it’s definitely going to hurt the Duke community to not have Joe Van Gogh, the responsibility and the blame for that stands squarely with the Duke administration," said Mina Ezikpe, a recent Duke graduate.

Ezipke noted Moneta took no action following two racially charged incidents in April – a student posted a photo with the n-word on Snapchat and a sophomore found "N*****-lover" written on her dorm room door. At the time, Moneta said in a tweet that "freedom of expression protects the oppressed far more than the oppressors."

"He’s done very, very little to make students feel safe on campus, and then to turn around so heavy-handedly and, (in) such an overreach of his role and responsibility, to have two workers fired for literally freedom of expression … is super-hypocritical," Ezipke said. "That’s really out of touch. I don’t think there’s a place at Duke University for that."

Duke President Vincent Price apologized Thursday for the Joe Van Gogh incident.

"I will simply say that I am deeply sorry that we are not where we want to be as a university," Price said in a statement. "We have somehow lost the sense of compassion and human tolerance that should define our community."

University administrators issued a statement Friday saying they respect Robert's decision to close the campus coffee shop.

"We appreciate their partnership over the years and wish them great success going forward. Duke will continue to support local restaurants in our dining program," the statement reads.

Roberts said he has offered the staff of the campus shop, including the two fired baristas, jobs in Joe Van Gogh's three other shops in the Triangle.

"Joe Van Gogh has always been about bringing people together, not driving them apart. We are open to all people, and we value people over our profits," he said.