Adda's sudden closure of all locations raises eyebrows and allegations of union-busting | Pittsburgh City Paper

Adda's sudden closure of all locations raises eyebrows and allegations of union-busting

click to enlarge Sukanta Nag surrounded by "enraged" Instagram comments.
CP Image: Jeff Schreckengost
Adda owner Sukanta Nag and comments lamenting the chain's closure
Adda announced the abrupt closure of all four of its locations late Thursday evening via its Instagram account. That the sudden announcement followed, by mere hours, the announcement of a unionization bid by Adda workers struck many customers as more than coincidental, and backlash has been swift.

Commenters on social media were quick to condemn the move, with many offering full-throated support for Adda's now-former employees. Over $11,000 has already been donated to a Gofundme created this morning for Adda's former kitchen manager, Tammy Bevilacqua.

Chris Gratsch, lead barista at Adda's Shadyside location, says the community's support for their union effort has been "humbling."

"It makes the last couple of years worth it," he says.

Gratsch says organizing became necessary after Adda's owner Sukanta Nag imposed working conditions that included six-day workweeks, long hours, and inconsistent schedules. "This started about 13, 14 months ago," he says. "All of a sudden, the pay structure and raise structure that had been there since I started was not transparent anymore and was not equitably given to everybody."

Gratsch says other issues included situations where a single staff member would sometimes run Adda's Cultural District location for eight hours at a time without breaks.

Nag, who, in addition to being a tech executive, also sits on the board of the Andy Warhol Museum and operates Atithi Studios, an arts space in Sharpsburg, disputes this characterization. "We have a scheduling format that we've been using for many, many years. During January, of course, we cut down some hours because we've reduced the hours of open and close. This is all tied to cutting costs."

Nag says Adda's coffers were empty after years of operating in the red. "It's been a business that's struggling financially for many, many months," he tells Pittsburgh City Paper ("years," a voice, perhaps Nag's wife, adds in the background). He says he and his wife came to the difficult decision to close the chain in December and held an all-hands meeting on Jan. 10 in a last effort to restore solvency.

Commenters on social media rejected the idea that the chain was facing financial headwinds. One commenter said they had contacted Adda a day prior to the closure and were informed the company was hiring.

Adda had expanded aggressively in recent years, with the chain opening a new location in the Cultural District in 2021 and adding handmade pizza to Adda Bazaar in Garfield last November. One former employee, who did not wish to be identified, also shared with City Paper a screenshot from Nag's Instagram account that showed the Adda proprietor vacationing in Hawai'i in late December, which this employee said contrasted with the narrative in Adda's farewell post that the company was in financial trouble.
click to enlarge Adda's sudden closure of all locations raises eyebrows and allegations of union-busting
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
Adda location in Garfield
Nag says he and his wife plan an annual trip around his birthday and that this was not related to the chain's budget problems. He was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company's locations, he says, with that falling to Adda's general manager and food director. "We've never been ever day-to-day. We're not around at all during the week because we both have jobs," he tells CP.

"He [Nag] specifically mentions the pandemic ruining the business, and, I mean, a cursory Google search will show PPP loans totaling, I think, somewhere around a million dollars during that time," Gratsch tells CP.  "But also, I can only speak for the Shadyside location, but … we did quite well in sales throughout the pandemic," Gratsch adds.

ProPublica records show that an LLC affiliated with Nag received a total of $125,279 in PPP loans in 2020 and 2021. Adda LLC, which received close to a million dollars in loans, is not affiliated with the coffeehouse chain.

Beyond disputing the circumstances under which Adda closed, Instagram users and former employees alike say Nag's closure of the chain contravenes Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits "threaten[ing] employees with adverse consequences, such as closing the workplace, loss of benefits, or more onerous working conditions, if they support a union." The popular Instagram account @pittsburghpersonified was quick to draw a humorous parallel between Nag and Pittsburgh steel magnate and union-buster Andrew Carnegie.

Another Instagram user who self-identified as a Bengali speaker said it was "shameful" that Nag had closed a business important for the Bengali community's reputation and was "dragging the Bengali/larger South Asian community here in Pittsburgh down with you."

Nag denies closing because of the union and says the decision to close was a hard one and "heartbreaking."

"I hope that spirit that we tried to foster in Pittsburgh for the last eight years, it will live on," he says. He adds that Adithi in Sharpsburg is a separate business entity that will continue to operate.

The fate of Adda's four locations in Garfield, Shadyside, Downtown, and on the North Side seems settled. "I think it's very likely that the shops will stay closed," Gratsch says, "and I would bet that they continue to pay rent on the spaces and rebrand as a new concept in eight to 12 months."

Gratsch says he's a "serial optimist" but that the union is operating under the assumption that Adda is done. Still, he's heartened by customers' support and says the workers remain united. "Just seeing all the support that we're getting from everyone, that's — to quote Sukanta with his community ideal and mindset — that's what community really looks like."

Correction: This article has been amended to clarify the distinction between Adda LLC and Wandering Fork LLC, the holding company for Adda Coffee & Tea.

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