The owner of Christchurch café C1 Espresso has stepped down to take a "long break" amidst a barrage of bullying allegations from ex-employees.
Sam Crofskey, who has owned the High Street establishment for over 17 years, faced a hailstorm of accusations of bullying and belittling behaviour last week, in allegations he told Newshub were "extremely distressing" and "unsubstantiated".
They came after Christchurch woman Levi Painter posted a warning on the USCA Facebook noticeboard when she spotted an advertisement for a 'Front of House Position' at C1 Espresso.
"I do not want more students falling into the same trap I did and signing a contract they potentially shouldn't," she wrote, alleging Crofskey asked her inappropriate questions during her interview, denied her breaks, and made her sign a contract different from the job advertised.
After the post went viral, hundreds of similar accounts from former employees poured in, with a 'C1 Boycott and Protest' Facebook group racking up over 3500 members.
Members alleged Crofskey regularly reduced staff "to tears" and discouraged sick days.
On Sunday evening Crofskey issued a statement on the official C1 social media pages, saying he was stepping down temporarily "to reflect on the conversations of the past week.
"During this time I will be taking professional advice around workplace culture and will assess my fit in the company.
"I've always valued our team, and I want everyone who works with us to feel valued."
Crofskey said the last few days had been "immensely upsetting" for himself and the current staff.
"While I am away the company will be run by my manager Dale. Dale has been with us for eight years and she always does a great job," he said.
"The past week has been a very challenging time for our 25 staff, some of whom have had to face very negative comments.
"Our staff will continue to do an excellent job delivering the coffee, food and service that C1 has become famous for and we are looking at ways to support them through this tough time."
He then appeared to delete all C1's social media pages.
The café had previously been named the Best Metro/CBD café in a national awards ceremony, with Crofskey inducted to the Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame last year.
After Painter's original post racked up over 1000 comments, she told Newshub the response had left her "overwhelmed and bewildered".
"I can not believe how many people have spoken out about similar situations regarding C1 Espresso," she said.
"I never thought my warning post on Facebook would have gained this much attention and such reactions from people."
She said the experience while leaving her "taken aback," didn't discourage her from applying for future positions at other cafés.
Former C1 staff will reportedly meet with Chloe Ann-King, founder of hospitality union and advocacy group Raise the Bar on Monday to discuss their next steps.