The longtime management team at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, a Dupont Circle institution, quit last week, its new owner, Steve Salis, confirmed.
People who left the company confirmed that they had done so in a coordinated effort after clashing with the new owner, according to three people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The issues began, the people said, late last year, when Salis, the 33-year-old co-founder of local chain &pizza, bought the decades-old business from its founders. Salis quickly sprang into action, taking over the 800-square-foot space next door and looking for ways to expand the store’s lineup of cookbooks, fiction and children’s books. He also brought in a new chief operating officer: Jamie Galler, who formerly was involved with New York restaurant ventures.
Employees soon began to raise concerns about the work environment, according to the people.
Salis, who called the claims “unequivocally inaccurate,” eventually brought in a legal team to look into the staffers’ complaints but would not comment on the outcome of the inquiry. He said the company has an “open-door policy” and is “committed to the highest standards of excellence.”
The bookstore’s events director resigned three weeks ago. Five others, including the general manager and head buyer, quit Monday, according to Salis.
“We don’t know why they left — no notice and no explanation,” Salis said in an email. “Just did not show up one day.”
Leah Frelinghuysen, a spokeswoman for Kramerbooks, added that “three of the five employees who decided to leave the company went on a trip the week before not showing up for work, using unauthorized company funds.”
A former employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal said, “That is materially false and completely untrue.”
A spokesman for the American Booksellers Association confirmed that three Kramerbooks employees had registered for its Winter Institute in Minneapolis from Jan. 27 to Jan. 30.
Galler, whom Salis called a “key stakeholder” in Kramerbooks, was at one time a senior executive vice president at Riese Restaurants, which owned Hawaiian Tropic Zone in New York’s Times Square. It had well-publicized conflicts between its bikini-clad waitresses and its managers when it closed in 2010. The restaurant’s owner had faced a lawsuit brought by employees. Court documents show they agreed to settle out of court.
Salis said he was aware of that trouble prior to hiring Galler, and that he was satisfied that Galler “had not engaged in or tolerated any inappropriate behavior toward female employees.”
“Jamie went through a rigorous onboarding process like all of our senior leaders do,” Salis said, “and he passed with flying colors.”
Frelinghuysen said Galler would not be available to comment for this story.
Since it opened in 1976, Kramerbooks has become a neighborhood fixture known for its crammed shelves and late-night menu. Monica Lewinsky famously shopped at the store, and luminaries who visited over the years included Maya Angelou, Andy Warhol and Toni Morrison.
The property is undergoing a months-long renovation. Salis plans to build a new coffee bar, add events space and create a children’s annex next door. Salis, who co-founded &pizza with Michael Lastoria, has not been involved in its management or day-to-day operations since early 2015.
He said he had also anticipated some changes in personnel.
“It is inevitable that some longtime employees will not adapt to or accept change or new management,” he said.