comScore

Dozens accuse Urban Bean owner of harassment, bullying, threats, and violence

Urban Bean owner Greg Martin, pictured in the (now closed) Lyndale Avenue location in a 2014 file photo

Urban Bean owner Greg Martin, pictured in the (now closed) Lyndale Avenue location in a 2014 file photo Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

Situated at Lake Street and Bryant Avenue in Uptown-ish Minneapolis, Urban Bean Coffee is a convenient place for folks who want to sit down with a laptop and a latte and get some work done.

It’s also, according to a flurry of allegations that surfaced this week, owned by a man with a pattern of predatory and abusive behavior toward employees and customers. Since stories of mistreatment started circulating Tuesday morning, a half-dozen former employees and several customers who spoke with City Pages have volunteered stories of harassment and threats on the part of owner Greg Martin.

Many more have shared their experiences online. 

Allegations first surfaced when Minneapolis’ Nadirah McGill posted screenshots of a text exchange between a friend who was once an Urban Bean barista and Martin to Instagram. (Martin’s responses are in gray.)

That friend—who was 19 when she started working at Urban Bean—contacted McGill because she knew the Gully Boys drummer had a highlight on their profile called “Keep Mpls Safe.” The friend wanted to broadcast what McGill calls “horrendous and violent things that were happening at Urban Bean.”

In other messages shared with City Pages, Martin calls his ex-employee a "dumb shit hoe" and says things like "I still kill u."

“She was terrified that if she shared it herself ... he would hurt her,” McGill says. “She shared some screenshots and what I read broke my heart. When I shared her story, more folks came forward. I realized this had been going on over a decade.”

Since McGill posted the first story, their DMs have been flooded with messages accusing Martin of mistreatment of employees including verbal abuse, threats of violence, and wage theft. 

Among the most disturbing responses McGill received was a video in which Martin can be seen forcibly removing someone from the shop.

Be warned: The video below contains violence.

Customer Rebecca Power says she witnessed a similar incident at Urban Bean’s now-closed Lyndale Avenue location in 2012, after a woman came in and pulled her laptop out without ordering anything (although a barista had asked her to).

“Then the barista called Greg,” Power says. “[Martin] came to the shop within five minutes, walked straight up to the woman, who was the only person of color in the shop, grabbed her bag and backpack, and threw them into the street.”

“The thing that stands out most was how Greg’s behavior put myself and customers in some serious danger,” says former employee Natalie Krueger, who worked at the shop in 2012. “He would regularly brag about throwing people out of his shops.”

Krueger recalls one night in particular when Martin was called in to ask someone to leave and threw them and their stuff into the street. Later, the brother of the person ejected came to the shop, pulled a gun, and demanded an apology.

Krueger says working at Urban Bean was the most stressful job she’s ever had, and that Martin was a master of presenting two sides of himself: the cool, chill guy who bought drinks and showered her with compliments, and the verbally abusive boss. By the time she quit—less than a year after she started—she was having panic attacks every time she left the apartment for work.

“I would regularly wake up in the middle of the night to a dozen texts demanding I get back to him about the smallest problems,” she says. “He would quite regularly call us employees stupid. I witnessed him firsthand being particularly hostile towards the young cis women who worked for him.”

Madeline Scamp, another woman who'd worked at Urban Bean, said at times Martin would "be so fun," and generous, some days buying her breakfast.

Scamp also said "inappropriate texts late at night" were not uncommon. She received texts of Martin's selfies, images of him with other women, or invitations to join him out at night. "He occasionally invited employees to his home for drinks, aware that not all of his employees were of drinking age."

"There wasn't one shift that I worked with him that he didn't yell and become genuinely angry with me," Scamp adds. "For example, forgetting which alternative milk was ordered or whether a drink was iced or hot. Minor mistakes. I would be called a 'dumb hoe' or 'you are so fucking stupid' or 'I'm going to kill you.' It was terrifying and humiliating. He screamed at me in front of customers and in private."

Some iPhone-owning employees say that he would ask them to share their location with him, supposedly so that he could make sure they were at the shop during times when they were scheduled to work while he was not.

"He would send me photos of it when he didn't recognize where I was and be like 'why are you there, what are you doing,' etc. etc. etc.," said one young woman who started at Urban Bean when she was 19. (Many former employees asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.)

Several alluded to a dynamic with Martin that involved favoritism and bullying: "It was either be his friend or be his target," one said, "and I chose to be his friend. I was friends with him for survival."

"It was all very confusing and hard to digest," that employee recalled. "Yelling at me my entire shift, and then asking me to hang out after."

The verbal abuse noted in Urban Bean's reviews on Google and Yelp is corroborated by former staffers. "He has called me and CUSTOMERS 'retarded' multiple times to their faces for things like taking too long to grab their drink," one ex-barista said. "When I would make him upset (e.g. giving my friend a day-old pastry) he would threaten to fire me, kill me, or beat me. He would say, 'You think i’m fucking joking?'"

Employees also say Martin had a habit of withholding payment or stealing tips. Some allege they weren't paid for training or had checks withheld after they quit.

One employee says Martin “honed manipulation to a science.” He would verbally accost her at work until she cried, then tell her how great she was doing, how cool she was. She says he would threaten or assault men who flirted with her in the shop, and that she and Martin routinely met for drinks—both before and after she was of legal drinking age—where he would vent about his relationship problems.

“He’d say gross things about my body and my sexuality and my fluctuating weight often … he would threaten to hurt or kill us all often,” says the employee, who worked at both the 24th and Lyndale and Lake and Bryant locations from September 2017 through August 2019. “He would joke we were all his daughters, so it was a family business, which mitigated any unprofessionalism. He’d make jokes about my self-harm scars frequently. As someone who’s experienced childhood abuse (which he knew about), it was exceedingly easy to fall into his grooming and fiercely defend him at every turn.”

The behavior wasn’t limited to employees. One Urban Bean regular who lived down the street—young, naive, and new to the city—says more than once Martin gave her alcohol in order to take advantage of her.

“I had just turned 19 and he was 40,” she says. “This was in 2012. I went along with it because I didn’t know how to say ‘no,’ and I didn’t realize until later how predatory and problematic the situation was. I just remember feeling super icky about it, and he continued to harass me afterwards pretty relentlessly.”

Several other young women have reported being asked to meet Martin in the hopes of securing potential employment, then being made to feel uncomfortable by his behavior. Local freelance writer Kirstin Harrington was working at another coffee shop when her boss said he could set her up with a job at Urban Bean. The owner wanted to get drinks.

“Any time I brought up the shop or the potential job, he’d change the subject,” Harrington says. “He was incredibly flirty and unprofessional. I felt like I was being groomed.” She didn’t take the job.

Rebecca Power's unsavory Urban Bean experiences don’t stop with witnessing the violent removal of a customer; she too met with Martin in what was supposed to be a professional capacity in 2015. Then a web developer looking for work, she offered to manage the shop’s site to get some exposure. He suggested they talk about it during happy hour at Barbette.

“Within the first 10 minutes it was clear that we weren’t going to talk about the website but that this was a date,” she says. “I was very uncomfortable but sat through it. He ordered drink after drink and food and I sat there with water, not eating anything, trying to find a way to leave. I was 23.”

Nadirah McGill says they had no idea how big this would get or how many people would reach out to share their experiences when they posted their friend’s text exchange, but they plan to continue updating Instagram as more and more folks come forward.

“As a survivor of abuse myself," McGill says, "I will forever stand by victims and use whatever platform I have to amplify their voice.”

Calls, emails, and DMs to the Urban Bean placed Wednesday went unanswered aside from one text from Martin in which he said: “I’m extremely busy currently. I can’t be on the phone right now. Every time I try to call you or you call me someone walks in the door. My apologies.” We will update this story with a statement from Martin if and when we receive one.

Urban Bean’s Facebook has been deactivated.