When the Ottawa Citizen ran a story detailing the sequence of events leading to ZenKitchen’s sudden closure, I wanted to publicly support its owner, my friend and longtime supporter of the vegan community, David Loan, so I commented:
David Loan is a compassionate and ethical business person who was doing his very best to live up to all of his values through ZenKitchen. I’m sick to see something like this happen to him, and I’m hoping the community that has formed around ZenKitchen will offer him the support he needs through this difficult period.
One of the responses to my comment made me laugh out loud. (I actually did respond to it with LOL.)
Your definition of ethical is very different from others. Keeping the HST that the customers paid is a form of theft.
Yes, I’d say my definition of ethics definitely is different than others. The ethical code to which I hold myself is high. It goes beyond what’s merely legal or illegal, and encompasses how others should be treated, consideration for animals and the environment, with an overarching goal of limiting the harm that I cause to others. Ethics aren’t just about what the law says.
And, while I encourage others to consider the impact of their own actions, I don’t throw individuals under the bus for not meeting my personal ethical code, unlike many of the armchair commentators I’ve seen piping up in judgment of this situation.
Let’s be clear: It is not a good business practice to use the money you’ve set aside for HST to cover your business expenses. Nobody, ever, has said that this is the case. In an ideal world, this would not happen.
That it did is not something that I think it’s worth throwing David Loan under the bus for, when you consider it in the context of his intentions, and the good he has done as an employer, a business owner, and a citizen.
ZenKitchen by its very nature – a vegan restaurant – has reducing harm to animals and the environment, and improving the social fabric of our community, built into its core. This incredible restaurant – focused on fresh produce and whole food ingredients – has changed the hearts and minds of countless people about the potential of vegan food, a win for anyone who cares about animals. David, along with chefs Kyle and Caroline, deserve major props for their contributions in this area.
But the restaurant industry is hard, really hard. David fell upon a difficult time. He endured the break up of a business and life partnership, and the inevitable financial set backs that accompany that. Sales slowed, particularly last fall. (Another local gourmet restaurant, Domus, also closed this week stating the same cause, indicating that this isn’t a problem specific to ZenKitchen.)
He put all of his time and money into the business, trying to weather the storm. In trying to stay open and keep his team employed, he ran afoul of the CRA.
To me, it seems counterproductive to choose this moment to get onto a high horse and pass scathing judgment of David Loan, a person who every single step of the way has tried to do the right thing.
In an economy of McJobs, squeezing employees and suppliers, and producing worthless crap that people don’t need that also pollutes our environment and harms other people and animals, David Loan is not the villain. He does not deserve our hostility.
It is each individual’s prerogative whether or not they will support the campaign that’s underway to save ZenKitchen. I don’t pass judgment on those who choose not to, as there are so many worthy causes and initiatives to which one may contribute.
I just plead with people to keep their judgment in check, and remember the old adage “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Most of us will experience a fall from grace at some point in our lives (mine was six years ago, and it changed me forever), and I’m sure we all hope that when our time comes we’ll be met with kindness and empathy, rather than haughty indignance.
Many of us have done far worse than this. We aren’t that different from David Loan; none of us are perfect, and if you are, please accept my hearty congratulations.
I wish nothing but the best for David, Kyle, and the rest of the ZenKitchen team as they seek to rebuild and repay. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to build many more memories in your company. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make Ottawa a more compassionate and delicious place.