The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

From behind the counter: Former Katora employee recounts struggles working at cafe amid financial woes

4 min read
An interior view of an empty cafe with lights and signs still on

The issue of pay inconsistency at Katora has some student employees feeling troubled and wary of future employment opportunities due to the owners’ lack of financial transparency. Norah Walsh | The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

As a college student, a job on campus presents great appeal, as it allows for a short commute from classes to work, flexible hours and connections with UMW students and staff. These attributes, along with my insatiable love for coffee and the open personality of the Katora staff, are what drew me towards them and are why I stayed on staff for almost two years. However, their pay inconsistency has rendered my main purpose there obsolete, for I am not willing to work for free or face continuing pay inconsistencies from a company that should be paying me. 

I started at Katora UMW during the fall 2022 semester at the beginning of my freshman year, and my experience started pretty well. I learned quite a bit when it came to making coffee and having prior food service experience really helped. However, there wasn’t a constructive training process; we were thrown in and learned as we went by watching other employees, hoping not to mess up when we tried. 

This past semester, there was a stronger sense of organization with a new set of shift leads who showed care for cleanliness and organization. Tasks were divided by employees to complete while on shift, which limited one person doing all the work or nothing getting done. Additionally, when it came to training, the employees adopted a system to help teach the new hires. Because of us, Katora was becoming a pretty constructive work environment.

Both Katora Coffee on Caroline St. and Katora Cafe UMW are run by the same owners. In general, it seemed like the businesses were prosperous as they rolled out new menu items and consistently tried to expand their business, such as incorporating Katora Events and The Lab. 

Katora Events and The Lab are run through the downtown Katora location and focus on the production of the arts. Poetry slams and artist performances take place there, and The Lab provides a music production and recording space for up-and-coming artists. 

The owners also promoted the arrival of new menu items that were never rolled out. They expressed to multiple employees that they wanted to incorporate new sandwiches to expand their services and would even buy the ingredients for said items, but their goals and instructions for serving the dish would be lost in translation, and they were never implemented on the menu. 

With such expansions, you would expect the business to be booming, yet that wasn’t the case as we started to see a delay in our pay. Our pay comes in weekly on Tuesdays, and in the past semesters I had worked there we had pay come in late by two days or so due to payroll not being submitted. This was never an alarming situation, just a normal occurrence that was a simple mistake. 

However, in spring 2023, our pay started coming in late, and it became a recurring issue. At the start of the semester, our first paycheck was late due to switching accountants—causing our paydays to be changed from every Friday to every Tuesday. But the stress and seriousness of this issue didn’t hit me until recently when we went two weeks without pay.

The week of March 19, we did not receive pay because we were not working over spring break, but before we were supposed to get paid for the next pay cycle, the other Katora employees and I received a message through our communication app, 7Shifts. The message came on March 25 and told us that we wouldn’t see our pay come in. 

In the message, we were informed that the semester had been a rollercoaster and slip-ups had occurred. Through word-of-mouth from other employees and no expressed rationality behind the owners’ slip-ups, I came to understand that we, as a company, were in debt. 

With little to no transparency or communication on the issue, coupled with three weeks since the last on-time paycheck, I found myself becoming more and more distant from the position I had once sought. This was a job I pursued because of its flexibility with my academic and extracurricular schedules, but due to the rising severity of pay inconsistency, it made me not want to continue at such an unreliable place. Like many other college students, the money I make goes to future expenses, so being paid on time is something I rely on to help myself budget correctly. 

When it comes to the issue of on-campus employment and its relation to Katora’s downfall I don’t seem to see a correlation. I have worked directly with the University through New Student Programs and have not experienced any issues of unreliability. Therefore, I see my experience at Katora as an issue of poor business planning by a company that has allowed their downfall to be brought onto their employees. As a result, this issue has me weary of continuing to work for any business, as I am unaware if something is going on behind the scenes that employees have no control over.