Coffee and Cults

 by Kit Fach

Run by an “end times” religious group, the Yellow Deli offers a unique environment that is open 24-hours to study, eat, and relax. It has the feel of a rustic farmhouse, with winding staircases, wooden furniture, and murals painted inside the two-story building. The 24-hour availability have made it a popular all-night hangout for people who enjoy the atmosphere. Former JP Catholic student Kelly Deaton, a frequenter of the Yellow Deli, says “When you enter, you feel like you’ve been transported to a whole other world.”

The Twelve Tribes, the group that runs the Yellow Deli, was founded in 1970’s Tennessee. According to their website, “Serving healthy food in the midst of a fried-chicken culture…was an immediate success. Finally, there was something different. We served luscious fruit salads, great sandwiches, fresh garden salads, and homemade desserts. Something about the warm, rustic atmosphere drew people like a magnet.” Expressed by their large farm in Valley Center, the Twelve Tribes believe in living the way the apostles did, in communities caring for one another. The group is not without critiques or issues. Starting in 2009, their branch faced large fines from the California Division of Labor Standards for not paying workers minimum wage. However, those who are part of the community receive housing and food in return for their work.

On Wednesdays, one will encounter Bible study in their Yerba Matte Tea Lounge. Workers often encourage customers to participate and read their pamphlets that use Kurt Cobain, Pink Floyd, and Bob Dylan to communicate their beliefs. They target these leaflets specifically to drug addicts seeking redemption. In addition, customers are often invited to weddings at their Valley Center Farm, where members live in traditional-style nomadic tents called Yurts.

The group has a mixed reputation around the city. Three people were arrested for an attempted kidnapping in June of 2015, in an attempt to retrieve a relative who was a member of the Twelve Tribes. They all claimed that their family member had been brainwashed by the group. Concerned parent Roxanne Rallins garnered a large reaction in the comment section of an older San Diego Reader article about the group. She accused them of brainwashing her son, using the fact that all Yellow Deli workers give up all possessions when joining as evidence. Members are not forced to stop contact with their families, but rarely leave the farm or deli, which causes worry amongst family members. Others such as Bill Starr spoke up for the group saying, “They have an impressive organization and do good works.” The Twelve Tribes themselves respond to the negative views about them on their website saying, “To those who were fearful that anything new must have some evil motive behind it, our cause immediately became suspect. To the-powers-that-be, the use of the word cult seemed to be the perfect weapon to dismantle our Movement and send us back to the pews.”

One former member, Gary Zuber, said, “A lot of people want to call them a cult. Well, I think they are, but they are a good cult.” While the community remains divided on the Yellow Deli, the place is continually packed full of eager patrons, intrigued enough to spend time waiting for a table.