Sqirl, an incredibly trendy and Instagram famous restaurant in Los Angeles, California, is quickly tumbling from grace as jam lovers are discovering that the secret ingredient in the restaurant’s pricey influencer-treasured jam is mold. According to Eater, former employees of Sqirl are whistleblowing on their time at the operation and claiming that the jars full of jam often contained mold, which they were instructed to just scrape off before serving it to customers. For context, Sqirl’s self-proclaimed “famed ricotta toast,” which is a toasted brioche slice with ricotta and jam, costs $9, no extra charge for the fermentation.
Sqirl’s founder, Jessica Koslow, was hailed as “revolutionary” in the New York Times for her work in putting rice in a bowl and adding healthy toppings, like vegetables. But Koslow’s empire was primarily built on a jam foundation. The jams, which are jarred and sold as special treats, contain all the buzzwords that strike up a vision of sunny Califonia living to the consumer. The jams, which can be purchased on a subscription basis for $180 a year, are described as organic, seasonal, and come in a variety of fancy-seeming fruit flavors, like rose geranium and Moro blood orange. “The jam is fragrant and not overly sweet,” the Times wrote in 2013 “and you want to eat it with a spoon.”
But alas, the fruit that glitters isn’t always gold (or mold-free). In response to an Instagram post from the restaurant’s account, promising to use Sqirl’s profits to contribute to criminal justice reform (the post has been deleted, but lives on here), comments began rolling in “regarding Sqirl’s hand in gentrifying its neighborhood, and the lack of diversity among Sqirl’s staff,” Eater reports. The mold accusations followed shortly thereafter; former employees allege that Koslow knew about the mold and instructed them to just scrape it off. Eater adds:
Aside from the confusion as to why jam, aka preserves, would develop mold so quickly, former employees also allege Koslow deliberately hid the moldy jam from health inspectors. At least one person alleges that it was because there was mold on a fan in the storage room, which would blow spores over the open buckets. But also, employees say they were repeatedly told it was okay to serve. “We were told that the health department gave us permission to scoop the mold off if it went two inches down,” said one former employee. Others say they were asked to hide the jam until inspectors were gone. Which all seems like a lot more work than making jam that doesn’t mold in the first place.
As if this couldn’t get any worse, Sqirl posted an Instagram story owning-up to the mold debacle and arguing that they have in fact served jam to customers that had been exposed to mold, stating it was fine to eat and that the mold was similar to the kind that could be found in cheese or dry-aged beef.
As Sqirl trudges its way through a jammagedon of its own making, former employees and haters of overpriced toast are taking the time to revel in the demise of a restaurant that slapped some fruit on bread and called it cooking. One anonymous worker alleged on Instagram that Koslow misled the health department into believing the jams were not made on-site in LA, writing that the jams were “hidden” during inspections.
Best of luck to the people of Los Angeles who now have to suffer the indignity of making their own toast and rice bowls. Know that your avocado toast cousins on the east coast are praying for you during this difficult time.
Update 3:59 pm: An Instagram user purporting to be a former employee has shared a photo they say depicts the bucket where employees deposited mold once scraped off the jam. The photo is here; click at your own risk.