Smack dab in the middle of beautiful Soho in New York City lies the Museum of Ice Cream, an Instagram-worthy “experience” that costs $39 to enter and is apparently an absolutely awful place to work.
An investigation published by Forbes Thursday paints a behind-the-scenes picture of the workplace terror that now seems to be standard at buzzy, girl boss-adjacent startups: outrageous surveillance, harassment, mismanagement. According to Forbes, Maryellis Bunn, the 28-year-old founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, created and fostered a hostile work environment. Unsurprisingly, Bunn “idolized” Steve Jobs, who for all his innovations and brilliant ideas, was also kind of a dick. Bunn’s interpretation of the Steve Jobs ethos played out only in her “obnoxiousness and compulsion,” which made for a very poor work environment.
Salaried, full-time employees were reportedly made to use ice cream nicknames instead of their real names at work and Bunn’s weekly town-hall meetings were called “Scream Sesh.” In these meetings, Bunn, whose preferred ice cream nickname was “Scream,” would publicly berate her employees about ticket sales, threatening to fire staffers if tickets did not sell out. Employees at the Miami iteration said that Bunn made derogatory comments about people’s weight, saying that shorts would not be an acceptable uniform because “fat people’s legs are disgusting.”
Part-time employees at Bunn’s Instagram-bait empire reported working conditions that felt unsafe: Employees were told they couldn’t go to the bathroom and Bunn streamed footage from multiple security cameras directly to her phone so that she could better monitor her employees in the New York City pop-up. That surveillance and Bunn’s management style, which trickled down to the managers at the various pop-ups, created a perfect environment for situations like the ones described by former part-time employees, who sent an anonymous letter to Forbes on June 14, detailing their grievances.
Several workers also said they were expected to smile, sing and dance ice cream jingles for eight hours straight — without bathroom breaks. According to these staffers, budget tightening meant there often wasn’t enough staff to cover for anyone during a shift. “I have a chronic stomach condition and I had to explicitly say ‘I’m about to crap myself on the floor’ to get one of my managers to just take over scooping ice cream for me for five minutes,” says a longtime museum employee. “It was humiliating.”
Another hourly employee says that she needed to go to the bathroom to change her tampon, and had to announce over her radio walkie-talkie that she was on her period. She says she was instructed to “hold it.” Four hours later someone relieved her and by that point, she says, she had become nauseous and bled through her pants. She claims she later contracted an infection and that she wasn’t the only one to have a similar experience.
It’s pointless to be disappointed in the behavior of women like Bunn, who seem to think that because they are women with an exacting, singular, and unique vision, they are excused from treating the people that work for them with decency, respect, or an iota of human kindness. Start-up culture, which is laden with bros in fleece vests making money moves, is toxic. Bunn’s Museum of Ice Cream endeavor, is not dissimilar to the dust-ups at Away, the Wing, and Thinx. Though the most obvious common thread here is that these start-ups were all founded by women, that is irrelevant to the issue at hand which is, as ever, that they’re assholes.
Read the Forbes story here.