Mast Brothers, the Brooklyn-based hipster chocolate company that faced an epic backlash in 2015, is at the center of another dispute. In a Medium post published yesterday, former employee Matt Robertson details numerous follies he claims he witnessed in his two years working for the Masts, including a claim that the Masts appeared to have no idea how to operate their own chocolate-making equipment.
The company, one of the most famous “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers that have emerged in the last decade, found huge success in the early 2010s as a poster child for the Brooklyn “artisanal” movement, collaborating with big names like Shake Shack to sell $8 bars of chocolate. In 2015, the bearded brothers, Rick and Michael, found themselves caught up in a whirlwind of bad publicity after Dallas-based food blogger Scott Craig published an investigative series alleging that, in the early days, the Mast brothers’ chocolate making was more conventional, using industrially made product that they melted down and re-cast into their own bars.
The resulting press storm resulted in a 50 percent year-over-year drop in Mast Brothers’ wholesale business, according to Robertson, a former sales rep. In part one of a two-part Medium series, Robertson calls Craig’s exposé “amusingly misdirected,” arguing that the Masts’ real problem was the way they mismanaged the business, calling them “maddeningly inept,” and saying they made workers’ lives “needlessly difficult... with their erratic directives.”
Robertson further says Rick made questionable business decisions in an attempt to emulate visionary tech icon Steve Jobs, and argues that the brothers “were never interested in the minutiae of growing a wholesale business,” instead focusing on lofty, whimsical ideas such as launching a quarterly magazine and a music festival.
Robertson also recounts the only time he saw the Masts make chocolate:
The production team had been struggling to meet production goals against faltering machinery and staggeringly high employee turnover rates (which was always the case at Mast). In an effort to prove to them just how easy their jobs were, the brothers came in to the factory on a Sunday when no one else was there, and set to work using state of the art machines that they had never before operated. The results would have been downright comical, were it not for the giant mess that the real chocolate makers had to clean up before they could get to work on Monday morning. The brothers’ entire output had to be scrapped for quality control reasons.
Reached via email, Rick Mast disputes the veracity of Robertson’s account, saying, “I’m disappointed he felt his Medium post necessary, but that is the way of the world and often the world is better for it. In this case, there isn’t a whole lot of truth to it.”
Mast says the company’s wholesale sales have “grown triple digits” since Robertson’s 2016 departure from the company, writing, “The fact that our rise in wholesale sales came after his departure in no way is a reflection of his poor performance as a sales rep.”
Despite disagreeing with some of Robertson’s version of things, Mast does express gratitude towards his former employee, saying, “I’m thankful that Matt has helped clarify to a lot of confused folks out there about our chocolate making practices and the fact that all of our chocolate is made from bean to bar, in-house. Matt was caught in the trenches during an unprecedented time. And as I recall, he gave us his best.”
He also notes, however, that it wasn’t Jobs but instead sculptor Donald Judd that inspired the shops’ minimalist aesthetic. “That said, you’d be hard pressed to find any product or store not at least a little influenced by Apple in one way or another,” he writes. “I think my wife will particularly find it hilarious that any one would compare me to Steve Jobs in any way possible.”
Robertson tells Eater via email that he decided to come forward with his story now because he “felt that Mast is a good example of what happens when a company loses sight of the wholesale customer’s experience,” saying, “It also seemed like a great opportunity to set the record straight with respect to all the negative press.”
Part two of Robertson’s account will be published on Medium in the coming weeks.
• Mast Brothers: An Insider’s Account of a Wholesale Debacle (Part One) [Medium]
• Mast Brothers: What Lies Behind the Beards [DallasFood.org]