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The Museum of Ice Cream’s Not Only an Instagram Fantasy, It’s Also a Nightmare Workplace

A new report from Forbes alleges an environment of abuse created by founder Maryellis Bunn, in which hourly employees weren’t allowed to wear coats outside in the winter or go to the bathroom for hours during shifts

A woman in a swimsuit lies on her back in the ball pit at the Museum of Ice Cream in New York City. Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Museum of Ice Cream was the place to be for those who wanted nothing more than to jump into an enormous pit of oversized plastic sprinkles with a host of strangers, and post about it on Instagram. For nearly $40 — considerably more than the ticket price at most museums that show actual art — customers could take endless selfies in the ice cream-centric “museum.” There’s a room consumed by fake pink bananas hanging from the ceiling, and a wall of pink dial phones, if you’d like to follow Kim Kardashian’s lead.

Here, everything is pink, everyone is happy, and, as it turns out, pretty much everything is fake.

On their site, the MOIC describes this millennial pink fever dream as a place where “unicorns are real and every day starts with a swim in the sprinkle pool.” But according to a new Forbes report, the company’s claims could not be further from the truth. The museum is currently closed due to the pandemic — who wants to jump into a pit of sprinkles at the moment? — but as the museum plans its reopening, hourly and salaried employees alike lay out a pattern of abuse and disrespect, stemming from the company’s founder.

Maryellis Bunn, who founded the Museum in 2016, required everyone at the company to take on an ice cream nickname, according to the report. “Banana Split” or “Mint Chocolate Chip” would have worked for me, but instead Bunn gave herself a more apt nickname: “Scream.” And scream, she allegedly did. In one company meeting, what Bunn called a “Scream Sesh,” she threatened that if an upcoming event did not sell out, the involved employees’ jobs would be on the line, according to Forbes. Life at corporate headquarters was so unpleasant, employees say one room became unofficially known as the “crying room.”

Employees at the company’s headquarters told Forbes that Bunn would rip up their work, call them “pathetic,” and in one striking case, she reportedly told a designer to rework a staff uniform featuring shorts because “fat people’s legs are disgusting.”

If employees at the company’s headquarters had it bad, hourly employees had it worse. As a cast of celebrities and influencers traipsed through the New York and San Francisco locations snapping photos and sharing with millions of followers, staff at both MOIC locations were working in hellish conditions. On June 14, Forbes received a letter from “Many Melted Scoops,” a group consisting of one-fifth of the flagship museum’s hourly employees, outlining the toxic work environment Bunn had created.

Included in the Forbes report is the account of one employee with a chronic stomach condition, who had to tell her manager she was “about to crap myself on the floor” before she was relieved of her ice cream-scooping duties to use the restroom. After announcing by walkie-talkie that she needed to change her tampon, another employee was forced to wait four hours before she could do so. By the time she made it to the bathroom, she told Forbes that she’d bled through her pants, and later got an infection.

In addition to being denied bathroom breaks, employees were often expected to “smile, sing, and dance ice cream jingles for eight hours straight,” the report says. Employees were reprimanded using a point system that docked them for everything from an untied shoelace to missing work for being sick — even if they could provide a doctor’s note. “If we were sick, we were still expected to come even if we were handling food. Or else we get strikes, and then three strikes, you’re suspended,” Chris Statzer, a former employee, told Forbes. These claims are deeply disturbing in the best of times, but even more so as the company plans its reopening during a global pandemic that has taken a serious toll on service industry workers. Not to mention, the signature sprinkle ball pit seems a perfect environment for the deadly coronavirus to spread.

In response to Forbes’ investigation, the company denied allegations of wrongdoing, and made the following statement: “We stand for inclusivity, connection and imagination at Figure8 and Museum of Ice Cream... Although we may disagree with many of the statements made by the anonymous sources for this article, we are committed to looking for ways to grow and improve in how we live out our values in the day-to-day.”

The company’s success, despite its many deep-rooted issues, puts on display the relative ease with which white business owners and entrepreneurs raise money and gain recognition for questionable enterprises, while business owners of color often struggle to attract investors and raise funds. Though according to Forbes the museum had a total revenue of $10 million over its four years of existing, two investment firms infused the business with $40 million last year.

As the Museum plans its reopening, it’s hard to imagine joyously walking through the space taking selfies and eating ice cream, knowing what really goes into crafting the experience. In its signature bright-pink, the company’s website describes ice cream as “a universal symbol of happiness, a vehicle for imaginative wonder, and a powerful force to bring people together.” It seems that so far, the magic of ice cream hasn’t done a whole lot for the company’s work culture. It’s going to take a lot more than rainbow sprinkles to fix the Museum of Ice Cream.

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