Doc Burnstein’s stickers are littered across AGHS, left by former employees who took what they could in lieu of missing paychecks. (Zoe Lodge)
Doc Burnstein’s stickers are littered across AGHS, left by former employees who took what they could in lieu of missing paychecks.

Zoe Lodge

What’s Up Doc? Part II: Closure

April 17, 2023

Previously on “What’s Up Doc?” we learned about the history and strong community presence of Doc Burnstein’s within the SLO County, specifically Arroyo Grande. In this chapter, we will investigate recent developments in the business and attempt to explain its closure.

As many Arroyo Grande residents now know, the parlor closed its doors in early February of 2023, leaving nothing but a small “Closed Indefinitely” sign pasted in the window. Posted along with the sign was an eviction notice, informing pedestrian passers-by of the business’s failure to pay rent. Similar signs and notices had been previously posted at the San Luis Obispo location and the Santa Maria parlor. 

There was no public announcement preceding any of the closures, the only indication or official announcement leading up to the closure was a letter to the shareholders of the company from Greg Steinberger, founder and shareholder of Doc Burnstein’s.

“A customer told us [that the shop was closing] through an email that they sent out only to the shareholders, not even my supervisor knew about it,” Parker Violette (‘24), former Doc Burnstien’s employee and AGHS student said.

Other employees recalled having found out about the closure first through customers, then later through supervisors and higher-ups.

“I didn’t even know, the customers had found out before… the people that work there,” Gianna Marsalek (‘25) said. “On Friday, when we were closing, [our shift lead] sat us all down and told us everything, and that’s when… we realized we were losing our jobs. The next day, Saturday, was supposed to be our last day. And so I woke up… I read a text from [my manager] saying, ‘Hey, we actually close today.’”

Following the simple posted message of closure on Doc Burnstein’s doors was an eviction notice, providing locals with some insight to the struggles the business had endured. (Melih Cevik)

The manager at the time of closure and who had been with the parlor for about two years, Chelsi, was equally as surprised.

“We started to have supply issues over the last 8 months, but we were always assured that the AG Docs was not going anywhere, so it was a little bit of suspicion but we were also blindsided,” Chelsi said.

According to Steinberger and various employees, signs of trouble were present within the company since David Long and Aulon Arch’s takeover in 2019.

“We were not told what was going on for the last four years, three years. Especially the last three years and David Long is the founder and CEO of Aulon Arch. After the first lawsuit in the summer of 2022, he announced to shareholders that he was stepping down as CEO and that they were going to dissolve the position, and he has been unresponsive to shareholders since 2019,” Steinberger said. “That is actually against California law, to withhold information from shareholders and to not have shareholders vote for the Board of Directors. A corporation is supposed to be run much like Congress. Shareholders vote on the Board of Directors, the Board of Directors oversee and manage the business and they’re supposed to be elected every year by the shareholders. [Long has] just simply refused to acknowledge shareholders and do what is responsible and required by corporate laws. The California Department of Financial Protection has been investigating for two years, they have done nothing that we know of to address the situation.”

In addition to the lawsuits and closures in other locations, like Sacramento and Kettlemen City, following the changing of hands, Doc Burnstein’s slowly began to suffer ice cream, supply, and eventually rent shortages. 

“We had ice cream shortages all the time… we were down to three maybe four flavors in a case for weeks at a time. We had to deal with those customers you know, obviously angry as they should be, I would be angry having to listen to these comments of like ‘how does a f**king ice cream parlor run out of ice cream’ and [people were] cussing and mad all the time, and it was understandable but it takes a toll on the people working there,” Violette said. “It was very hard having to deal with all those [angry] customers.”

“[Our manager] would have to go to the store on her own with her own money and buy us supplies [spoons, cups, napkins, straws, etc],” Carrington said.

Colgan reported additional negative experiences with angry customers. She was shorted tips or yelled at by unhappy patrons largely due to factors that the young staff could not control.

Doc Burnstein’s in Arroyo Grande was a frequent employer of AGHS students, with several local high school students on the payroll leading up to the company closing its doors.

The employees of Doc Burnstien’s, including these students, did not receive their final paychecks. Some were unable to cash their second-to-last paychecks, reporting that the checks they had in possession then bounced.

“The week or two leading up to the closure, I was thankfully able to get some contact back from the previous director of operations who had already put in their resignation. That is when the owner/CEO [Long] went MIA and wouldn’t return anyone’s attempts to contact about their bounced checks etc,” Chelsi said.

“David [Long], the [CEO], cleared the bank, took the money, and ran,” Capri Carrington (‘25) said.

Long, and the Doc Burnstein’s account, still owes the Arroyo Grande crew a considerable sum. Carrington reported to be missing her final $400 paycheck, Marsalek didn’t receive over $50, and their manager is reportedly out around $3,000. The former employees will supposedly be receiving their missing checks once the sale of the business is finalized, which will be detailed in the third and final chapter of this series.

“I’m just a high school student, I just really need gas… but there were people who were dependent for rent and their bills and their groceries,” Violette said.

The lack of notice ahead of time was difficult for employees as well, leaving them with no job, no paycheck, and no two weeks to find further employment, as many jobs either require or grant their former employees. 

Steinberger was disappointed to hear what had happened to the former employees following the closure of Doc’s and the draining of the business’s funds.

As of March 6, 2023, the Doc Burnstein’s website was inaccessible to all web browsers, a bad sign for the future of the business. (Zoe Lodge)

“That is by no means what Doc Burnstein’s stood for, and it’s heartbreaking to know that that’s what happened to it,” Steinberger said. “Our guiding principle [for the shareholders] is we don’t want [Long] to walk away with money while employees got shorted their paychecks, so that’s the basis of any negotiation.”

This negotiation was made particularly difficult by Long and his team’s lack of communication with former employees and shareholders. The Aulon Arch website has been down for several months and Doc Burnstein’s site since mid-March. Many members of the Board of Directors and Long’s team were unresponsive to employees, shareholders, and the media.

“There was no one we could contact, like even our Director of Operations [Czarina Taylor]… she would never contact anyone back, she would never answer a phone call,” Violette said.

Even in the summer months when Colgan was working with the company, there was a noticeable lack of communication with higher-ups in the company.

“We had no real communication with anybody in production. The only person that we had was my manager,” Colgan said.

As time went on, it became more apparent to both employees and shareholders that David Long did not have Doc Burnstein’s best interests at heart.

“In my opinion, [Aulon Arch] was misleading [Long’s] investors. Since before he became involved with Doc Bernstein’s as a shareholder he actually misrepresented the value of their investments for years,” Steinberger said.

The cherished community-based aspect of the company slowly began to vanish following 2019 as well, with fewer fundraisers, no more student scholarships, doing away with employee enrichment days, and the disruption of the quality of the product.

The downtown San Luis Obispo parlor locked up an eviction notice and the smiling “mad scientist” Doc Burnstein’s mascot. (Zoe Lodge)

Following the closure of the San Luis Obispo parlor after eviction, Doc Burnstein’s had to find a new, temporary location to make their ice cream, as their original Grover Beach creamery had already been shut down.

“We had to scramble and find another company to get us our stuff… They had a lot of issues with their ice cream as well, they were creamery based but there were chunks of margarine or curdled whey, which is a powder they use in ice cream and dairy products. It was nothing dangerous towards a customer, but definitely not pleasant to have if you’re eating ice cream,” Violette said.

This led to more customer complaints, and the permanent closing of the parlor followed shortly after.

“People who were closer to [the company] and knew what it used to be saw this coming for quite some time,” Steinberger said. “That was actually our first value statement, as a business from the day it was founded, was that we would maintain the highest quality possible, and that value was not adhered to by the new owners. And in my belief, when you degrade the quality of your product or your business, it’s the beginning of the end.”

Stay tuned for the third and final part of “What’s Up Doc?” where we will discuss the future of Doc Burnstein’s, David Long, the local employees, and the long-standing traditions surrounding the business.

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