MINNEAPOLIS—Facing a litany of allegations ranging from questionable straw-dispenser refill practices to refusal to sell beverages to those purchasing food items at neighboring stands, Orange Julius officials were subpoenaed Monday to appear before the U.S. Food Court in Minneapolis.
The accusations are the result of a three-year federal inquiry into Orange Julius, the nation's leading vendor of foamy, fruit-based beverages. According to federal agents, Orange Julius employees were frequently observed giving improper change to customers; leaving doors of rotating, electrically heated pretzel carousels open for minutes at a time; and, most serious of all, funneling secret sauce to Manchu Wok.
Attorneys for the longtime frothy drinksmith said the charges are unfounded. "This is a witch hunt being perpetrated by a conspiracy of more powerful, sit-down-type restaurants that are threatened by our strong position in the food-court arena," Orange Julius attorney Ben Zimmer said. "Establishments like McDonald's and Taco Bell can't compete with the lure of an ice-cold, refreshing Strawberry-Banana Julius Smoothy, so they trump up a bunch of false charges."
Zimmer said that if Orange Julius loses the case, he will file an appeal with the World Food Court in Switzerland's Geneva Towne Mall.
Experts in Juliusian affairs said the charges could not have come at a worse time for the chain.
"This is not a good time for Orange Julius to be facing these charges, as it is weak from many other recent problems," senior U.S. mall advisor Len Carlyle said. "Heavy tray buildup along the Cinnabon border has left it extremely vulnerable on the 1 Potato 2 side. Crew chief Doug Wiersma resigned last month to accept a position with the Sunglass Hut, creating an internal power struggle among assistant managers. A number of locations have reported low worker morale as a result of severe hot-dog bun shortages. A hostile eatery would pick now to strike."
Orange Julius has also been hurt by several high-profile internal scandals. Last month, it was revealed that a 16-year-old female Julius employee was deliberately not filling drink cups all the way to the top for customers she found "annoying." On May 3, 1997, The New York Times reported that a 15-year-old male Julius employee permitted three Sbarro customers to consume pizza well within the Julius seating area. A later investigation revealed that the employee in question knew the three from fifth-period gym class.
"I am confident that, as always, Orange Julius will prevail," Zimmer said. "The foam always rises to the top."