Yellow Deli: Fresh Food with a Backstory

New Boulder deli operated by the Twelve Tribes. Is it a cult? Seems that way

Not long ago, my husband and I returned to Boulder hungry — and late. I had read that the newly opened Yellow Deli was open late (24 hours, it turns out), so we gave it a try. Behind the cheerful yellow curtains in the front window, it has a curious hippie look to it — rustic furniture, psychedelic-style art with inspirational messages painted on the walls and soft-spoken, pony-tailed waiters. Most of the tables were occupied, either with twosomes or small groups in low-toned yet animated converations or soloists with their laptops and a beverage or small bite.

When I read that the deli  is closed from 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoons until 12 noon on Sundays, I thought it might be run by some latter-day, ’60s-inspired group of hippie observant Jews — or observant Jewish hippies of some stripe. That didn’t exactly mesh with locations, not only in Boulder but also in Chattanooga; Vista, California; Island Pond, Vermont, and three places in New York State. I was mildly curious, but not enough to investigate.

The menu cover illusration seems taken straight from the hippie ’60s.

Even though I didn’t investigate the Boulder Weekly did. According to “Father, Son & Holy Toast” in the current issue, the Yellow Deli is operated by a group called Twelve Tribes, about which reporter Jefferson Dodge wrote, “The group is known for being a sort of hippie Jesus commune, one in which all members live together, have an equal voice, share the work and share the rewards, a community in which no one is rich or poor. They take biblical passages literally, believing that they should recruit others to their point of view, that adultery and the use of drugs or alcohol are wrong. Outside influences such as television and video games are frowned upon. The group reportedly wants to propagate extensively, so that there are 144,000 virginal males to serve as the bride of Messiah when Judgment Day comes.” I’m think the Weekly might have meant “virginal females,” but editor inattention aside, the real issues are what group is about.

The article is worth reading. The Twelve Tribes are an international confederation of religious communities founded in 1971 by one Gene Spriggs, who is known by his followers as as Yoneq. That alone says “cult” to me. I have no problem with religions that do not seek to proselytize, and the Twelve Tribes seems to only in a mellow, passive hippie way. Then again, so do the aggressive Christian fundamentalists behind Chick-fil-A, which is closed on Sunday and quite apparently occupies a far flank of the Christian right. FWIW, I liked Yellow Deli’s food but am less than comfortable with the group behind it, just like Chick-fil-A where I care neither for their mostly fried food-court fare nor for their far right politics.

But What About the Food?

At the Yellow Deli, my husband reported that his Rueben sandwich was very fine, as was my cranberry/cashew salad with greens, peppers, Havarti cheese and tomatoes. Coincidentally, I had eaten a similar salad at Mimi’s Cafe in Aurora (don’t ask!) earlier that very day, and the Yellow Deli one was far fresher and far better

My husband and I were both impressed with the quality and taste, but frankly, having read about the Twelve Tribes, I’m thinking we probably won’t be going back. Neither of us has much truck with cults. I didn’t take pictures of the food, because when we left the house for Denver, I didn’t expect that we’d be going out to eat. I took the shot of the sign a few days later.

The Yellow Deli on Urbanspoon

19 thoughts on “Yellow Deli: Fresh Food with a Backstory”

  1. Hi Claire, great meeting you last week at Colterra.
    Nice website.
    FYI, on the Yellow Deli piece, the biblical prophecy does refer to “virginal males,” not females. Strange, I know.
    Hope to see you soon,

  2. It is the aim of the Twelve Tribes community to obliterate all independence (thought, action, freedom of movement, opinions, access to information, access to families) and to drive them into a hopeless, dispirited, gray herd of robots. They have lost all personal ambition, are easy to rule willing to obey and willing to exist in selfless slavery to the Elbert Eugene Spriggs (the leader).
    – Former Member

  3. my son lives there with this cult. They turn their members against their rela family, our son will not even talk to us and does not think we’re his family. They think blacks should should be slaves. They do not allow any freedom of the members and are a high mind control cult listed in the registery of cults. They do not allow there children to pretend or play. They do not allow any freedom of thought they have many mind control tactics.If you eat at their delis you are supporting the abuse of their children and the stealing of loved ones from families that love and miss them.
    dawn kubart

    and they think the world is evil. They have taken our son from us.

    1. Having read about other cults and also the Boulder Weekly feature, your comment saddens me but does not surprise me. I had intended just to write about the food but not about their beliefs or practices (other than the sabbath closing), but the details I’ve learned are such that I’ve never returned.

  4. I’m a former member. I love the group, the community, even the long ardous hours. I miss the community a lot.

    However I disagree that it’s a cult. Or that it’s controlling. We all made a choice to go willingly. We all can make a choice to reject that way of life and return to the world.

  5. I also am a former member, and I do not agree that the community thinks the world is evil in the sense that you are saying at all. In fact, they believe that no matter what religion you are in you are judged only by your actions. They do not condemn anyone, they only want to help people find a family and a place to belong. It’s interesting to note that those who are making such irrational “observations” about The Twelve Tribes have had few or no interactions with community members, and are making their arrogant judgements solely by word of mouth. I think it is rude and distasteful to make such a review on the hard-working and earnest people there who are trying to provide for their families.

  6. If the “community” was so incredible – then why did you both leave? We just moved from Cambridge, NY, and have personally experienced The Twelve Tribes “cult.” So I’m not speaking, “solely by word of mouth.”

  7. There are many religious groups who chose to live in community and to separate themselves from the outside world (think Amish). It is always easy to point fingers at the theological beliefs of others and I find the comments here to be small minded.

    We ate at the Yellow Deli this weekend. The food was great and priced right. I had the heart stopping Lambwich, a delicious combination of egg, cheese and gyros style lamb all on a perfectly fresh kaiser roll. My husband had the Reuben and it was fantastic. Another at our table had the Garden Chicken sandwich: a generous portion of sliced chicken, fresh vegetables and good bread. The coffee was good enough that we commented on it.

    Seems that others agree that the food is good because the place was packed on a Sunday afternoon. The folks in our group were well aware of the religious beliefs of the community before we ate there. I guess we are all just more tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. We will definitely be going back!

  8. It’s not “small-minded,” if you’ve been personally subjected to their cult mentality. You sound like a self-entitled, bleeding heart liberal. Go ahead, though, and congratulate yourself for being more enlightened than the rest of us “small-minded” morons. I’ll bet you also “heart” racial diversity – yet you’re the first to scream “Death Penalty!” when an “African-American” burglarizes your bungalow.

  9. Hi Claire,
    Didn’t know you enjoyed drugs and adultery. I don’t like the Tribes either.
    But I find your far-right conservatism and fundamentalist bashing interesting;
    hypocritical. Seems like you’re doing the same thing they are. Bashing others,
    and trying to recruit people to your own point of view. By the way, I think they
    are a cult also. I lived there about a year and got to know the people and lifestyle
    better than you’ll ever be able to do, and ever be open-minded enough to do.
    Why not focus on the food and restaurants and leave people’s beliefs out
    of your interpretations. I could write a book about there problems and failures
    as a community, but when it’s all said and done, those literal bible believers
    seem much nicer to me than you do, Clair.

    1. Chris – I don’t “enjoy drugs and adultery,” and I am not trying to “recruit” anyone to my point of view. It is very difficult to separate the restaurant from the group (and yes, I believe that the Tribes are a cult — as do you).

  10. I just visited the farm in Raynam. I had never even heard of these people and I have to say, it was the most beautiful outward expression of love, life, dance and truly a group of people who spend a lot of time working on themselves. When I saw a 4 year old stand up on “Shabbos”/Sabbath day and say that she did not want to live for herself, but to be selfless and help others just like their master Yshuah did, I was really blown away. it’s one thing to give Tzedakah, do charitable deeds, use a prayer book, go to services, it’s quite another to spend your life working on interactive relationships with those who live with you all the time. The children really were happy and purposeful and healthy and joyous. I think it is hard for most unfortunate secular, aimless Americans to understand this way of life. I have lived in our Religious Jewish communities for years and really aside from the Yashuah component, and sharing everything communally, all of observant Judaism is about the Yolk of Heaven and being nullified to the will of Hashem, of G-d. There is modesty of dress, of speech, of the media. It makes sense. It’s mostly garbage out there these days. The amount of technology that people waste their time on everyday is sickening. I would rather dance and sing and eat homemade food from a farm of a people that joyously worship their creator, than to sit in a boring church service of any religion and then come home the same way afterword. Many secular, Americanized Jews or those in Israel think similar things when their children become Baalei Teshuvah…Returning to their faith,…They do not have the back ground to understand that there are certain things on the sabbath and in the Jewish way of life in general that cause them to have to make choices based on God’s Torah, the teachings of the way of life of the Jewish People. They will ask, “what do you mean you can’t use the phone on Shabbos…you always call…What do you mean you can’t eat in our house anymore? Now all of the sudden you are so religious? Our dishes aren’t kosher enough for you?” It is all the same. It is a familial sense of feeling left out of threatened by a way of life that seems foreign, when really it is ancient. The 12 tribes are not the same as being an observant Jew, but very similar in the heart of the things that matter most…what you expose your children to, how you live as a people and a cleaving to a higher purpose and power for the good of all. I believe that the same type of individuals exist in every religion. I do not see much difference in one joining the Priesthood or becoming a nun. Everything is taken care of, and you go where you are needed. You are a servant of the Lord. They all have to live together and get along and they don’t even have kids. So really….would we have so many homeless starving people in the world if we relied with Joy on one another for our support and not the stress of our own income to have to take care of only ourselves…Really free enterprise in many ways has been the downfall of communities. Every man for himself attitudes only go so far. Malka

    1. I am reluctant to approve this comment, because I believe that the 12 Tribes, who are situated in Raynham (not Raynam), Massachusetts, are a cult — and I don’t like cults. I also don’t like censorship, so I am letting Melissa’s comment appear. It goes way beyond the restaurant write-up that I originally posted — praising the freshness of the food but wary of the backstory.

  11. Well I am going to culinary school next year and I saw they were opening one of these delis here in our small town of Pulaski, tn and was going to apply until I found out I have to be a cult member to work here… Never mind!

  12. The main purpose of the communities is to try to eventually raise up the 144,000 celibate male evangelists as the “Twelve Tribes” mentioned in the Bible Book of Revelation. The members are taught that they alone are the “true Jews” “the chosen people of God” and only they are being forgiven by God. So there’s frequent punishment of children to “obey on the first command” with the hope that the children will always “obey without questioning and reasoning” and remain as adults in the Tribes, and raise up more obedient children, so the 144,000 can be born someday. They believe if they don’t produce the 144,000, then Jesus cannot return, and the Earth will remain under the control of Satan. They refer to all Christian churches as the Whore Babylon mentioned in Revelation. It’s interesting to note that the writing style in the original languages of Revelation is not similar to St. John’s writing style in the Gospel of John at all. When you are a Tribes member, you have to believe everything you are told to believe without question, it’s “apostolic” (from Apostle Gene Spriggs, “Yoneq”), if you don’t you will be asked to leave the communities. If your children are deemed to deserve punishment, they will be punished, whether you agree with it or not. You either punish them, or someone else will. I and other ex-members left the Tribes due to the Child Training Manual, and having to hit our children so frequently. I won’t get into the home circumcisions, required home births, and tight “swaddling” and “restraining” of babies, and medical neglect cases.

    CHILD PUNISHMENT is frequent and painful for even the slightest attitude or foolishness.
    Corporal punishment may be applied by any adult member with love.
    “The blueness of the wound drives away all evil.””
    (October 1980 Child Training -Notes from Teachers Meeting – Page 5)
    “Unless your son has blue wounds, by this standard, you know what kind of a
    standard is in you — it is the spirit that hates your son. If one is overly concerned about
    his son receiving blue marks you know that he hates his son and hates the word of God.”
    (No date – Execution of Justice – Page 1)
    “We must beat respect into our children. [Unraveling The Races Of Man]

    1. The one time that I ate in Boulder’s Yellow Deli, I figured it was some kind of cult. I had no idea what extreme behaviors and rituals the Twelve Tribes practice.

  13. I have been aware of the Twelve Tribes for almost 20 years. In my past, I have been approached by solo male members, and the group also have a catering presence at rock festivals in Australia. I have also been to the Yellow Deli in my city (well, a couple of hundred kilometres from Sydney) several times, and as recently as yesterday. Quite simply because the food is unlike any other cafe fare that I have experienced, the service is exceptional – ok maybe a bit slow – the prices are good enough to justify a 4-hour round trip, and the design of the premises is very soothing and close to nature.

    As an ardent non-believer in either old or new testament writings for my entire life, it’s a bit disappointing that I cannot join such a community, because by all accounts, the group ticks all of the boxes for me in what would be an ideal community to exist in. Free from greed, dismissive of corporate agendas, shunning the ridiculous distractions that the rest of us take for granted (TV, video games, being slaves to multinational marketing, living on processed food), I am a little envious of these men & women. In my opinion, they are living the dream.

    It’s quite unfair for the central discussion to revolve around ‘The C Word’ in most instances of diners giving a review of the Yellow Deli outlets, or to even deliberate on the community’s faith. Does anyone proceed to engage in blogs or discussions about Hinduism after dining at an Indian restaurant ? In Australia, one of the big, well known brands of breakfast cereals, vegetarian foods, spreads etc is wholly owned by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, arguably far more worthy of ‘Cult’ status than the Twelve Tribes group, yet rarely do we hear any discussion about this.

    There are absolutely no instances of genuine wrongdoing in reports that slander the Twelve Tribes, and those that exist on the internet will always refer to exploitative child labor practices and corporal punishment to justify the author’s ill-informed agenda. These are both fairly silly comments to make, and entirely without merit. I’m sure that anyone who was schooled prior to the 1980’s will remember being caned by their teachers, or smacked on the bum by their parents. This hasn’t resulted in any long term emotional scarring. As for the child labor, the Community’s response to this is worth a mention. As they are all part of a family, the Yellow Deli’s are therefore a family business. As with any small operation, particularly in catering/hospitality, it’s quite common to see the owners kids working in the business, learning the ropes etc. A neighbor of mine has friends who run thousands of acres of wheat, and their kids were operating five-tonne harvesters at the age of ten. Why… to learn the business ! It’s really not an uncommon practice, and it’s certainly not illegal as far as I know.

    We don’t necessarily need to question the faith of those who serve us food at restaurants, or examine the beliefs of the guy who pumps our gas. In fact, for the most part, we don’t… so it’s a bit unfair that Twelve Tribes are so often singled out.

    As a footnote, I’m intrigued about the number 144,000 that the about poster refers to. The only references to this that I have heard of (in modern religious practice) is in the Jehova’s Witness doctrine.

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