I visited a cult just 30 minutes away

Upstairs of the Yellow Deli. (Emma Barbernell)

Emma Barbernell | Writer & Photographer

March 18, 2024

It all started after a Sunday at the local farmers market.

I was making my rounds and stopped to try a juice sample, it was absolutely delicious: full of crisp citrus. The juice stand worker handed me a card and, on it said The Yellow Deli. Immediately, I recognized it; a few months ago I saw a video on a cult-run restaurant called the Yellow Deli.

Oftentimes I speak without thinking and when I recognized the card, I asked the man if it was the Yellow Deli as in the cult to which he responded, “You could call it that.”

I was intrigued on how their business has flourished with many different locations in different states, even countries, and if their loyal customers knew about all of their antics. So I decided to visit the location in Vista which is in San Diego County. When I arrived, I noticed a group of employees leaving their shift together. I went up to them and inquired if they worked there and if they enjoyed it. To which they said they loved it and shared to me about what they believed in.

What I found was that they are a group of people that follow “Yeshua” (Hebrew for Jesus) and they all live communally nearby. Shortly after my conversation with them, I went inside and took a few pictures with my camera. The employees seemed to be suspicious of me and when I was seated, my waiter made a comment that I sure must like taking pictures.

CULT CORRIDORS- Entrance of the Yellow Deli (Emma Barbernell)

My dad and I roamed around the two story, amber lit wooden infrastructure. All around were paintings and murals done by the members of the Yellow Deli with messages like “Love will find a way,” “Find common ground,” “Sustainable living begins with sustainable relationships,” and other hippie like messages. Some of the murals were a little unsettling as some of the faces of the farmers in the paintings were disconnected and almost uncanny. They played folk instrumental music that they recorded themselves.

All of the workers were white, and the women were wearing very modest clothing with no defining accessories. The men had long beards and man buns.

Deeper in the building, there was an older member sitting at the tea bar. When I went over to take more pictures, I started up a conversation with him and he explained to me about their foundation. They are called the Twelve Tribes, and are an “organization” (cult), founded by Elbert Eugene Spriggs Jr. They live together, in a few houses in their cluster of community near the delis or farms. Each morning, they gather where they worship. Most importantly, they all work together, either in the deli or in one of their farms. They are not paid wages, instead they each technically own a part of it and use the income from the delis for the common. He also mentioned to me that when they come into the Twelve Tribes, they are given a new name. His name was after an animal in Hebrew. He explained to me that when you join, you receive a new name because you don’t know who you truly are. At the end of our talk, he told me if I ever wanted to I could work on one of their farms.

Are you ready for your awakening with a sandwich on the side? (Free Awakening)

In theory this cult is not such a bad idea, if you lack individuality and need a place to stay. However, it’s an all or nothing situation. If for any reason you try to leave, you have nothing. No house, savings, job, family, car, or community.

Now I know, you must all be wondering, is their food good? We ordered two sandwiches (the Reuben sandwich and the Deli Rose) and were also given a free juice (Mango Mate) with the card I gave my waiter from the farmers market. For the workers not being paid to work there, the food was pretty damn good. Fresh and full of flavor. Despite the unsettling atmosphere, if I had never known they were a cult, I’d come in here for a bite. For dessert, I ordered a carrot cake after asking a few employees about what to get.

My waiter, a very kind man, brought me two extra desserts for free. The cream cheese pie with fresh strawberries and the warm persimmon pound cake were lick-the-plate-good. The carrot cake…not so much. My dad and I talked to him a lot about his story and how he came to join. He told us that he was introduced to it by a friend and originally thought it was a cult. In the end he joined and the friend who introduced him left saying it was a cult. He said he enjoyed being taken care of and by giving up their “individualized life” for each other that the greater good is served and no one is left without their basic needs.  At the end, he gave us our bill and invited us to his wedding.

I will not be attending his wedding.

For more information, read CU Boulder’s investigation, where the journalists go undercover. In the second article, they interview ex members.

About Emma Barbernell 11 Articles
Emma Barbernell is a junior and first year newspaper photographer and writer at SCHS. She prides herself in being a thrift master and spends her time dirtying her hands in the Goodwill bins. On an off day you might catch her looking like Adam Sandler, or if you're lucky an off duty model. You can also find her low balling questionable resellers at any of the local flea markets. When she's not getting deals you can find her long boarding at San-O, rock climbing, collecting vinyl, cooking, arguing with her parents, lifting, hammocking with her dog, and learning guitar from Lindsay Coulson. After high school, she plans to see the world and take pictures while doing it.

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