City Desk

More on Murky

Murky Coffee on Capitol Hill yesterday received a visit from authorities with the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. The revenue cops shut down the popular Eastern Market hangout at around 10 a.m., hustling out customers and taping notices to the cafe windows.

Murky, it turns out, owed some back taxes.

"It's like when you get caught speeding," says owner Nick Cho. "Was I speeding? Yes. Does this feel like bullshit? Yes."

"It was old sales tax stuff that we missed," Cho explains. "From there, the penalties and fines kept growing." According to court records, Cho's debt stands somewhere around $220,000. Though he knew something like Tuesday's seizure could happen, the chief barista was surprised by the raid. He'd been negotiating with tax officials, and though they were playing "good cop, bad cop" with him, he thought the talks were going well.

Cho hopes to re-open Murky in the next few days, and though he thinks the tax office went overboard, the coffeephile, whose crackerjack barista team recently took home a second place trophy in a Mid-Atlantic barista competition, mostly blames himself. "I've got to live up to my responsibility," he says. "That's all there is to it."

Rend Smith

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  • Mark

    I used to love Murky, but no more. Sales taxes are paid by consumers to businesses who then transfer them to the city. This money is used to maintain and improve city services. Murky took a lot of our sales tax dollars and decided to pocket them. THAT feels like bullshit to me.

  • Ben

    Mark has provided the 34,234,898th and final observation needed to prove the Internet news comment hypothesis: comments on news articles are indeed completely asinine.

    He's a small business owner who got caught up in running the business, neglected to pay some taxes at one point, and then made an effort to remedy the situation. There is no evidence to assign malicious or avaricious intent. If you boycotted every business that forgot a payment or cut a corner you'd quickly be free of all commerce.

  • Chuck

    Sales Tax is collected from every customer to go directly to the city on the 20th of every month. If you owe over $200,000 you obviously have not paid for at least two years. it's not "neglecting to pay some taxes at one point". What is asinine is Ben does not feel robbed when the extra 10% he paid was going into the owner's pocket and not the DC government as it should of.

    I for one feel betrayed and will never go there again.

  • Ben

    You have only "obviously" not paid for that duration if you assume the entire balance is owed taxes. And given the efficiency with which DC provides its services, I'm not going to weep over $200k in back taxes. With the interest and penalties, the city probably comes out ahead anyhow.

  • Nick

    There was negligence (though not willful), due to financial mismanagement. Once made aware of our negligence last year, we've been working with DC to live up to our obligations and recompense the city. Getting shut down on Tuesday was an unexpected shock though, but there's no point in my complaining about it now.

    Thanks for the support, and we're sorry to all, particularly those who feel betrayed. We're working with the DC DCRA to get reopened ASAP.


  • Joe Coffee

    Look folks, they screwed up big time, admitted it, are trying to fix it and the owner has said over and over again that they have been working with DC to fix it. Pay the money and let's get that Murky team back to work. I will admit to being biased as a Mury regular who thinks it's the best coffee I have had, but give them a chance to fix it.

    Doing business in DC is hard. Even when you are negotiating they'll close you down. Sometimes, even if you pay, some crazy lady steals the money and goes to Neiman's.

    Oh what a world.

    Nick, when you come back, and DC is satisfied, your regulars will be there.

  • David

    I have long been suspicious about whether Murky was forthcoming with their taxes. I am deeply suspicious of a high volume CASH-ONLY business in this day and age. I obviously don't have any inside knowledge, but hey, it certainly looks bad. Despite my love for their coffee, I stopped visiting Murky a few months ago due to my frustration (and suspicions) about their cash-only policy, and their snotty service. Unfortunately, the only place where I can get a decent espresso/macchiato/latte in this town is my kitchen. I find the whole tax-evasion issue quite in-line with their whole attitude.

    Anyway, if you're looking for a better cup of coffee and don't mind driving - i highly recommend caffe pronto in annapolis (they have a clover!) and 'spro coffee at the towson library. their barista, jay, is amazing.

  • David

    with a small-business, how can you be "unwillfully" negligent to the point where you owe $220,000. that strikes me as a) criminal or b) stupid. or more likely, both.

  • Steve

    I'm always suspicious of an all-cash business. In this age, even I can accept a credit card payment through PayPal.

  • Y.

    As a nearby resident, taxpayer, and some one who's worked for a small business, I hope everything is smoothed out with tax issues and Murky Coffee reopens soon without a hitch. While I'm sure fault isn't entirely restricted to either side, I just wish the best of luck to everyone, government or small business, working on clearing up problems and back payments.

  • Frenemy Alice

    I'm surprised to hear folks mention service problems here. I always find the team cordial and sometimes enthusiastic about the coffee. I'm not sure what the difference is, but I've enjoyed many trips to get my coffee there.

    Many businesses who have tight margins choose not to take credit cards because of the fees. With a low per-purchase average, the per-transaction fee they would pay under most merchant agreements would be prohibitive.

    Here's to getting right with DC and bringing back the best coffee in the area.

  • Mark

    Credit card fees are between 1.5% and 2.5%, so a 5 cent per cup price increase would cover it. I HIGHLY doubt that the cash-only policy is a margin issue. It's an "under the table" issue and they got nailed for it.

    While we're on the topic, there is nothing more frustrating in this day in age than a deli or convenience store that won't let you charge anything under $10. It's pure BS. The fees are a minimial percentage of the transaction. Since their average ring is under $10, it's their way to keep their transactions as 99% in cash without being blatantly "cash-only".

  • Anthony

    I don't care if they pay taxes or not - DC taxes us so much I'm surprised any businesses survive. It's cold out and they have the best coffee and hot chocolate on the hill. Hope they can get the money squared away and get back in business.

  • Tori

    They used to take credit cards at the Arlington location, and as far as I know the only reason they stopped was because of machine malfunctions. Also, as far as a 5 cent increase on coffee prices, why make the rest of us pay for your unwillingness to carry cash? Deal with it, and keep a $5 bill in your pocket. Sheesh.

  • Anthony Epp

    Mark, Steve, & David: You nearsighted-conceited-arrogant stupid mucking foron. Just because somebody chooses to go to an all cash system does not mean they are "family oriented" in some way. There are (or were) a whole chain of gas stations in the south east that are cash only. You save an average of $.08+ per gallon on your gas. They have an ATM in the corner for your inconvenience.

    My father got caught by similar circumstances in his business. He is the most honest man I know, to the point he had a hard time incorporating as it felt like he was "cheating" on some filings although he was completely within the laws. What caught up with him was that the jobs and tasks the people in the office were getting paid to do, weren't getting done, or done correctly. And now all of the sudden he is owing companies thousands of dollars. He was able to take care of things with the help of some very generous friends. But the whole deal is something he would have never been done intentionally.

    So if the small minded, holier than thou, contentious and malicious-waiting for someone to fall so they can kick them while they are down people would just find treatment for their "Cranial Proctitis" so they can remove their head from the warm moist environment it is in, and look at the situation like an human, that would be great.

    To those who the above paragraph refers to, GET A LIFE!!! you "oh so ever righteously indignant people. Let the man work to get his house back in order in peace.