The Yellow Deli- A Cult Disguised As A Sandwich Place

The Yellow Deli- A Cult Disguised As A Sandwich Place

For legal reasons, all the details outlined below are “alleged”, unless otherwise stated.


When thinking about cults, the typical image that comes to mind is something reminiscent of The Manson Family, Jonestown, or the Love has Won cult. Gatherings of people who participate in activities that are dangerous to themselves and others. People who live out in fields and “communes”, who are isolated from society and believe in some strange God. We think of cults as something obvious- not subtle, not convincing, and something that someone would have to be deranged to join. We don’t think of cults as being smart, conniving, and business-like. We hardly remember that in order for a group to gain a large following, they have to be convincing in their ideology. That outright stating their beliefs would surely drive new members away. That the members themselves were targeted by the cult- and were likely people who were physically or emotionally vulnerable.  We forget that in order for anything to function, it needs money.  

The Yellow Deli has nearly thirty locations, ranging from Buenos Aires to Japan- most of its locations  being centered in the United States.  The restaurant serves a variety of sandwiches, made from homemade bread, veggies and fruits grown by the owners, along with meats grown and caught by the restaurant themselves. They serve a variety of drinks and teas as well- along with desserts that many reviewers have declared “magical”. The restaurant interior is fashioned out of repurposed wood, and provides a feeling that one commenter had described as “[stepping into] a fantasy book or movie tavern”. Murals line the walls, detailing groups of people around a campfire, or the founding story of the company itself. Upon first glance, nothing is out of place.

But then you notice the staff- mostly men,  all of whom have beards and long hair tied back in a bun. That same mural detailing the founding of the company speaks about a “Utopia” that was impossible to create, and the need for everybody to “come together”.  None of these things are necessarily off-putting, until you notice the “Free Papers’ ‘ on the side of the countertop- papers detailing the religion of the “Twelve Tribes’ ‘.  That’s when you realize that there are almost no other patrons in the restaurant besides yourself. You then realize that most of the locals avoid this place, and for a good reason. At this point, you realize you walked into a cult’s sandwich shop.

The Yellow Deli has long acted as a front for one of the most prominent cult’s in the United States- The Twelve Tribes of Israel (hereafter referred to as “The Twelve Tribes’ ‘). The Twelve Tribes was first established in 1972, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by Elbert Springs. Springs founded the community out of intense dissatisfaction with the current religious movement within America, and preached his own idea of what a religion should be like. Springs soon gained followers, and would later operate out of his home, by creating a coffee shop named “The LightHouse”. The group would later buy multiple properties, and create The Yellow Deli, which would become one of the group’s “discrete” recruitment methods.

The Yellow Deli is seen as an often unassuming restaurant- one that promises affordable, homemade food in a pleasant atmosphere. However, during the meal,  if the restaurant staff decides to peg you as a potential member, they try to ease you into the ideology. According to various sources, a member of the staff will approach the customer, asking questions such as “where are you from” and “where are you going,”- questions that seem like normal small talk, which leads the patron into asking them questions as well. If asked the question, “What is it that you guys do?”, they begin to answer by touching on the topic of their religion. If asked clarifying questions about what they believe in, they inform the patron about the Twelve Tribes, and the beliefs of the community.

According to the Twelve Tribes website, they believe in the “Master”, Yahshua (the original Hebrew name for Jesus), and his teachings; part of which is living in a “community” with other believers. This apparently entails for believers to “forsake everything he has for Yahshua…”, which will then allow for them to live in a “radical new society”- one which evidently leaves members isolated from other communities.  The Twelve Tribes have set up multiple “community homes” across the U.S and other countries, where members partake in various jobs to create a source of income. The members partake in farming, factory working, and restaurant maintenance- all of which help supply both their various businesses and community.  According to their website, working in this fashion is meant to bring the community further together whilst they also supply their business pursuits.

The community apparently follows a mixture of Messianic-Hebrew culture and Christianity, inspired by their founder’s belief. According to an entry from (where it seems that members of the community wrote their own page entry), the group follows “strict moral codes”, which force members to “submit to the hierarchical authority that descends from God through Yoneq, the Elders, the Teachers, the Fathers, and the Mothers, to the Children.”. A portion of the teachings, it seems, drives members to believe that the community is being prepared to become a “bride” for Yahshua to “marry” (which in cult speak, means committing suicide en masse), and therefore, they would need 144,000 virgin males to be born within their community, where they would be considered “martyrs” after being slain. The number “144,000” is often shown as having significance in organized religions, due to its reference in the Bible, in Revelations 14, where  “no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. [4] These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.”. Revelations in the Bible speaks of the apocalypse, and this verse describes the need for 144,000 virgin men to be slain to reach Heaven.

Furthermore, the community has stated on a number of occasions that they do not spread hate- as it goes against their beliefs. However, several situations have occurred that refute these claims massively. According to numerous sources and accounts from ex-members (all of which are linked at the end of the article) the Twelve Tribes is evidently queerphobic, racist, and abusive towards children. According to ex-members, the community teaches of the need for non-white, primarily black, people to be subservient to the white race, even going as far as to justify it through religion- specifically, though one passage in the Bible:  Genesis 9:20-25 (in this passage, it describes the “Curse of Ham”- a passage long used by members of the KKK and other hate groups to justify slavery and the lynching of racial minorities). In fact, in a video by the youtuber Anthpo, where the vlogger and his friends infiltrated the Twelve Tribes, some members stated that they “knew” people whose grandparents were slaves, and “loved it”. The group has also been known to be racist towards other racial minorities, but focuses primarily on black people.

But, unlike their racism, the group has had a harder time hiding their queerphobia. On their website, the group stated,  “We do not approve of homosexual behavior. We do not regard it as a genetic variation, a valid alternative lifestyle, or a mere psychological quirk. We embrace what God says on this subject without regard for political correctness. Homosexual behavior is immoral and can be mortally dangerous.” and proceeded to “justify” their beliefs through religious quotes (Leviticus 18:22 and Corinthians 6:9- both quotes often used by hate groups, and both quotes that have proven to be mistranslated). Furthermore, the founder of the group had gone on record to say that “All gays deserve to die”. Ex-members of the group have also stated that the group boasts about their “former gays”- stating that they managed to convert gay people to be straight. The group has not yet commented on their status on trans-people and nonbinary people- but it can be assumed that they also are intolerant of them as well.

However, the group still continues to deny their status as a hate group, despite their practices being proven to fit the exact definition of one. But what is nearly impossible for them to deny is the fact that the group face numerous accusations of child abuse- to the point where Germany seized an entire sect’s children due to the issue. The Twelve Tribes make their money through various business pursuits, as stated before. Many of these pursuits involve intensive labor and factory work- which the group often forces the children to do. These tasks are often centered around their soap making business, in which children would be involved in making and packing soap, along with maintaining the equipment necessary for the operation. Furthermore, children (as in, anybody below the age of 18 who can walk) are often seen performing various laborious tasks in the community’s farms- tasks that would be considered back-breaking for even adults. 

While the use of child labor may not seem off-putting to some, the continuous beatings and emotional abuse of children is. The group has defended themselves against the accusations of child abuse by stating that they simply spank kids to keep them from becoming “mean spirited”- but it has been proven numerous times that the group does not only spank kids, but rather beats them into submission. In a report about the Twelve Tribes, specifically about their children, it is seen that the group uses a bamboo-like rod to beat their children, despite the child having no evidence of wrongdoing. According to various sources (all cited below), the group apparently sporadically beats the kids into submission, in order to teach the children to not disrespect their parents. This practice has proven, multiple times, to be incredibly ineffective, and will only cause the children to develop issues as they grow into adulthood. Unfortunately, due to the nature of these allegations and various lawsuits, I am unable to speak further upon this issue. I have instead linked various images and videos of the “alleged” abuse instead, including various articles concerning the death of children within their compounds.

Issues concerning the group are still ongoing. As of right now, it is unclear whether or not anything can or will be done about them, despite the numerous allegations. It is important to state this, however:  Nobody just joins a cult simply because they’re evil. Groups like the Twelve Tribes have proven to be extremely predatory towards individuals- specifically, individuals who are under momentous amounts of stress, going through extreme hardship, and are emotionally or physically isolated from others. It is important to remember that in order to gain a large following of people, the ideology behind the matter must be at least somewhat convincing. The Twelve tribes are a dangerous group. While the people within it may have the best intentions at heart, the group has still proven to be bigoted, hateful, and unsafe to deal with, due to the numerous issues and allegations against them.