Beatriz Ortiz and Julio Chavez worked intently Thursday in a commercial kitchen in Richmond, preparing for the next day's farmers market near City Hall.They cooked up soups, empanadas, prepared sandwiches and tossed up their now-popular "massaged kale salad."Their new co-op, Liberty Ship Café, launched Jan. 13 and is open for business every Friday at the farmers market, giving visitors choices beyond a local fried chicken outlet and a hot dog stand. It also has a delivery business.
It's the first co-op to open in the city under the guidance of a UC Davis nonprofit that has established two "co-op business incubators," one in Richmond and the other in Lompoc, near Santa Barbara.If Richmond officials have their way, the cafe will be the first of many worker cooperatives -- in which each member has a voice and all share in the profits -- that help stimulate the local economy in the years ahead. The city has even hired a co-op coordinator to help lead the effort.
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was dazzled with the concept during a 2010 visit to the world's most famous worker cooperative in Spain."There are three benefits to co-ops," Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. "Job creation, democracy in the workplace and local wealth building."The initial response to Liberty Ship Café has been positive, said Lexi Hudson, a co-op specialist with the Davis-based California Center for Cooperative Development.She works side-by-side with Ortiz and Chavez, and they spent a year "incubating" the concept. One key goal is keeping prices affordable, Hudson said. "We emphasize that we're here for the community, and we want to offer healthy food."
The four members of Liberty Ship Café will launch their cooperative business in January and fulfill a self-pledge for autonomy. When sisters Gloria and Rosa Menjivar came to the Bay Area six years ago, supporting family back in their native El Salvador was top priority. Since then, their focus has shifted to raising family here and working to empower their East Bay community in volunteering at the Richmond Latina Center. For Rosa, shared ownership of the Liberty Ship Café is key: "This is not just about making money," says Rosa. "This cooperative is the chance to be empowered in our life choices and to give good food to our community." Still, as single mothers whose English is at base-level, this journey is a struggle; for them, the success of this business in which they set the rules is essential.
Co-op members have been preparing for business start-up for over a year by engaging in small business and food service trainings and cooperative education sessions. Members meet weekly to develop their business plan and test recipes.
The members of Liberty Ship Café are giving their all to developing the business that will best serve the needs of their community, but raising enough money by selling in a low-income food desert area is a challenging process. Unless the project receives outside funding, it is unlikely that the café will be able to purchase the truck in the near future. Your donation will go directly towards the down payment on the mobile food truck that will allow the members to serve their community and have sufficient income to support themselves and their families with dignity. Any amount helps!
Liberty Ship Café is part of a worker co-op incubator project that CCCD is developing in Richmond. The city has an unemployment rate more than 17 percent; the incubator will develop worker cooperatives to create employment, job security, and improved livelihoods.