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.
Where a hot dog stand now is the main lunchtime option for city workers in this distressed Bay Area town, soon they'll be able to choose from steel-cut oatmeal, goat cheese empanadas and white bean and kale stew, prepared in a mobile cafe. Its owners will share in the decision-making — and any profits. Richmond Solar has trained needy residents to work as green-energy installers and now aims to transform some into bosses by forming a worker-owned cooperative The city's first bicycle shop has opened with similar dreams: Young men who have volunteered to learn the repair trade soon may be elevated to co-owners. "I'm just gonna ride it out with everyone to get where we need to go," Mercedes Burnell, 19, said ashe prepared to replace a crankshaft and pedals at Richmond SPOKES.
The flurry of democratic enterprise has been guided by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a former schoolteacher who visited Mondragon, Spain, and recognized a possible path out of the poverty and unemployment that plague her city. The Basque hill town is dominated by Mondragon Corp., a web of cooperatives that employ 83,000 workers and together represent Spain's seventh-largest business. Co-op clusters based on Mondragon's model have emerged in Cleveland and the Bronx, N.Y., among other cities. Richmond, with a 16% unemployment rate, hopes to follow suit.
Richmond, CA is actively encouraging worker cooperatives as a solution to unemployment. Worker, consumer, producer & housing cooperatives have long existed in the region, and Terry Baird is a veteran of that movement. He also presents the International Cooperative Principles for that section of the upcoming, "This Way Out: A Guide to Starting A Worker Cooperative" DVD coming out soon.
"There are many different kinds of co-ops, and we're focusing on worker co-ops where people own their own jobs and manage themselves," said Terry Baird, who was hired by Richmond as a consultant. Baird, a Richmond resident, is a co-founder of Arizmendi Cooperative Inc., and a co-op owner of the Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland.
And so far, Richmond is not lacking for ideas, Baird said.Miguel Espino, who established the East Bay Agricultural Project, wants to establish aquaponics farms in Richmond that grow fish and vegetables.
Baird has consulted with a budding North Richmond health food co-op, an electric bicycle builder and a group that wants to sell hydroponically grown organic foods.Most recently, Baird advised the Latina Center, a women's group of Central and South American immigrants who dream of one day running a bakery similar to Arizmendi.
Baird, a 30-year veteran in co-op enterprises, has advised the group to start small and think big. The costs of starting up most of these ventures are low. Instead of a bakery operation, Baird recommended creating a "pop-up" restaurant, in which an existing, often struggling, restaurant allows other chefs to use existing facilities to launch a new business.The model has been used in San Francisco and Berkeley, a leader in the co-op businesses and home to some of the most well-established co-op-owned businesses in the nation."
Image from Richmond Confidential: "Mayor McLaughlin lead a discussion Tuesday night at the Richmond Public Library, fielding questions and listening to ideas. Terry Baird of the Arizmendi Bakery Cooperative (back right) explains why the company isn't currently interested in bringing a bakery to Richmond."
Mayor’s Worker Empowerment Based Economic Development Initiative
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is seeking to contract with a qualified individual to coordinate the Mayor’s Worker Empowerment Based Economic Development Initiative during the coming year. The goal of this initiative is to help establish new worker-owned cooperative businesses in Richmond with worker owners who are predominantly Richmond residents. Particular attention will be paid to Richmond residents who are chronically un- or under-employed.
Scope of work: The individual selected will be expected to devote an average of approximately 30 hours per week to this effort, working independently throughout the community while maintaining close contact with the Mayor’s office staff. Activities include but are not limited to:
Outreach to Richmond residents who are interested in starting new worker-owned cooperative businesses, as well as traditional Richmond businesses that may want to convert to worker-owned cooperatives.
Hold community forums and speak at events hosted by local organizations to disseminate information about worker-owned cooperatives and the cooperative principles.
Meet one-on-one and in small groups with Richmond residents who want to start a worker-owned cooperative to assist them in accessing the necessary training and resources and to guide their progress towards stability, profitability and self-sufficiency.
Maintain active relationships with organizations and agencies that offer relevant expertise in the areas of job development, entrepreneurship, cooperative principles, and workplace democracy, such as the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, California Center for Cooperative Development, Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, West County Business Development Center, City of Richmond Economic Development Department, Richmond Economic Development Commission, Richmond Workforce Investment Board, Saffron Strand, local labor unions, Community Based Employment Collaborative, Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Contra Costa College, potential funders, etc.
Maintain contact with the leadership of the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative in Cleveland, Ohio, and explore avenues for collaboration and replication of their model in Richmond, including through possible Social Innovation Fund grant funding via The Cleveland Foundation and The California Endowment.