In the closing days of 2005, Steven Yarak had an idea — a neighborhood beer bar owned by the community it served. He knew little about either co-operatives or brewpubs, but had a vision of a neighborhood-owned café similar to those he had frequented in Belgium, right here in Austin. Confident in the strength of the idea, Steven publicized the vision on the Internet and with fliers around town. On January 14, 2006, 16 people attended a meeting in an empty lot adjacent to a friend’s house to learn about the Co-op, including a bright young chemist and professionally trained brewer, Jeff Young. An exile from Birmingham, Alabama and their restrictive laws on brewing and beer, Jeff arrived in Austin just a few days prior to the first meeting. He had come in search of a brewpub project, and believed that Black Star should be a brewpub, not just a beer bar. The depth and quality of his home brewing quickly converted everyone to the idea.
Throughout subsequent years, the Co-op focused on laying the foundation as well as growing and educating the membership, while Jeff developed a solid list of beers for the opening of the brewpub. The business was incorporated in Texas as a co-operative association under the new Business Organizations Code, bylaws were drafted and approved, and an interim Board of Directors was elected. A large home brewing system was acquired with the first round of membership capital, and the first fundraising event was planned surrounding the Craft Brewers Conference in Austin that April and was a huge success.
The first general meeting of the Co-op was held on November 11, 2006, and at that meeting the membership expressed an interest in a large fundraising event. The Board completed an effort to realize the final aspect of their foundation as a cooperative: the Workers’ Assembly. Two part-time staff members were hired to assist in administration and development of the Co-op, and, Beer socials continued as a regular monthly event hosting 300-500 members until the flagship opened its doors.
After raising nearly $500,000 from Member-Owners, Black Star Co-op opened its doors to the public in September 2010. Situated in Central Austin’s Midtown Commons complex at Airport and North Lamar, adjacent to the Crestview Station of the MetroRail, Black Star Co-op welcomes guests with a selection of seasonal house crafted beers, 20 taps from local and not-so-local craft breweries, and made-from-scratch, local and/or sustainably sourced Texas pub fare.
Since opening, Black Star Co-op has been recognized by several organizations for the products and services offered. The Co-op is certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council, the first brew pub to achieve this honor. In 2013 Black Star Co-op was included in the ROCUnited Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating its commitment to fair labor practices, making the Co-op the only establishment in Texas to be included in the guide. Black Star Co-op has also been recognized in the Austin Chronicle for “Best Pub Grub 2012,” “Best Tipping Policy 2011,” and as a “Reader’s Favorite 2012,” along with other honorable mentions in its annual polls. The Co-op was recognized for the first time at the Great American Beer Festival 2013, receiving a bronze medal for Elba in the Herb & Spice category.
The success and community support continue to drive efforts to meet the membership’s goals of providing exceptional products in a sustainable way, while treating workers fairly and growing the co-operative movement.
At the end of 2013, the Workers’ Assembly has 27 workers on staff, 17 of whom are voting body members. The Co-op itself has nearly 3,200 member-owners. Together, the Board of Directors–who are elected by the membership–and the Workers’ Assembly forge ahead to realize the unique vision of a co-operatively owned brewpub.