Yesterday was my last day as a member of the Workers’ Assembly at the Co-op. I wanted to take a minute to talk about some of my experiences serving Black Star Co-op, and to thank some of the truly amazing people who challenged, inspired, or helped me grow over the past twelve years.
Its a trip to think that this thing we built truly was a world’s first. I found out about the Co-op during a trip to the restroom on a shift break at Wheatsville in early January of 2006. I was interested to hear about what the flier was calling the Black Star Pub — Co-op Beer Bar. I remember thinking, “there aren’t any co-op beer bars?!” I attended the inaugural meeting of the Co-op in Patrick’s back yard over off Nelray — there were fourteen of us to be exact. We listened as Steven Yarak pitched his idea for a community owned beer bar, and the rest is history.
I was twenty-four, had been working at Wheatsville for about four years, starting my second term on the board there, was very idealistic about co-ops, and had amazing hair. As we built out this idea of a co-operatively owned, worker self-managed brewpub, I don’t think any of us knew how much we were shooting for the moon, but we knew that what we were conceptualizing was special. I was very into proselytizing for our idea, and would talk to anyone about it. At least half these conversations would turn into arguments, someone inevitably telling me that this dream was impossible to achieve, some utopian construct that would never even begin.
I think anyone who has been around since before we had a brick and mortar will agree, Black Star Co-op beer socials were pretty rad. I loved pitching our membership spiel to anyone who stopped by our table, lured in by free beer, radical ideas about workplace democracy and community owned beer. People kept giving us their money, and slowly we built a concept that needed a home, and to be tested.
The first three offices of the Co-op were in different apartments of mine. Steven would show up around nine am, rain or shine, to work on researching co-ops, arguing with me about what this thing should be while we took breaks to watch The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, or Trailer Park Boys (shows whose pop culture themes bubble up continuously in the Black Star Mythos), and drinking lots of craft beer. We eventually leased a real office, and then things got real.
I never planned on working for the Co-op. I had the best job in Austin as Produce Manager at Wheatsville Food Co-op, but I wanted to cook, and the co-op presented a great opportunity to make that dream a reality. I left behind something super stable to start a new career and a new business at the same time, and I have no regrets about any of it.
I loved all of it. We had a great team, and we started to bridge the theory-reality gap of years of planning this thing and actually running a full service restaurant. I’ve had the pleasure to serve the Co-op in many capacities, but Kitchen Team Leader was the most fulfilling for me. I really enjoyed seeing our patrons, members, and regulars eat our food, and enjoy our beer — knowing that we built this thing from a meeting in a field; that we owned it.
In the years we were busy planning, Black Star was never supposed to be what it has become. Hell, we even thought about being a tiki bar at one point, but the large format, full service restaurant and brewery concept was never discussed until the opportunity presented itself at 7020 Easy Wind Dr. What we’ve accomplished as a business since then is amazing, and we should all be proud to have what we have built. There are nearly twenty co-op brewpubs and breweries across the country now, each one a little baby born out of our idea.
Black Star has had it’s ups and downs, but we’ve managed to provide great service industry jobs that treat workers with dignity, and advocated this at the national level for years. We’ve made it this far doing everything the hard way: democratic self-managed workplace, above industry average base wages, no-tips, member-ownership, and a worker-centric alternative business model. I don’t know what we were thinking, but it’s still evolving and changing to meet the times.
I’ve had the pleasure to meet so many bright, talented, and passionate people in my time involved in this project. I can’t name them all in this letter, but I can say a few names! All the board members that busted their ass to make this happen before we opened, Therese, Mark, Erin, Chris Rauschuber, Neil!, Dale, etc, love you guys! All the current Board members, and Kenley, thank you all for your service! To all the members that have kept this dream alive like Ed, the Dewberries, Greg and Beth, Doug and Vicky, Mike, the Brittons!!!, Scott Kelly, Steve Randall, Dirk and everyone that I don’t have time to thank, THANK YOU for making this a reality and having faith in this crazy idea. And of course, all of the Workers’ Assembly folks that I’ve had the pleasure to be in the trenches with over the years Terrel, YC, Cutty, Rie, Ham-Jammer, Brian, Ryan Geise, Joe Harer, O-Dawg, Lunch Box, Marco, Karrine, Vincent Alan Perry, Rachel, LoLo, Antoine, Justin, and all the new peeps, keep those chips moving, and your batter thinned. A huge shout out to all the members of the Team Leader Council, Jodi, Andy, Nikki, YC, and Marco — these guys are keeping the dream alive. Lastly, a big thanks to Steven, and Jeff for being the same kind of stubborn as me, and never relenting when we were told this would never work. It’s been my pleasure to serve the co-op, see you at the curtain call.