Black Star Co-op Elections: Call for Candidates!

Every fall Black Star Co-op Member-Owners vote for three Board of Director positions.  Directors review and craft policies and principles, represent the interests of all Member-Owners, and collaborate with the Workersʼ Assembly.  Take your love of Black Star Co-op to the next level by running for the Board.  To run for the Board, you must: 

• Be a fully invested Member-Owner
• Attend at least one Black Star Board Meeting within the last year (next one is October 29th 12pm-3pm)
• Attend a Candidate Orientation Session at Black Star
• Submit your Declaration of Candidacy form

Interested, but have questions before you decide to run? Ready to run, but want more information about how to start the process?  Your first step is contacting the Leadership Development Committee through email: ldc@blackstar.coop

  1.  If you have not yet paid your balance, you can do so online or at the Co-op.
  2.  Candidate Orientation Sessions (15-20 minutes long) can be scheduled with the Leadership Development Committee (ldc@blackstar.coop).
  3.  Email ldc@blackstar.coop to receive an Election Packet. It contains information about the election, important dates, candidate questions for the website, and the Declaration of Candidacy form.  All forms must be submitted no later than October 30th, 2017 by 11:59pm. 

Space Bear

For those who were are the Texas Craft Brewers Festival this past weekend, you may already know about Space Bear. For those who were not, we have a very exciting beer that we debut at the festival and will be releasing kegs at the pub on the 24th of October and a limited bottle release will be announced later this month. 

Space Bear is project that we started back in early 2016 when we sat down and talked about using our already inoculated barrels(Aberrant anyone?) and filling them with a special base beer to then age and sour. We knew we wanted to take a stab at a turbid mash using raw wheat and pilsner malt, we also knew that we wanted to use aged hops to mock a base recipe of a lambic/geuze. Once we figured out the "what", we had to move on to the "how", which proved to be slightly more challenging. Fortunately for us, the folks at Jester King Brewery are some of the kindest, most helpful people on earth and they had a significant influence on the way we approached this beer as well as sending us off with some awesome/skunky aged hops and a freshly emptied barrel!

The brewday was a long and sweaty one, but we ended up executing a modified turbid mash on our single infusion mash tun. For those who don't know what that means, just think "Stirring, waiting, stirring, waiting, sweat, stirring, waiting, waiting, waiting"

Once we had the wort made, we knocked out into a stainless steel tank and pitched our house yeast strain for primary fermentation. Once fermentation was almost complete, we transferred the beer into the 4 inoculated barrels and let them sit. As months went by, we tasted, analysed and took notes on how the beer was developing. After a little over a year of aging in these oak barrels with a number of wild yeast and bacteria strains, we did some blending tests and decided it was time to keg this baby up. We then dosed the blended beer with dextrose sugar, filled kegs and bottles, and let it naturally condition. All in all we are pretty pleased with the end result and can't wait to share this project with everyone. We will be releasing the kegs on October 24th and the limited bottle release will be announced later this month. Come on out and get some while it lasts, this is a limited release!

ADIOS MOFOS

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. 

Parking Lots

 

At the last Members Assembly meeting we spoke about several of the hurdles we have faced here at Black Star over the last year, and parking was overwhelmingly the most talked about issue. After months of back and forth with our landlord and the apartment complex, headway has finally been made! I am personally ecstatic to tell you that our parking garage gates have now been opened, and EVERY space in the garage is now accessible to customers. Going forward, we hope this makes the decision to come to Black Star a much easier one now that fighting for a parking space is not longer an issue.

Brunch at Black Star!!!

Over the past few years, it seems like the idea of weekend brunch has taken on an entirely new meaning in the culinary world and in the life of its consumers. What was once viewed as an extra opportunity to quietly sip morning cocktails without being judged (at least that’s how I felt about it) has slowly morphed into a glittering party of its own, filled with bright lights, flights of bacon, and the occasional DJ. At Black Star, we’ve tried to maintain our casual and welcoming vibes while offering one of the best brunch menus you can find in Austin. We gathered a seasoned committee of workers from each team to bring you a calculated and creative menu. The supergroup of workers quickly came up with dishes like the Crab Cake Benedict, Fried Chicken and Hoecakes, Tri-tip and Eggs, and the comically controversial Goat Vindaloo Hash (It lived It died. It rose again). With two draft wine taps (how cool is that?!) dedicated to Rose and Prosecco, mimosas and palomas are the perfect cure for those of us who drank too much Vulcan the night before. So trust us, our brunch menu has been carefully curated to be perfect for me, you, and anyone who appreciates the subtle art of combining classy breakfast foods with good old fashioned day drinking. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm.

http://www.blackstar.coop/eat/

*Brunch babes, be sure to look out for our Tribute to Prosecco on Sunday, August 13th, featuring a flight of prosecco cocktails!

Rational Thought

Over the years, quite a few things have changed in the brewery, and with an ever-evolving craft beer scene, that is to be expected. We have introduced over 50 unique beer recipes, began distributing our beer, won a Bronze(2013) and Gold(2015) medal at the Great American Beer Festival, finally got a Crowler machine for a viable to-go beer option, and all the while we've continued to come up with new beer names that are long, tongue-tying or just downright obscure (Jim Crust anyone?). One thing, however, that has not seen much change is our line up of Rational Beers. This is something we in the brewery have had on our minds for a while now, and I believe there is no time like the present to breathe some new life into the left side of our chalkboard. In the interest of not getting into too much detail in this article, I'll get straight to the point; we will begin releasing some newer Rational beers which will ultimately mean that others must fall to the wayside due to tank space. Our first shot at this will be to replace High Esteem for a temporary amount of time. We are currently deciding whether to use one of our recent lighter/sessionable beers as a replacement (Midtown Light, Yes Chef and Gemutlichkeitbier to name a few), or to introduce something new altogether. This may come as a surprise to some who love High Esteem, but we as brewers/workers have always had a strained relationship with this beer. We put considerably more effort into brewing this beer than other Rational beers and sometimes what ends up in the glass leaves us wanting. In short, the batch of High Esteem that is currently on draft will be the last batch we brew for some time, so if you are a fan, come on in and drink it up for the next couple of weeks. We want to continue to look into new recipes for long run seasonal Rational beers going forward as well, so keep a look out for some changes! 

I'm sorry if this is a shock to anyone but please feel free to contact me directly with any feedback you may have at Andym@blackstar.coop, I am always more than willing to listen to what you fine folks have to say.

***In the interest of self preservation I find it necessary to mention VULCAN WILL NOT BE GOING ANYWHERE for the foreseeable future.***

Help Your Co-op Improve This Summer

2017 has been another challenging year for the Co-op. The Workers’ Assembly and Board of Directors have worked diligently to bring the co-op back from the brink, and as we hit the half way mark of the year, we can say things are improving somewhat, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.

As we discussed at the June Member’s Assembly Meeting, although the response to Black Star’s call to arms in January was successful in improving our working capital, sales beyond January have remained historically low. If we do not see improvement in our sales, we will be heading towards a similar cash crunch in the fall. Beyond our cash position, there are still several other looming challenges ahead for the co-op.

The WA and the Board of Directors have been collaborating on ways to improve the co-op’s overall worker structure, exploring what it would look like if the co-op’s self-managed operational body were to be managed by a General Manager that is the employee of the board. This would be a major departure from the current structure, but one that could be welcome at this stage in our life cycle. Concurrently, the Board’s Sunset Committee has been looking into what would happen, and what the steps would be, if the co-op has to close its doors due to fiscal jeopardy. This process has been illuminating, but one that we are working hard to avoid.

Furthermore, the WA has begun working with an external marketing company to improve the co-op’s ability to reach new audiences, and continue to serve content to our existing, loyal, patrons in a new social media marketing climate. Over the past few years the WA has focused on lowering the co-op’s expenses, and is now focusing on growing sales that have been declining over the past few years, even as our market competition continues to grow.

At the Member’s Assembly meeting, we discussed with attending members that long term sustained patronage of the co-op’s members will help the co-op get back on track to sales growth, which means our owners have to keep the co-op on their radar for events, happy hours, or just lunchtime meals. The WA has added new services in order to continue to meet the needs of the members, but we feel that we need to be better at knowing what the changing needs of our community that sustains us are. To that end, we invite member-owners to take part in this years Member-Owner Survey, that will be linked to in this edition of the newsletter.

As we move into the summer, a historically slow time for our business, we are looking to continue to make structural changes, and keep our expenses down, while trying to grow our sales. This is also the time to be looking ahead at other challenges that are presented to the co-op, such as parking, and the last few years of our lease at our current location. Discussion has begun as to what the co-op will do as we fulfill the last few years at 7020 Easy Wind Dr. Will we be looking to re-sign our lease and combat the parking challenges and competition that we currently live with in this location, or look for another location to pack up the brewery and move to?

Time will tell what is right for the co-op to continue to grow. We are expecting, and open to, change. As we continue to work towards improving the co-op, please join us in furthering the co-op’s success by coming in for a pint, or a burger, over the next few months, and please take the time to complete the member survey so we may continue to improve the co-op’s ability to meet the needs of its members.

The Only Constant is Change

Before Black Star was a restaurant or a brewery, Black Star was a group of people with a desire to create something that hadn't been done before. They wanted to create the world's first cooperatively-owned and worker self-managed brewpub, and with the help of all its members and an incredible staff, they succeeded.  Along the way, we brewed some award-winning beer.

In 2012, TABC approved 4 brewpub licenses in the state of Texas. In 2016, the number was 40 with 7 of them here in Austin, and at Midtown Commons, we are facing increased competition for customers and parking spots with the businesses that have recently opened in the complex. For the last two years, we have seen the impact of this increased competition in our decreasing revenue despite opening for lunch, no longer including sales tax in prices, increasing offsite distribution, and hosting numerous events. Even with a concerted effort and success in reducing expenses including a wage freeze, a 5% pay cut, and reduced staffing, in January of this year, Black Star faced its most serious financial challenge since opening.

Thanks to the patronage of our members and the community after a call to arms, January was a record-breaking month giving us runway to evaluate changes in our business. Since then, headcount has continued to be reduced to control costs, and we're now leveraging a marketing firm to increase our reach in the community. We're also in the process of developing a new organizational structure that will increase leadership and accountability within the worker's assembly as well as completely revamp our remuneration strategy to keep costs in check.

Despite these changes, our financial trajectory forecasts that Black Star may be back in financial jeopardy before the end of the year. In the interest of transparency, the board and worker's assembly is having to ask some fundamental questions about the business. With our lease up in two years and most likely increasing, what would be the financial implications and impact of moving to a more favorable location? As Black Star moves forward, what additional changes do we need to implement that may not be aligned with some of our main principles? Can we stay financially solvent, potentially through a loan, until more significant changes can be made? The board will be assessing these difficult questions but will be reaching out to its members with surveys and member extravaganzas to ensure that we understand your perspective.

The board has confidence that the worker's assembly is doing everything they can to right the course of this ship but the headwinds are strong. We are proud of what we've accomplished as a co-op. Co-ops are built on their members and survive by responding to changes in the environment. That means we'll have to evolve and we need your help with that.

 

Member-Owner Discount

Howdy, Members. Over the last few months we have been thinking about extending some sort of standing discount to our Members to show our appreciation as well as not confine it to a specific day in the week. After giving it some thought, we have decided to do away with the "Member-Owner Pint Nights" and instead, offer a standing discount of $4 for Rational House Beers ALL THE TIME. This will get rid of the $2 off Irrational Beers on Tuesdays, but, we thought a standing discount would be more accommodating for all Members. This change will be effective on June 1st, so I hope to see your faces around the pub!

Black Star Co-op Elections: Call for Candidates!

Every fall Black Star Co-op Member-Owners vote for three Board of Director positions.  Directors review and craft policies and principles, represent the interests of all Member-Owners, and collaborate with the Workersʼ Assembly.  Take your love of Black Star Co-op to the next level by running for the Board.  To run for the Board, you must:

·       Be a fully invested Member-Owner;1

·       Attend at least one Black Star Board Meeting within the last year;

·       Attend a Candidate Orientation Session at Black Star;2 and,

·       Submit your Declaration of Candidacy form.3

Interested, but have questions before you decide to run? Ready to run, but want more information about how to start the process?  Your first step is contacting the Leadership Development Committee through email: ldc@blackstar.coop .

1 If you have not yet paid your balance, you can do so online or at the Co-op.

2 The first Candidate Orientation Session will occur June 10th at 11am at Black Star Co-op.

3 Download the Election Packet here. It contains information about the election, important dates, candidate questions for the website, and the Declaration of Candidacy form.  All forms must be submitted no later than September 22nd, 2017 by 11:59pm.

New Ends Policy proposal: Frequently Asked Questions

During Black Star’s annual election in the fall, you’ll be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” on a new set of Ends policies. So we will discuss the Ends Committee’s proposed policy and answer questions about it during the June 25th Members’ Assembly meeting at 12pm at the pub. In the meantime, we’ve already had some great questions from committee members, directors, and our member-owners who came out to the recent Ends Committee Q & A and we wanted to bring you up to speed.

Marcus wrote a great piece explaining why the board is tackling this work in the May newsletter. After the board drafted policies together, the Ends Committee shaped and edited them, and the member-owners at the Q & A gave their feedback, our current draft is:

“Black Star Co-op is a community-owned brewpub with inspired craft beer that contributes to a just society, a thriving cooperative community, and a resilient food system.”

Without further delay, here are the questions we’ve heard most often about both the process and the policy:

How will having a new Ends policy benefit the business?

The first way: telling our story. The WA has identified “telling their story” as one area weakness. The trend in Ends policies in the consumer co-op world is to have the policy be as concise as possible, quickly telling an elevator speech story of what the co-op is working to create. The Ends Policies, if written well, can tell that story on behalf of the co-op, and can be used by the Workers to create ways to infuse our purpose into their marketing materials.

The second way: allowing optimal creativity for our professional staff to find ways to fulfill Ends, without the Board and members stipulating the details of the means. Current Ends policies are very proscriptive, for example, says “ will be zero waste by 2015.” Having a concise and broad vision makes the Ends policies more flexible, which allows the workers to choose the means of Ends fulfillment which most suit the business’ needs and the competitive marketplace.

Does changing the Ends policy help change the balance of our business from having a large restaurant and small brewery to be more focused on either brewing or selling beer?

No, but it allows for it. Our current Ends policy states that we will “earn excellent reviews on our food” etc. (A1.1), stipulating that the cooperative sell food. In A3.3, l “purchase local, organic products [...] when feasible” - organic is a food designe. The proposed policies only reference to food is that the co-op “contributes to [...] a resilient food system” and there are ways of doing that which do not involve selling food. So were the leadership of the cooperative so inspired to quit selling food, nothing in the new Ends policies would stop them, while provisions of the existing policies require the production of food.

There are things I really like about our current Ends policies. Which ones will exist somewhere else?

Paying a dividend to investor shareholders (A5.1): paying a dividend is provided for in our contract with our Member Investor Shareholders, is outlined in the Texas Business Organization Code 251.302, and can be found in policy D11 - Allocation of Net Savings.

Pay a patronage rebate (A5.3): the process for paying a patronage rebate is fully detailed in the Texas Business Organization Code Section 251.302. When the co-op posts a taxable profit, it is of financial benefit to both the organization and our individual members to reduce the taxable burden via issuance of a patronage rebate.

Worker treatment:  The Board places constraints on the WA to ensure a great workplace in the D2 - Staff Treatment policy, and constraints to ensure the fairness and competitiveness of compensation in D3 - Remuneration. The Additional Principles section of our Bylaws stipulate pay wage based on Universal Living Wage when able, use participatory self-management, and section 5. Workers’ Assembly lays out the highest level processes for the self management of the Worker’s Assembly.

“Earn excellent reviews on our food beer, and service.” (A1.1)- The Ends policy says that Black Star will use “inspired craft beer” to create a just society, etc. While the current A1.1 tells Black Star which data will prove that they are fulfilling the Ends, the new policy allows them the freedom to utilize their own metrics. Our current Ends stipulate that we be crowd pleasing. Our proposed Ends use “inspired”, as having crowd-pleasing beer is necessary to staying open and therefore a given.

Open a second location (A5.4). Board policy D4 - Financial Condition states that “the WA may not cause or allow the cooperative to be unprepared for future opportunities.” D11.4.2.2 states that the allocation of net savings should “support the co-op’s growth”. While opening a second location is one way for the organization to grow, there could be other opportunities to grow, which our Ends need not exclude.

Environmental Sustainability (A3) - While A3 provides for specifics, like buying alternative energy, promoting alternative transportation,  using water and energy efficiently, and producing zero waste, in the proposed policy “resilient food system” and “just society” provide the same value based-aims, and allow the WA more latitude to choose the right thing for our business needs.

Gemutlichkeit (A1.3) - In our new policies,  “cooperatively-owned brewpub”, “just society”, and “a thriving cooperative community” are all phrases which emphasize the strength of our community, both Austin, our member-owners, and our fellow cooperative businesses. Isn’t strong, connected community what truly creates Gemutlichkeit?

Community Involvement (A2) Many owners appreciate the support of nonprofits selected by our owners in annual elections, as provided for in A2.2. The proposed Ends policy still allows for this practice in support of a “just society”. “Support[ing] cooperatives, local businesses and other community endeavors” (A.2.3) is a sentiment found in the proposed Ends’ “a thriving cooperative community.”

Proposed Changes To The Ends

We had a big crisis to overcome in January, and thanks to the amazing community around Black Star, the workers and member-owners we were able to save our brew-pub.  This was an outstanding achievement, but it also highlighted a few parts of the business that weren’t working as well as we had thought they would.  One component that stood out in multiple conversations at Board meetings, discussions with the WA, and during our January discussion was that our Ends policies were so specific and proscriptive that they didn’t allow the WA the latitude in decision making required to achieve our goals and run a great business.

Ok Marcus I get it, but how does changing the Ends really fix anything? To understand that requires getting your hands a little bit dirty in the world of policy governance.  Policy is how the Black Star board lays out goals and rules for operations. Every decision and action taken has its roots in a regularly monitored policy. The body of governing policies is called the Policy Register and the Ends are the goals of the co-op, found at the start of the Policy Register in section A. Since the Ends are in the register they get monitored and are things that we as a co-op hold the WA accountable to.  Removing the specifics and being more aspirational will grant the WA and the co-op greater flexibility in responding to the dynamic competing demands of operation a brew-pub. This would also remove competing long term goals that were tied to specific actions and replace them with an overarching vision of the world our cooperative helps create.

The Board recently created an Ends Committee composed of two Directors and two Member Owners. We researched industry best practices for writing Ends.Using input from the January Member Forum, and a Board Retreat to distill what our Ends are into a much easier digested message. The overarching theme is simple as it is on our shirts Eat, Drink, Cooperate. Instead of a multiple page document heavy with details we are proposing the Ends be changed to something similar to to “Black Star Co-op is a community-owned brewpub that welcomes all people to the table with inspired craft beer, and contributes to a world with a just society, a thriving cooperative community and a resilient local food system.” We are having a Q & A with the Ends Committee on Tuesday May 9th at the pub from 7-8. Come to ask questions or give feedback and help us create the version to be shared with owners at the next Member Assembly meeting. The plan is to have a new Ends Policy on the ballot with Board elections in the fall.  We look forward to having a robust conversation with you about the future of our cooperative!

Brouwerslokaal Collaboration

Back in January of this year I was approached by one of our board members, Cole, to see if we were interested in a potential collaboration with a brewer from the Netherlands. I was immediately intrigued, so we agreed to start a dialogue via email where I was then introduced to the brewer, Thibo Baccarne. Thibo is a young brewer who took on an internship at Westmalle Brewery when he was just 17 years old and is now quite seasoned and working for a brewery called Brouwerslokaal(Local Brewer) in the Netherlands. We began exchanging emails and soon I became pretty excited about creating this beer since I could tell both of our creative juices were flowing. Ultimately we landed on a Saison recipe that we would then slightly sour in order to give it an acidic backbone, and then re-ferment the beer with a sizeable amount of guava puree. Our hope is that this beer turns out tart, very tropical and effervescent with some spicy yeast character peppered in as well. To make this collaboration particularly exciting, Thibo will be coming over to the states for a week so that we can brew this beer together and take copious amounts of pictures(as well as beer shots) on the week of the 8th. Unfortunately, Thibo will not be here to attend the release, but he will be taking the recipe back to the Netherlands in hopes to brew a batch a Brouerslokaal.  This currently unnamed beer will be unveiled  here at Black Star on May 26th so look for the event on Facebook, you don't want to miss this one!

March Madness

The month of March is without a doubt one of the most exciting pages on the calendar here in Austin. Not only does my birthday fall at the top of the month, but the city has also included other major holidays and events throughout. This is why we at Black Star have been focusing extremely hard on creating lots of fun and celebratory events for our member-owners and patrons (even though I consider this my own personal month long birthday celebration).

In addition to our standing monthly events like the Beers n Bikes Social Ride, an exceptionally curated selection of Video Game Tournaments, and outdoor Patio Parties (our latest addition), we’ve included a ten day celebration of our favorite beverage that we’re calling Beer by Beerfest. From March 10th-19th, we will be offering a rotating selection of $4 house beers (including irrationals!) every hour (it’s a steal!). To kick it off, we’ll be screening the classic film Beerfest, “a classic tale of romance and tragedy,” on our big screen.

As we head into the next week, we’ll be hosting our first round of Hop Madness, followed by SπSw on 3/14, and the incredibly anticipated release of Can’t Quit You Too (Can’t Keep Quittin’ You). But that’s not all! We’ve also got Corned Beef and Cask to celebrate our patron St. Patrick, an outdoor Pig Roast for Hope that will focus on suicide prevention and mental health education.

Finally, our closing ceremonies will include another house beer release called Yes, Chef!, a collaborative effort between the beer and kitchen teams. A quarterly Red Line Brewery Tour is on the map, and our Second Semi Annual Cutest Puppy on the Patio Contest is well under way. I think we could all agree, March 2017 is shaping up to be one amazing month long Black Star Co-op Party, even if the focus is only kind of on my birthday.

** MARCH MONDAY MADNESS is also happening every Monday for March Madness!! Enjoy our Happy Hour menu from 4-7pm while watching the games on our projector screen! **

Mr. Livesay Goes to Washington. . .Again

Later this month we’ll be going back to Washington, D.C. to lobby for fair wages, worker, women, and immigrant’s rights, and increasing the tipped minimum wage for industry workers. This will be the fourth year we’ve gone to D.C. to counter lobby the National Restaurant Association in solidarity with our friends from around the country in both the ROC and RAISE organizations. 

This year, we will have to renew our fight for restaurant workers after making significant progress over the past few years. As your man on the steering committee for RAISE, it’s important to say that even though the 2016 election went a little wonky, four states passed ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage. Colorado, Arizona, Maine and Washington all increased their state minimum wage to $12 an hour, which will be phased in over the next few years. 

Upcoming Menu Changes

Your Kitchen Team will be putting out our SXSW menu this week. We are working on a new format this year that will highlight more seasonal items, but still keeps our favorite items around. Over the past year, we’ve established a few new relationships with local purveyors, ranchers, and farmers that we want to showcase. 

After South By, we will be moving into spring seasonal menus. Unlike previous years, we will be changing the menu more frequently to be more ingredient driven, preparing our members and patrons more of a range of what our area has to offer. In doing this, we’ll be moving away from daily specials, to focus on a menu that is more like a group of specials. 

We’ve recently started getting pasture raised heritage pork form Boxcar Farms in Maxwell, TX. The quality of the pork is outstanding, and these hogs are being raised specifically for us, which is a really shortens our food chain. We’ve also started buying seafood from Heritage Seafood, who took over some of the coastal contacts of Roberto San Miguel. If you’ve seen seafood specials over the last few months, there is a good chance we sourced the protein through Heritage (including the recent crawfish boil). 

Anyway, we hope that you will enjoy this change, and we understand that you have favorite items, we do too. However, it’s important to remember that we try and keep everything very seasonal and local around here, and sometimes that means killing our darlings and taking items off the menu for a spell. If that makes you want get your pitchforks out, that’s fine, feel free to email me at johnnyl@blackstar.coop.

Black Star Co-op Financial Condition FAQ

1.     Why did I not know sooner about our financial condition?

The Board has communicated regularly to the membership through our annual reports, membership newsletters, and member assemblies regarding our financial condition as well as actions being taken to address the issue.  At the last annual members meeting held on October 30, 2016, we discussed our declining sales, challenges facing the co-op, our ends policies and the 2015 annual report, which stated:

“Monthly net losses through the second half of the year strained the Co-op’s cash position, making it challenging to pay our obligations and employees on time.”

Our financial condition has also been a point of considerable discussion at our board meetings, which are open to all members.

2.     Why was the letter sent out by the Worker’s Assembly (WA)?

As of Sunday, December 4th board meeting, cash projections combined with November sales data, and a robust plan of events for December projected a similar financial situation relative to the last two years. While deemed not acceptable long term, our forecasts provided enough time for the board and WA to continue laying the groundwork required to propose changes to our ends at the next member assembly meeting. However, on Wednesday, December 28th, during a regularly scheduled meeting, the Board Staff Liaison (BSL) informed the board president that December sales had come in considerably under forecast. The WA was asked to evaluate the situation at their next leadership meeting and determine next steps. On Monday, January 2nd, the WA developed new cash projections based on December’s revenue numbers, which indicated an inability to continue functioning within the next couple of months if trends continued. On Thursday, January 5th, the WA informed the President that January sales had continued to fall under revised forecasts, and the WA sent out the letter to members informing them of our current financial condition.

3.     What has been done to address our financial condition?

In an attempt to address this issue and with growing concern by the Board, the WA has implemented several initiatives over the past couple of years to increase revenue including the addition of lunch service, no longer including tax on food pricing, raising overall prices, successful events like the crawfish boil, a larger social media presence, removing the dart area to increase functional space for customers, and adding an outside awning to make the patio more comfortable during the summer. In addition, to keep expenses in check the WA implemented a wage freeze, a 5% pay cut, an increase in out of pocket health care expenses by employees and numerous optimizations to controllable costs.

4.     Why hasn’t more been done to correct the situation?

The WA is charged with the daily operations (beer, food, pricing, furniture, location, etc.) for the co-op and have implemented numerous initiatives to address our financial condition. The Board has continued to provide guidance to the WA as defined by our role. However, we are obligated to operate within the guidelines of our ends. While it has become clear that potentially significant changes to our ends will be required to allow for our business to evolve, the process of proposing and changing our ends requires time to develop and support from our membership.

5.     How will we prevent this from happening in the future?

The Board is in the process of evaluating our options to maintain profitability in a continually changing and competitive market. Thanks to a significant increase in patronage over the last few weeks, we have the runaway to finalize a new business plan and operating structure within the next 3 months, which will likely require the membership to vote on changes to our ends.

6.     Why don’t we hire a GM to develop and maintain the business?

Blackstar’s End Policy A.4 states that “Black Star Co-op will provide an empowering environment for all workers through worker self-management.” A change to this Ends Policy would require approval by the Co-op’s membership. Currently, the Workers Assembly is divided into four teams: the Beer Team, the Kitchen Team, the Pub Team, and the Business Team. These four teams are self-managed. However, hiring a general manager is an option that the Board and the Workers Assembly will continue to discuss.

7.     How can I help?

One competitive advantage that the Co-op has over other similar businesses are its members, and the skills and experience they have. The Board has used the talents of its members on a variety of projects including participation on the Annual Report Review and Bylaws Committee as well as discussions at our Member Assembly meetings. If you would like to serve on a committee, please contact the Board via email at board@blackstar.coop, and if you are interested in serving on the Board, please contact the leadership development committee at leadershipdevelopment@blackstar.coop. However, the most direct way for members to support the Co-op is to visit it and recommend it to your friends.

8.     Why can’t I see our financials and business plan?

It’s important for any business to keep its financial records such as daily cash flow, detailed business plans and strategy, contracts, profit and loss statements and balance sheets confidential. With the exception of the annual report, this information is not shared with the membership at large. This information is compiled by the Workers Assembly (WA) and shared with the Co-op Board of Directors (Board) on a regular basis.

9.      What will happen if we close?

The Co-op, like all other businesses, is subject to closing whether permanently or temporarily based on sales and profitability. The Board plans to form a Sunset Committee at their next official meeting to examine the definition of closing, what triggers a decision to close, and the sequential processes for closing. This group will report their findings at the next annual Member meeting. Members are welcome to join this committee.

Join a Board Committee

The Board has several committees which are either active or activating, and now’s the time to join up if you’re interested in deepening your commitment to Black Star and helping to lead our cooperative. 

All committees will involve email communications, some work from home, as well as in-person committee meetings, usually at the pub. Joining a committee is a great way to serve your community owned business without taking on full-on directorship. It’s also a great way to explore the Board’s work to see if you’re interested in running for the Board.

Ends Committee:

The Ends Committee will be reviewing our existing Ends and drafting new ones to create a guiding vision for our cooperative. Ends will be proposed to members and voted on at a Members’ Assembly meeting. Email Beth at beth.beutel@blackstar.coop if you’re interested.

Outreach Committee:

The Outreach Committee ensures that the Board is keeping the membership engaged by organizing Member-Owner Extravaganzas and other events, as well as helping to plan communications. Email Marcus at marcus.wilson@blackstar.coop to get involved.

Sunset Committee:

In order to inform the Board’s work, The Sunset Committee will research under what conditions the co-op should close, and what decision points the Board should consider. Email the Board  at board@blackstar.coop if you’re interested in serving on this committee.

Annual Report Review Committee:

The Annual Report Review Committee ensures that the Annual Report meets all of the criteria set out by the Texas Business Organization Code and that it is properly filed with the state. Email Charles at charles.hueter@blackstar.coop to join the ARRC.

Finance Committee:

The Finance Committee does direct inspections of the cooperative’s books upon request of the board, considers and makes recommendations for financial audit or review, and ensures that all directors have the skills required to understand financial materials presented to them. Email Cole at cole.noppenberg@blackstar.coop to find out more.

If you are interested in committee service but aren’t sure where you’d be the best fit, email the Board at board@blackstar.coop and we’ll help find the right place for you.

Resolutions for 2017

2017 is here, and many of us couldn't be happier. The previous year left its scars on us and the wider world. So as we shed the cumulative experiential skin of 2016 and nakedly begin our 2017, I thought we could share a few of our resolutions for this new year. 

From our Workers: 

"To keep my apartment mostly clean." - Forest

"I don't really do resolutions, but I want to eat fewer chips, ranch, and drink less beer (specifically at Black Star). Maybe that's not super conducive to getting people in here, but that's my thing—be less of a fat kid." - Rachel

"My New Year's Resolution is to not take lighters that don't belong to me. And to keep better track of chapsticks and my bobby pins." - Grace

"To get swole." - Anonymous

"I still resolve to get famous this year. I don't give up on my dreams. My co-op resolution is to master the art of spreadsheets by July 2017." - Jodi

"I resolve to get all the fries in my mouth and none in my car seat crack." - Andy

"I resolve to be a more open and honest coach and student for my co-workers. 
I resolve to be a better husband and son.
I resolve to drink less beer. 
I resolve to find a creative way to get our members excited again to be a part of the co-op they know and love.
I resolve to work hard to make Black Star Co-op survive the impending bursting of the restaurant and craft beer bubbles, and become a sustainable business that lasts for years like the Austin institution it is." - Johnny 

"I resolve to pack my lunch at least once a week (and cut my monthly SUBWAY™ visits in half)." - Larry

"I resolve to eat more tacos." - Everyone

What are your resolutions for 2017?