A bakery and pizzeria in San Francisco’s East Bay is bucking the downturn in the economy.
Business at Emeryville’s Arizmendi Bakery is growing 10 percent a year, thanks to hand-made baked goods, loyal customers and a staff of 21 workers who own the store.
The model has become so successful that the cooperative is spreading to locations in San Rafael and San Francisco’s Valencia Street later this year.
“[Our growth] isn’t because we want to become this big chain,” said worker/owner Leah Bock. “We want to extend business ownership opportunities to people who wouldn’t have them otherwise.”
People come to Arizmendi on San Pablo Avenue for its sourdough breads and pizza (a different pie each day) and an array of pastries and cookies. Many say they are attracted by the store’s spirit of community and worker empowerment the bakery embodies.
“Their food is fantastic,” said Ernie Nadel. “It's the best pizza I've ever had, and their scones are the best scones I've had outside of Ireland.”
“I definitely prefer to come here, especially because it's a cooperative and the structure of it, and it's delicious food,” said Zoe Tollefson.
The business takes its name from a priest and labor organizer, Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, who helped found worker-owned cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.
Arizmendi in Emeryville was launched in 2003 with the support of its sister cooperative stores in Oakland and Inner Sunset, The Cheese Board (a 42-year-old cooperative bakery in Berkeley), and the Emeryville City Council, which wanted a locally-owned store in a new mall.
Arizmendi’s worker-owners share responsibility for selecting recipes, managing payroll, sweeping floors and mixing 300-pound batches of dough. Everyone is paid the same -- $15/hour – regardless of seniority, and when there’s a profit, each worker gets a slice of that pie based on the hours they worked. Though management decisions and the hiring process can take longer than privately-owned companies, Arizmendi’s employees say the coop works for them.
“It’s both a joy and a challenge,” said Linda Kallenberger, one of the bakery’s founders. “When you have so many people weighing in on a subject, we have a really lot of good ideas, and it takes time to work those out.”
“But that’s also one of the really cool things that I enjoy about working here,” said Gary Johnson, a 23-year-old worker/owner. “We can all have an opinion and contribute, as opposed to being someplace else, where the way it is is the way it is.”
When the bakery first opened in 2003, 12 employees put in $5,000 each to become an owner and they earned $12 an hour. Only one of those founders, Kallenberger, remains. The others, she said, left because of family commitments and the need to earn more money. New owner/workers can now buy in for a $1,000; with half of that being loaned to the worker by the coop.
More than 80 people applied for the most recent openings, and the Arizmendi workers were part of a hiring committee that determined who would be selected. Leah Bock of North Dakota joined 20 others: Nick, Aron, Pedro, Page, Wick, Katie, Gary, Tiffany, Haja, Jenya, Mered, Lorenzo, Mika, Victor, Rafael, Dee, Gavin, Jahain and Michelle.
Bock, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and teacher, came to the Bay Area; attracted by the region’s reputation for social justice. She worked in politics and labor organizing until she discovered Arizmendi and realized there was another way to bring about change.
"This is a way for me to be part of that change without really having to convince anyone of anything," said Bock. "Instead I just feed people. Make my muffins. Put pizza in the oven and know that I am doing something that's political and it's important and that we'll change the world that we live in little by little and change us a little by little too."
- Reporting by Teresa Bouza, Jay Hartwell, Tyche Hendricks, Ryan Kim and Stephanie Ogburn