New Moon Cafe “goes co-op” as the Black Moon Collective

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black moon collectiveEarlier this month, the secret that a handful of Olympia residents were waiting to divulge was finally let loose to the world: The New Moon Café is becoming Olympia’s only co-operatively run restaurant. As an alternative business model, collective members will make all decisions through consensus—any action will have to be approved by each member. “Transitioning from a hierarchical work-place to a horizontal collective has empowered student-workers, changed their relationship with work, and for those of us in this collective, has affected our career paths and futures,” says member Simon Gorboty. “Our mission is not just to create jobs in Olympia. What we want is to create work that makes people know that they are valuable and important.”

The structural changeover is set to begin in August. The 14 new owners plan to keep much of the menu and hours in place initially. Plans for changes such as local/seasonal produce sourcing and new menu offerings will occur slowly and with community feedback. The collective plans for the New Moon to become a community space that will be open for events featuring speakers, music, and meetings. Eventually they will open evenings, as the café currently closes at 2 PM. One of the first, and more drastic, changes will be to equalize wages, with tips shared equally among all employees.

The new owners are part of the Black Moon Collective, who intend to expand collective networks in Olympia beyond breakfast. Finding a lack of support in their own mission, the Black Moon Collective want to become a resource for other types of co-ops, such as medical co-ops. “We weren’t sure how we wanted to go about things at first, but we all shared a love of breakfast,” says member Erica Leshon. Starting the collective’s first project with a functioning restaurant that already had a loyal customer base was just the opportunity they were seeking.

Each member will have a committee position, from ordering to dispute resolution to hiring. Weekly consensus-style collective and committee meetings will ensure that all involved will have an equal say in the decision-making process of running one of Olympia’s best-loved breakfast spots.

Many of the Black Moon Collective members began their co-op education while as Evergreen students working at the collectively run Flaming Eggplant organic restaurant, which operates with some funding from the college. There the students learned how to work in a collective setting and their sense of work changed from something dreadful to something that imparted a greater sense of responsibility and fun. The Flaming Eggplant only employs students; after graduation those who would eventually form the Black Moon Collective were convinced that co-op was the only way to go.

Many of those who would go on to become the Black Moon Collective lived together and shared the common dream of having the most slammin’ breakfast restaurant. And when one of those housemates, who also worked at the New Moon Café, mentioned it to her boss, the planets aligned and soon negotiations to transition the restaurant began. The collective offered the New Moon’s current employees an opportunity to buy in; five of them signed on.

“Many of us have food service backgrounds, and traditional ownership isn’t possible for most of us. With a co-op, it’s a chance for workers to have more control,” says Leshon. “We want to be local in a real way, by actually supporting the farms that surround us. We plan to have something for everyone—so that someone on the Paleo diet could eat here with someone who is vegan; and while their eating they can feel good about supporting a worker-owned cooperative focused on social justice and community empowerment.”

Recently the Black Moon Collective began an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign, with the goal of raising fifty thousand dollars in the next few months to cover initial operating costs. In the early stages of fund seeking, the collective members came up against age discrimination—the mean age of members is 25, with the youngest being 21. They also encountered a general wariness of co-ops from banks, which generally don’t recognize co-ops, and therefore, don’t offer them loans. “We were told not to even bother going to banks,” says Leshon. In addition to a loan from the current owner, The Black Moon has also gotten some developmental support from the NW Co-op Development Center and the Olympia Food Co-op.

One recent fundraising event occurred on the night of the Evergreen graduation. The collective hosted a fine dining dinner for graduates and their families at the New Moon. The menu featured an organic green salad with strawberries, caramelized walnuts, wild mushroom manacotti, braised beef in a wine and citrus reduction sauce, and honey rose cheesecake for dessert.

Keep an eye out for events such as a dance party and more culinary-centric fundraisers in the coming months and check out the indiegogo site where you can donate any amount to the cause. Two hundred bucks gets you unlimited coffee for six months, and for $5 grand you can have a menu item named after you! ◙


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