The New Worker-run Radical Press Coffee Collective
What do you do when you are tired of working in environments where you “don’t have creative control,” “feel powerless,” or that your “opinions aren’t as valuable as the higher-ups’”? You get creative, partner with people and empower each other, and make an inspiring and collaborative work environment. In the words of famous architect Buckminster Fuller, “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
So what does this new model look like, and where is it?
It’s right in our backyard, at the artists’ block off south Main Street, also home to Citizen’s Co-op and Gainesville’s activist library, the Civic Media Center (CMC). This past fall, some young coffee-loving entrepreneurs pegged down this creativity hub for their new business model.
Entrepreneurs? Yes. Conventional? Hardly.
These eight founders were determined to build something better than the business-as-usual capitalist model. It would be a cooperatively run café — no bosses, anti-profit and community-focused. And with this mission, the Radical Press Coffee Collective was born.
Radical Press “dream[s] of a world where cooperative models are the norm and not an oddity,” where the management and production systems are “based on cooperation and not coercion,” said Rusti, Radical Press’s foam-forming barista artista.
At Radical Press, decisions are made laterally, meaning the decision-making process is non-hierarchical and entirely consensus-based. Additionally, all workers are self-employed and equally paid, allowing them to reduce management costs and additional overhead. Being self-employed, they have a personal interest in the success of the project as well, even if the interest is not driven by a profit motive.
One of the goals of Radical Press is to build upon the artists’ block and community that has been organically growing on south Main Street for several years. For a start, Radical Press launched an Indiegogo campaign in December to raise funds for its opening. The campaign’s goal? $15,000.
$15,000? Repeat that? A bit of a tall order for an anti-profit business model, no?
This type of speculative retort is something the collective has heard before.
The donations are for the coffee shop’s grand opening and for reinvestment back into the space, the project and partnership, as well as the community. This money will also go towards purchasing equipment and supplies, such as organic locally roasted coffee from roasters like Strongtree, Sweetwater and Tree City.
So far, the community has been supportive of the venture, donating their time, money and resources to get the collective up and running.
The founders believe that if the community wants the collective to thrive, they will keep coming back and donating for coffee and a comfortable, creative environment where they know they are truly valued as a customer.
“Our relationship with the CMC is symbiotic,” said Quinn Martin of Radical Press. “Our neighbors at the Co-op have been extremely generous in sharing their resources. We’ve been working with them to reduce our own overhead by using some of their facilities, while supporting them by purchasing most of our goods wholesale through the Co-op.”
Radical Press promises all surplus after paychecks, equipment maintenance and ingredients will go directly back into the community. Some of the campaign money and any monthly profit will be donated to the Civic Media Center for shared use of the space and utilities expenses, said Quinn.
Kenzie Cooke, another one of the Radical Press’s barista artista founders, is excited about the collective venture. “Since we don’t have any boss or owner concerned with profits influencing the space, the shop will be a real reflection of the community,” she said.
After several years of collaborating and community building, the artists’ block is now a hub for collective organizing, arts shows, workshops and music shows. It seems well on its way to being a sustainable and exemplary alternative business model, but how is success measured outside the traditional monetary metric utilized in capitalist business structures? How will the collective gauge success?
“One of our main objectives in forming this collective is to bring new energy into the CMC and revitalize it as a community space, so I think even if we can stay open as an all volunteer-run venture, I would call our project successful,” says Kenzie. “We want to be a real alternative and hope to share our process (what went horribly wrong, what we learned from it, etc.) and inspire similar collectives.”
By empowering each other, Radical Press and its neighbors hope to empower others to create similar new models and to give back to the community that helps support them in their venture. This is the kind of collaboration that builds jobs, the economy and real long-term equity. This is the kind of collaboration that has helped the artists’ block flourish.