“I love saying to people that this seems like an impossible business model, but it works, and it works very well.” – Charlie (Longtime Cheese Board member).
The Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives is itself a cooperative made up of eight member businesses: six cooperative bakeries, one cheese store and a development and support collective. Members share a common mission, share ongoing accounting, legal, educational and other support services, and support the development of new member cooperatives by the Association.
These worker-owned bakeries in the San Francisco Bay Area, took their name as well as their business plan from Mondragon, the Co-op system from the Basque country. The companies share technical and financial resources — as well as proprietary recipes — and a portion of profits goes to funding new enterprises. The notion of cooperative artisan bakeries sounds quaint, but the group is thinking beyond the breadbox. “We consider this the very beginning phase,” says Melissa Hoover of Arizmendi, who is also executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. She says the companies plan to develop more businesses and are researching possibilities “along the supply chain”: trucking, retail, health and wellness, as well as a funding vehicle like Caja Laboral, the banking system of the Mondragon coops.
Arizmendi now employs 125 workers and annually generates $12 million in sales. Despite the economic downturn, the businesses remain strong and poised for growth. This in part owes to the collective decision-making model, says Hoover. “Worker-owned cooperatives are an innately conservative form. We didn’t overleverage ourselves.”
The belief that every voice is central has sustained the members of the Arzimendi coops over the years. They have never wavered from the original vision of a democratic workplace. This commitment has made it possible to constantly reinvent themselves, while remaining faithful to their political vision, and their belief in good, honest food.
Courtesy in part of the Cheese Board collective cookbook
Arizmendi Bakery in Emeryville Spotlighted on NBC Sports Late Night Snack segment
Cooperative structure and history
The Arizmendi Bakeries are structured as independently owned and managed bakeries, that share one central company for research and development, the Arizmendi Development and Support Cooperative (or DSC), that is the internal staff collective for the Arizmendi Association. The DSC provides financial, legal, organizational, and educational support to the members of the Association.
The DSC also coordinates the development of new cooperatives. See how this is done at http://www.geo.coop/node/365.
The Cheese Board opened as a small cheese store in 1967. In 1971, the two original owners sold their business to their employees and created a 100% worker-owned business of which they remained
In each bakery the decision making, in addition
The collectives also apply the rotation of job assignments, in which every worker is assigned to every job, manual and intellectual, such as cleaning the floors to placing purchase orders, from baking to serving the customers, even if, in practice, it happens that people that are not comfortable with mathematics tend not to do the book-keeping, or people uncomfortable with dealing with customers tend to do the back-kitchen baking instead, but nobody is forced to do so.