Firestorm Café and Books, Asheville, NC

Firestorm Cafe & Books opened its doors in May of 2008. Established as a worker-owned and self-managed business, we aim to provide community space, critical literature, and an alternative economic model based on cooperative, libertarian principles.s.

Here you’ll find a wide range of events, workshops, film screenings, fund raisers and presentations. Additionally, we serve food and beverages all day long. Our edibles include delicious treats baked on site as well as hot and cold sandwiches and salads. For your caffeine fix, check out our extensive tea and espresso menu. We strive to maximize our use of local, organic and fair trade ingredients.

Our literature selection is a unique blend of off-beat, underground and independently published materials that you won’t find anywhere else in WNC! We carry titles by AK Press, Autonomedia, Chelsea Green Publishing, Feral House, Loompanics, Microcosm, Paladin Press and many many others.

Firestorm Cafe & Books is a unique downtown dining locale catering to casual clientèle six days a week. Whether you’re a fellow service worker in need of a quick lunch break or a visitor in search of something authentically Asheville, you’ll find our cafe a comfortable spot to catch a bite.

Our menu is a distinctive blend of healthful sandwiches, soups and salads with baked goods produced in house every morning. Out-of-this-world sauces and accents will lay to rest any lingering doubt that wholesome and delicious are mutually exclusive!

A plethora of beverage specialties – from espresso drinks to fine teas – will delight both the nonchalant sipper and seasoned connoisseur. Mug in hand, we’re confident that you’ll find everything you need to relax with friends, family or a good book.

Of course, everyone is sure to appreciate our extensive use of organic and local ingredients. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be pleased to find a menu in which nothing is out of bounds!

“…At the same time, some of us are also interested in pushing the limits of the infoshop model by embracing our role as an anti-capitalist business. Unlike a lot of infoshops, which try to exist outside the market in a sort of underground capacity, we are deliberately competing with capitalist enterprises. In part, this is a practical decision–too many libertarian projects go under because of financial pressures, volunteer burnout, and short sightedness. Working from a business plan, maintaining high standards, and compensating labor lends stability to the cafe and expands the range of people who can participate.

Additionally, the approach is influenced by a belief that anarchism can and should win ground by out-competing capitalism. Rather than cede economic territory to capital, we can contest it and demonstrate the effectiveness of cooperative economic principles while building momentum. Workers’ cooperatives can provide us with both valuable resources in the present and a starting point from which we can begin to envision a libertarian future…

…Our structure was based on the model of Red Emma’s in Baltimore (merging of the cafe with community space/infoshop). We are worker-owned (currently have ten owners and two interns). Ownership is based on labor, not capital investment. We are not-for-profit (once we reach a living wage for owners and paid interns, we will return any profits to the community through a grant program to support similar projects). We are a collective that operates entirely by consensus, which has been an incredible process for such a complex project. We are self-managed and have had to develop some innovative systems to break up tasks and responsibilities in such a way to avoid the trappings of having de facto managers. Each owner is required to participate in one management team (bookkeeping, ordering, or baking), one working group, and have at least one regular shift per week.

We feel that a self-managed workforce is much more effective than top-down management. This assertion was strongly validated when we got our first sanitation score: 101, which is pretty much totally unheard of in the cafe/restaurant world. That was accomplished with no managers or bosses yelling orders, but by a group of people who cared about the place and put everything, they had into it. The cafe basically runs by all of us adhering to consensed upon checklists (opening, closing, inventory, daily tasks), participation in management teams and each owner or intern operating on their own initiative to take care of things they see need to be done. It is a true collective in that, any one or group of us can leave for a few days knowing that the place will still go. That’s an incredible accomplishment after only a few months of being open.” from an interview to AK Press Blog

Cooperative organizational structure

The Firestorm Cafe & Books has been a worker-owned cooperative since 2008. Firestorm Cafe & Books is run without bosses or supervisors, relying instead on a horizontal workplace. Each worker-owner is responsible for both weekly shift work and a share of managerial duties. Decision making is achieved using a formalized consensus process in which each participant has an equal voice. This cooperative environment creates a more empowering and enjoyable workplace while strengthening the business itself.


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