A nice aritcle from Cynthia Joseph at Oakland Local:
Arizmendi's baked goods. Photographs by Tony Nguyen.
Mention ‘Arizmendi’ to most Bay Area bread lovers and watch their eyes glaze over as they recall the intoxicating aromas and scrumptious flavors of artisan breads, pastries, cookies and pizzas. Yet as heavenly as these lovingly hand-crafted baked goods are, there’s more that sets Arizmendi bakeries apart from the rest.
Each bakery is a cooperative, owned by its workers or members and democratically operated; all members earn the same wage based on yearly profits. They collectively make all business decisions and share all the responsibilities, benefits and risks that come with owning a business.
Four Arizmendi bakeries, located in Oakland, San Francisco, Emeryville, and the newest, in San Raphael, were developed based on the successful business model that The Cheese Board Collective of Berkeley designed in 1967. All are members of the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives. Membership is voluntary and permits access to the Arizmendi name and recipes.
The name and values of the Arizmendi organization were inspired by a Basque Country priest named José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in 1956. It promoted employment based on solidarity and democracy.
Arizmendi's governing organization is a board of directors called the Policy Council and another group called the Development and Support Cooperative, or DSC, an internal staff co-op. The DSC and each bakery elect two workers to the council.
The council determines the association’s goals and oversees the budget and activities of the DSC. The DSC provides administrative support, mediation and training to the bakeries. Established bakeries contribute a percentage of their net profits to the association, which helps new co-ops get started. Unlike a typical business, decisions for Arizmendi are made by concensus by the council.
Victor Hernandez, a member of Arizmendi in Oakland for three years, serves on the Policy Council and is a member of the DSC. Every Friday he trains workers at the new bakery in San Raphael and tries to impart Arizmendi’s co-op philosophy. He said he compares the culture of the co-op to that of a family.
“It’s like a mom and dad: If they love each other, the kids will be taken care of. The members are the parents, the bakery is the kid,” he said.
According to Hernandez, although both the recipes and business model have proven to be successful, new workers have to get used to the co-op's culture. Hernandez said members learn to compromise and respect each other's skills. The underlying philosophy is that members' working styles and speed aren’t being measured, and that everyone is an equal and completes their work in their own way.
Jessica Brogdon, a member at Arizmendi in Oakland for eight years, said she believes the food quality stays high because everyone has an equal stake.
“It’s your business. You take more responsibility when you’re working for yourself," she explained.
Hernandez said most of the 26 members have been there about eight years and there is little turnover. Committees focus on various aspects of the business, such as production, benefits and grievances. Any worker can serve on a committee; a general meeting, led by a member-facilitator, is held once a month.
New members must be approved by 90 percent of the co-op after serving a six-month candidacy period to see how well they mesh with other owners. A new member pays $3,000 for his or her share of the business. Rather than pay that money upfront, the cost is deducted gradually from wages, typically $50 from each paycheck.
How does the group select new members? It’s not all about the work, Hernandez explained, “but how the candidate fits in and gets along with the group. Although ‘Heart’ isn’t on the application," it's an intangible that matters. The team asks "How dedicated are they? How much do they care about the person they’re working with?" in making their decisions.
In additional to being equitable, Arizmendi's baked goods (including the pizzas) are super-delicious.
Treat yourself and visit an Arizmendi bakery near you:
Arizmendi Oakland, 3265 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland 510-268-8849
The Cheeseboard, 1504 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley 510-549-3183
Arizmendi Emeryville, 4301 San Pablo Avenue, Emeryville 510-547-0550
Arizmendi San Rafael, 1002 Fourth St., San Rafael 415- 456-4093
Arizmendi San Francisco, 1331 9th Avenue, San Francisco 415-566-3117, firstname.lastname@example.org