AUSTIN (KXAN) — Touted as the world’s first cooperatively owned and worker self-managed brewpub, the Black Star Co-op may be forced to shut down if revenue doesn’t go up.
The co-op first opened its doors in 2010, a labor of love by the community that was years in the making. It’s supported by over 3,500 member-owners.
“The biggest difference with us is we’re paid a fair living wage,” explained Team Leader, Jodi Lang. “We don’t work for tips, we don’t accept them at all. We offer health insurance to our employees, and lots of other benefits.”
Over the past couple years, it has become more difficult to sustain the model. There’s been layoffs, employees have had to take a 5 percent cut in wages and they’ve also pared down employee benefits.
“It’s really nice to have the ability to say we as a worker’s assembly need to be able to take a pay cut in order for the business to survive, but it’s gotten to the point where we can only take so much of a pay cut,” said Beer Team Leader and brewer, Andy Martinec.
Lang says Black Star was one of Austin’s first breweries when they opened up, but now the market is booming. While it’s good for consumer choice, the co-op is struggling to keep up.
They’re reaching out to member-owners and the greater public to come in for a beer, and keep their taps flowing. Leslie Patterson brought her family in for lunch after hearing the news. “This is a unique business that is keeping Austin weird.”
She wasn’t the only one. After the letter was sent out, the place was packed on Friday with supporters.
“The cooperative economy, sharing, putting people first, is really important to me and Black Star pays people living wages, instead of our pathetic minimum wage,” said Patterson.
Corey Hook has been a member-owner since 2009. “It’s hard for me to think that would be a reality. I’m going to say it’s not going to happen! Fingers crossed.”
Team leaders say going against the grain in business comes with obstacles, but that the brewpub is worth fighting for.
“Our structure is set up so we’re trying to treat everyone fairly, and we need the support of the community. We’re a community-owned business and we need their support,” said Long.
If Black Star doesn’t bring enough revenue in, they may have to close by the end of the month, a reality member-owners hope they won’t have to face.