All posts by JohnnyLivesay


Yesterday was my last day as a member of the Workers’ Assembly at the Co-op. I wanted to take a minute to talk about some of my experiences serving Black Star Co-op, and to thank some of the truly amazing people who challenged, inspired, or helped me grow over the past twelve years. 

read more

Mr. Livesay Goes to Washington. . .Again

Later this month we’ll be going back to Washington, D.C. to lobby for fair wages, worker, women, and immigrant’s rights, and increasing the tipped minimum wage for industry workers. This will be the fourth year we’ve gone to D.C. to counter lobby the National Restaurant Association in solidarity with our friends from around the country in both the ROC and RAISE organizations. 

read more

Upcoming Menu Changes

Your Kitchen Team will be putting out our SXSW menu this week. We are working on a new format this year that will highlight more seasonal items, but still keeps our favorite items around. Over the past year, we’ve established a few new relationships with local purveyors, ranchers, and farmers that we want to showcase. 

read more

Industry Shake-up: Union Square Hospitality Group Eliminates Tipping

Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer’s NYC restaurant group, announced yesterday that beginning in November they will be eliminating tipping at their restaurants. Several other restaurants that have made the move over the past two years have switched to a blanket “service fee” that is usually around 18%, but what USHG is doing is pretty radical. They have decided to raise their wages across the board to decrease the FOH and BOH pay divide, and raise menu prices by about 30 percent to pay for the increase in remuneration. Since most people usually tip around 20 percent, they are really only raising prices about 10 percent, and feel that this will be ok for their customers once they get used to it. This is a pretty bold move for a restaurant group that employs about 1800 people. 

So why is this important to us? Black Star has worked with ROC United and RAISE for a few years now, and much of what we discuss when we meet has to do with eliminating the two tier wage system that is prevalent in the industry. Although many states have recently moved to increase the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 an hour, there is still a lot of room for improvement in industry wages for both the front and back of house workers. Black Star’s structure as a member owned business is conducive to the non-gratuity based remuneration, but for restaurants that are privately owned or owned by restaurant groups, it’s been challenging to find a way to move away from the dominant paradigm without going out of business. This is why many businesses have gone to the flat fee, which is the current band-aid, but not the solution. What Meyer is proposing is far more radical. As we know, even with our structure, it is not easy to remunerate fairly and operate a business. There could be some potential to increase our visibility in town as a vanguard for where the industry IS going, not just as some socialist experiment. I’ve said it before, we decided to this nine and half years ago because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not the easy thing to do, but I still believe it’s the right thing to do, and since when has been doing the easy thing been rewarding or inspired real growth? 

There are a few links to some articles here, but I think this is interesting, and very timely. It’s especially encouraging to see a major restaurant group make this sort of sea change while working in conjunction with ROC and the RAISE Steering Committee. It’s already pretty divisive, and if you are a comment reader, each of these articles have some seriously opinionated comments going on. If your are interested in knowing more about tipped wages, wage gap, or anything else about what ROC or RAISE is doing, feel free to reach out to me:

Other Reading:

Upskilling It: Campaigning for Worker Empowerment

When our Member-Owners chose to ratify our Ends policies a few years ago, we were being pretty ambitious. Not only were we codifying our service, social justice, and environmental standards, but we were really committing to being a better workplace with our Worker Treatment end policy.  

Black Star Co-op continues to get national recognition for our worker treatment and structure. Beyond being a “world’s first” that is sought out as a reference by start-ups, we also inspire other businesses to be better, to do the right thing. For the last two years I’ve been working with some of these other business leaders as a steering committee member for an alternative restaurant association called RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment). 

A few weeks ago, we convened in DC to discuss some of the issues that RAISE is trying to improve in the industry, and to counter lobby the National Restaurant Association on their annual lobby day, April 15th. The day the dude flew his little gyro copter to the Hill. Many of the restaurants that are involved in RAISE do more than just pay a better wages. Some are in places like Detriot, where being a really good business, and employer, really means something. Others are extremely active in education and social justice that benefit the communities that their workers live in. A few, like Zingerman’s, just do pretty much everything, and are always trying to improve. 

Our lobbying efforts this year were well timed, and we seemed to be heard. RAISE business members attended a hearing with members of the Fight for Fifteen campaign hosted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. A link to the hearing can be found here

The following week the White House rolled out its new Upskilling Initiative, supporting businesses that offer training to frontline workers. Based on our efforts to self manage, offer open book finance, leadership tracks, and managerial level training for all workers, Black Star Co-op was selected as one of one hundred businesses highlighted in the White House’s report. 

Black Star Co-op has chosen operate under these business practices because our Member-Owners chose to do the right thing. It’s not easy, and it definitely costs moneys, but the better we, the Worker’s Assembly, get at running our business, the better systems we build to support our model. It will take some time, but we are on the right path. 

Just Desserts

The Black Star Co-op Kitchen Team does a lot of things well, but desserts have never been a primary focus. We’ve always gone the route of the “Chef” dessert: pie, bread pudding, ice cream, BACON TOFFEE.

In the coming weeks, that will change. We recently brought aboard pastry chef Jen Cash. Jen comes to us from the corporate kitchen world, is an extremely talented pastry chef, and all around badass. She is filling a role on our team that we never really thought we’d have. 

The desserts section will break off of our main menu, with a new menu of bites and shares. We’ll still be making our pie and ice cream, and the new menu will remain loyal to our dedication to seasonal options that utilize our abundant local sourcing. We will also commit to a few gluten free options. 

If you have a sweet tooth, then maybe all of this is good news. We are excited to expand our offerings to our member owners and patrons, and to try all the stuff that we’ll be making. 


Summer in the Kitchen

This summer has been a pretty great one for the Black Star Co-op Kitchen Team. We’ve been enjoying the amazing summer produce and some really great specialty proteins from around the state.  Our Crestview Hot Chicken recipe, an homage to Prince’s Nashville Hot Chicken, is getting better with each new iteration. And we’ve been making a ton of great pies and ice cream to keep you cool. 

Because we’re a little behind the season on switching to our summer menu, we’ll call it a Late Summer menu. There’s not a whole lot of change on this menu, mainly: we’re lightening up some of our items, moving to more local options on stock items, and adjusting some prices due to seasonal cost increases. 

The two biggest changes that you will see pertain to our grit dishes, and how we will be treating our bar steaks. We are switching our grits to a far superior local product provided by the folks at the Homestead Gristmill in Waco. These true grits allow us to make an end product closer to Low Country style grits—creamy and filling with a bright corn flavor. We are really excited about this product, and we hope that you are too. Regarding bar steaks, we’re doing a “Butcher’s Cut” that will allow us to be more flexible and creative with the range of cuts that we can offer. Bar steak price will follow market price, with our base price will staying the same. With these changes we’ll have the freedom to make different cuts and bypass and sourcing issues we may experience. All the beef used for our steaks will be sourced locally and butchered in house.

2014 has been a good year for sourcing local fruits. We are right in the middle of fig season, and we are super stoked to be getting figs from Dan Gonzales again. As I’ve said before, he’s not a farmer, he’s just a man with a lot of figs–delicious figs. A friend of member-owner Debbie Cerda, Dan reached out to me on her recommendation back when I was Produce Manager at Wheatsville. We were as lucky to get them then as now, and are enjoying using them in pies and other treats this summer.

On the worker front, we have two new Kitchen Team members: Isaac and Alyssa. If you see them around the Co-op, please welcome them to the family.