A Glimpse of What’s to Come

As fun as it is to self-congratulate ourselves for a brilliant 2014, it’s equally enjoyable to report glories that’ve not yet come to pass! So, what does Black Star Co-op hope to accomplish in 2014?

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If you haven’t yet heard, we are looking to expand our business to a second location. This means there’ll be more Black Star Co-op to go around. Ideally our new location will be more accessible to our loyal south/central supporters that have endured so many Austin commutes over the years. The new site will also house a larger brewery to support our increasing distribution demands. Say, how fun will it be to have your two favorite bars in town both be Black Star Coop? And if all this talk of expansion has got you excited, and you’ve formed plenty of your own ideas about the next location, be sure to take our expansion survey to ensure those ideas are shared. 

Physical Changes in the Pub
With expansion on the horizon, we want to make sure that our current pub experience is as good as it can be. One of the ways we’re working to ensure that is by making physical changes to the pub and its operations. We are debuting a new point of sale system this winter that will allow us to move our long lines much, much quicker and allow for patronage tracking. All the beautiful patio seating that succumbs to the wind and cold will soon have the protection of an awning. Plus, much to Subway’s chagrin, we’re taking strides to offer weekday lunch service in 2015. So you can appreciate all of the changes we’ve made to our dining experience in the beautiful light of day!

Rebellious Dockhand
Word on the street is we’ve perfected our sour-worting process. According to Black Star Co-op Bear Team Leader Chris Hamje, “Rebellious Dockhand is my favorite beer we make, and this is upcoming batch is the best it’s ever tasted.” No small praise indeed. Perfection is a rare; here’s to hoping the beer team was being less than hyperbolic, and in fact they’ve forged a liquid nirvana. 

Increased parking
Now this is something we don’t have any control over, but the new owners of Midtown Commons said they’re looking into the parking issue. So keep your fingers crossed. Or, if you’d like to be more proactive, I’m sure an email to midtowncommons@lincolnapts.com couldn’t hurt!

Aye, a future so bright is hard to see. What do you hope to see from the co-op this year? 

2014 in Review

2014 was a big year for Black Star Co-op. As we entered our fourth year of service, the co-op experienced significant changes while delivering the same level of quality service we’ve always provided. To wrap it up, we thought we’d cover some of the co-op’s most significant accomplishments:

Black Star Co-op Distributes Beer through Flood
This is a feel good story, one that hits you right in the gullet (where the beer goes). A natural progression for our brewery, the distribution deal made with Flood Independent Distribution looks to bring Black Star Co-op to more lips in the coming years. While house favorites Vulcan and High Esteem are the only beers that we’ve sold outside our own pub thus far, we received label approval from TABC for Waterloo and Recalcitrant Dockhand, so keep and eye open for their release in bars around town.

We Continue to Give Back to the Community
As is our wont, the co-op supported three major charities and non-profits this year: Cooperation Texas, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels. And all with the help of our member-owners.  With donations made from the sale of our house beers, we supported causes that we believed in, causes that supported the homeless, the disenfranchised, and the disabled. 

Senior Workers Leave, Little Ones Left to Step Up
A couple of our senior workers left Black Star this year, some to use their self-management skills in the creation of their own business no less, leaving junior members to step into more responsibility. The good news: the transition was smooth–proving that our WA is structured in a way that supports succession. The bad: we still miss Jeff and Brian

All Local Proteins in the Kitchen
The Black Star Co-op kitchen managed to hit a milestone this year by completely locking down Texan providers for its proteins. Sourcing from great local providers like San Miguel Fish, 44 farms, Homestead Land & Cattle, and Quality Seafood allow us to embody our principals of serving excellent quality food in collaboration with local food sources. The quality of ingredient is especially pronounced in our newest menu, which features protein heavy southern favorites. 

The Dewberrys Win Again
The Dewberrys were the Homebrew Challenge winners again. They’re on a dynasty run, y’all. Who among you can stop them? 

All in all it was a stellar year, with plenty to be proud of. Big or small, which developments and triumphs stuck out to you? Answer in the comments bellow. 

Worker Spotlight: Mike

What do you do at Black Star Co-op? 
Cook bad-ass food with some bad-ass peeps for awesome customers. 

Where are you from? 
I was born in Iowa City, Iowa. Relocated to Lake Travis in 4th grade. Now I live down the street from Black Star. 

What is your favorite beer currently on tap? 

And your favorite dish on the menu? 
I stay true to the champ: the Black Star Burger. 

What is your favorite late night Drunk Snack?
Anything with chili and cheese on it.

What was the best movie you saw last year? 
Abstain (because I can’t remember a movie I saw last year).

Do you have a horse in the Super Bowl Race? 
Going Homer, Dallas. 

What music do you play in the kitchen when you’ve got control? 
Riff Raff.

Who is the better cook, you or your wife (be honest, but keep in mind that the answer to this question will be emailed to your wife)?
You sneaky… The wife of course. 

2014 Homebrew Challenge Winners

And, the winners are…


Dan & Joelle Dewberry with “Nonaggression.” 

Seven beers were judged by the Black Star Beer Team in a double blind tasting and the Dewberrys English/German/American hybrid malt ale was a standout worthy of crown. 

Look for “Nonaggression,” perhaps under a different name (for a Nonaggression under any other name would taste as sweet), to make an appearance on our taps soon. 

December Extravaganza Details

One of the great things about being a Member-Owner at Black Star Co-op is being asked your opinion on things—over a free beer!  Come join us for another Member-Owner Extravaganza on MONDAY DECEMBER 15th from 6-8 pm.

The Extravaganza is a casual open-house event and also gives you an opportunity to meet other Member-Owners, chat with Directors, and get some much-deserved appreciation with tasty snacks and beers.

This month our Directors, (including our newly-elected Board members) will be around to discuss our part in the successful fundraising project “The House That Beer Built.” Austin’s Habitat For Humanity has just turned over the keys to this new home to the Huerta Family.  

We will also be looking for your thoughts on the Co-op’s expansion plans, about which a Member-Owner Survey has just been circulated.

Come throw in your two cents and meet some new friends, the gathering will be in the Dart/Barninsula area.

Steve Basile is an elected member of the Black Star Co-op Board of Directors.

Co-op 101: Part 3

Part 1 of this series outlined the basic principles governing traditional cooperatives, with reference to the operations of Black Star reflecting each principle. Part 2 explored the fundamentals of patronage refunds.  In Part 3, we’ll explore cooperative investment arrangements.  The rules and practicalities of co-op investment, and how such investment jibes with patronage rebates, are fairly complex. While a detailed presentation is beyond the scope of this short article, here are the basics: 

Like many co-ops, BSC periodically offers a preferred share program allowing Owners to invest in BSC beyond the membership payment required of all Owners.  This program — called the Member Investment Share Offering or “MISO” program — provides crucial funds for the development and expansion of our Co-op. BSC’s initial MISO phase raised more than $630,000, which is part of the reason why the brewpub was able to open so quickly and become so successful.  The Board anticipates another round of fundraising soon after plans are solidified for a new brewing facility, first, and then a new brewpub.  Because we want to allow as many members as possible to invest, we’ll likely set the minimum purchase amount at $1000 (10 shares at $100 apiece).  

Some co-ops do not offer investment shares beyond the required membership payment, but co-ops may appropriately offer investment shares if the program is carefully structured to maintain both the cooperative nature of the business and their favorable tax treatment.  Co-ops also do not want run afoul of state and federal securities laws—but, happily, there are exemptions available to co-ops.  One of these exemptions, for example, applies to an entity selling shares only to intrastate members. It is virtually prohibitive for a small business to pay the fees and comply with the regulatory requirements of a state/federal registered stock sale, so exemption from such laws is critical.  

The various limitations on co-op investment reflect the cooperative principles of Democratic Member Control, Member Economic Participation and Autonomy and Independence.  It would not be very cooperative to allow investors to control a co-op by purchasing large amounts of stock.  Therefore, co-ops would want to restrict sale of shares to persons who are members of the co-op and limit the amount of their investment.  State and federal laws also limit the amount of return on co-op investment (up to 8%), and limit the amount of the co-op’s assets that can be used to pay interest on the investments (Texas law allows only 50% of the co-op’s net profits to be used for investment dividends).  Perhaps most significantly, co-ops should apportion no additional voting power based on an additional investment. All these limitations are referred to as the subordination of capital requirements for co-ops — that is, the structure and control of the co-op should be strictly based on the principle of one person, one vote.  Co-ops are free to raise money, but they must also retain the attributes of a co-op.  

Some co-op experts contend that additional member investment alters the nature of a co-op, necessarily shifting its goals from generating only a return to members on patronage to a combined goal of return on patronage and return on investment.  The co-op now has two potentially conflicted types of members, each with different types of property rights and different expectations.  Some view the use of such additional investment, particularly from nonmember investors, as subverting or diluting the co-op business model.  Others view such investment as far preferable to loans from predatory banks and other outside sources.  Additional member investment keeps the equity and interest payments “in the family.”  The Directors of the co-op must be mindful of the dual interests in carefully managing the potential conflict.

Based on the above considerations, BSC intends to continue its program of raising expansion equity with a blend of new MISO investment and bank loans, as well as through increased sales of our delicious food and beer — now including beer distributed to other pub and retail locations around town. The BSC Board will continue to carefully analyze the interplay between patronage rebates and MISO dividends to ensure that all members are treated fairly and beneficially.  

John Vinson is an elected member of Black Star Co-op’s Board of Directors.

Holiday Gift Packages

Get ready to outfit your loved ones (and maybe yourself) with Black Star Co-op apparel and products. In addition to merchandise found in our online store, we have some special priced gift packages, available in the brewpub now through New Year’s Eve.  

Imperial Gift Membership $180/$200
Fully paid membership, flip top ($180) or insulated ($200) growler, Rational house beer fill, pint glass, and brewzie

Mega Sweet Gift Certificate Deal $100
Buy 5 $20 gift certificates, get an additional $20 certificate free

Growler Starter Set $35/$55
Choice of flip-top ($35) or insulated ($55) growler and Rational house beer fill

Black Star Bundle $20
Choice of t-shirt, pint glass, and brewzie

Holiday Four Pack $12/$16
4 Rational bottled 12 oz. beers or 3 Rational and 1 Irrational

October 2014 Board of Directors Meeting Minutes

Present: Erin, Kenley, John V, Joe, Annelies, Nicole, Cole, Charles

Consent Agenda: Move to adopt w/ two changes to September minutes: no decision on keeping current consultant, and “HUETER”

JV moves to adopt, Charles seconds, 6-0-0

Membership Linkage Committee: Elections are live. Everything is set for meeting other than arrangements for vote counting. 

Board Outreach Committee: House that Beer Built going well. 

Finance Committee: No meeting. 

Systems Audit Committee: Plans to continue to meet and finish the policy revision proposals. 

Discussion of Board Officers: Discussion of official duties versus traditional duties. Kenley would prefer someone else to take over Secretary role. It is not a “natural” role for him. Erin is not going to be on the Board next year. Kenley is willing to take over President, with caveat that he may be lacking sleep for one or more meetings. Erin thinks the President should be someone with at least one year of past experience. Nicole suggests that the WA rotates roles of minute taking, facilitation, so maybe the Board could rotate some roles as well. Annelies volunteers to assemble the Board packet for November. Minutes take roughly 30 minutes per month. Do we need a treasurer? Is it the Finance Committee chair? Or does the WA do most of it? Charles is willing to be an officer. Nobody knows if Scott or Steve is interested in either role. 

Discussion of MA meeting planning: Member comments at the beginning, but no time allotted. Discussion of vision exercise. 

Break. Cole leaves. Annelies checks on her chicken. 

Erin moves to enter internal session to discuss budget, business plan, operations update, D8 and D10. Annelies Seconds. Motion carries, 6-0-0. 

Exit internal session. Annelies moves to approve D8 and D10. Second by Erin. Motion carries 6-0-0. 

Next meeting agenda. 

B.9 – Steve

B.11 – Charles

Vision Discussion Wrap-Up

This is going to be a long post, but I hope everyone reads it to the end and offers comments either below or through info@blackstar.coop or board@blackstar.coop.  The workers and the Board want to be responsive to your preferences as member-owners, and that can only happen if we have a clear idea of what those preferences are.

On Sunday, October 26th, we held our Fall Members’ Assembly Meeting and spent a significant amount of time talking about the basic values, innovations, and means of expanding into a second location.  This portion of the meeting was organized around the Co-op’s Ends Policies, or end goals of the Co-op, known as the Five Points of the Black Star: Patron Experience, Community Involvement, Environmental Sustainability, Worker Treatment, and Financial Development.

The board asked members to write down new ideas, improvements, and even things to stop doing in regards to each policy.  After everyone had a chance to circulate among the Ends and talk amongst themselves, we collected the poster boards and recorded the submissions.  After mild editing for space and clarity, here they are under each Point and grouped into similar topics:

Patron Experience

  • Example: Sell Beer at Grocery Stores*
  • Change to a different Members Assembly cycle, such as during the summer or closer to dinner
  • More diet and diabetic options
  • Additional tap service – not just 2**
  • Better promotion of daily specials*
  • Dedicated styles like 2 IPA taps or 2 ESBs
  • Bring Beer and Bar Nuts back*
  • Chili!
  • Worker Nametags; 1st name only, get to know them better!*
  • Member-Owner Nametags*
  • Add space for a music venue / Live music
  • Add something like Square to the Point of Sale system so more people can pour and charge for drinks
  • Brewery Tours**
  • Noise control is still a big problem / Continue the sound-proof efforts, cushions on seats maybe? / Acoustic treatments to reduce ambient background noise*****
  • Include equipment members could use to brew their own beer
  • Member-Owner Line for faster service we know what we want vs new people who want to sample and try stuff first

Community Involvement

  • Example: Large meeting/private space*
  • Brewery Tours****
  • Black Star Bowling and Dart teams
  • Competition between first and second locations to help fundraising, possibly for different charities
  • Bar Nuts for Charity
  • Happy hours for local businesses
  • Be more involved in the neighborhood; “Crestview Park Now” or do charitable work with Friends of Brentwood Park
  • Hold periodic promotional events in Austin neighborhoods**
  • School partnerships/sponsorships for teacher events and neighborhoods

Environmental Sustainability

  • Example: Solar Panels*********
  • Wind Power
  • Drone fleet to transfer product between facilities
  • Use a facility that’s already built, no new developments***
  • Nifty efficiencies in the brewing system like recaptured steam or condensation that could be used to water plants or mashing techniques that use the grain better
  • Visit/research what New Belgium Brewery is doing
  • Spent grain could be reusable or recycled into backed goods, animal food, electric smoker pellets, etc.*
  • Sustainable or local hops?*
  • Water conservation when brewing
  • Design low water landscaping***
  • How about rain water collection?*****
  • Imagine a “public” garden open to member-owners donate a portion of their produce in exchange for using the garden*
  • Public Recycling Day, including batteries and foam*
  • Paper or compostable ketchup cups instead of plastic (already are!)
  • Go for LEED again, please**

Worker Treatment

  • Example: Profit Sharing
  • Publicize what we are doing for workers**
  • Employee Stock Purchase Plan****
  • Investor shares via pay deductions**
  • Create a sabbatical program for employees w/ X years of service; 90-180 days off w/pay to invest personal time in co-op development
  • Paid parental leave for both parents****
  • How much flexibility do employees have to do their schedules?
  • Professional Development***
  • Up the hourly wage to $15 with a time frame for periodic evaluation
  • On-site or Subsidized Day Care**
  • Tuition Reimbursement*
  • Supplemental Insurance*

Financial Development

  • Example: Pay a Patronage Refund*****
  • Do not pay a patronage refund.  Remove it from the Ends policy and instead dedicate that % of revenue to an employee fund for education/travel/etc,**
  • Kiosk for sign-up or membership sales (like an ATM)
  • Gift Cards (already are!)
  • Push merchandise more
  • Spent grain dog biscuits or smoke pellets
  • More merchandise?  Backpacks?  Put them on Zazzle to they can be ordered online
  • 2nd location in south/southwest Austin will increase membership/patronage/profit for other “points of the star”
  • Instead of a full kitchen at a 2nd location, start a BSC Food Truck that can serve the new tap room & go to other places to increase visibility of BSC brand.******
  • Central Market or Whole Foods cooking classes
  • Paid consulting services to co-op brewpub hopefuls around the world*
  • Additional opportunities to invest**

One or more asterisks (*) means that number of additional people noted their support for the idea and italicized text means the idea was mentioned in another Point.  Two items mentioned are things we already do: sell gift cards and use sustainable ketchup cups.

One way to look at these ideas is to seek consistent themes among them and decide if there are a few high-value ideas that translate into Ends policies.  Another way to look at the results is those suggestions with most intense member-owner support should be considered, if they make good business sense.  If we combine similar ideas and rank them, we get this top 10 list of ideas with at least four backers each:

  1. Solar panels
  2. Noise control is still a big problem / Continue the sound-proof efforts, cushions on seats maybe? / Acoustic treatments to reduce ambient background noise
  3. Instead of a full kitchen at a 2nd location, start a BSC Food Truck that can serve the new tap room & go to other places to increase visibility of BSC brand
  4. Brewery tours
  5. Pay a patronage refund
  6. How about rain water collection?
  7. Paid parental leave for both parents
  8. Employee stock purchase plan
  9. Professional development
  10. Use a facility that’s already built, no new developments

Let’s  continue the discussion here. Given our five Ends policy points and with a focus on things we could do at a second location, what do you think? What would you like to see the Co-op doing?