Workers Assembly

A Few Operational Changes at the Co-op

You may have noticed few changes to the way Black Star Co-op does business over the past couple weeks. We want to address some of these changes here, to provide an explanation for why the changes were necessary. 

Firstly, we’ll be closing the pub with kitchen at the same time throughout the week: 11:00pm. Over the past year we’ve tacked a sharp drop in patronage during late-night service, after the kitchen closes. With too few customers coming in between 11:00pm and 1:00am, it made little sense for us to stay open. So while we’re sorry for any inconvenience it may cause patrons who enjoyed late-night drinks on the weekend, it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible of us to stay open past 11:00pm. 

Secondly, food prices will no longer be sales tax inclusive. With kitchen expenses rising, we were left with two options to cover those expenses: substantially raise menu item prices, or fall in with the rest of Austin’s restaurants and have sales tax added to your bill’s bottom line.

While these changes constitutes a small change from how we’ve done business in the past, we’re confident that it’s for the best. After all, a positive change to our business and the bottom line, is in turn better for the Members.

A Time to Give: Support Black Star’s 2015 Charity Organizations

In this season of giving, we’d like to encourage our Member-Owners and friends to contribute to any of Black Star Co-op’s chosen 2015 non-profit organizations. Below we’ve provided links to our selected charity organizations and their donations pages. Let’s actively do as much good for our community as possible, cooperatively!

Safe Place Austin: 

“The SAFE Alliance is a structured partnership between SafePlace and Austin Children’s Shelter, two organizations that serve the survivors of child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.”

Meals on Wheels and More

Meals on Wheels and More seeks to nourish and enrich the lives of the homebound and other people in need through programs that promote dignity and independent living.”

Austin Children’s Shelter

“Austin Children’s Shelter provides on-campus services for children, young adults and families affected by abuse, exploitation and neglect. We believe that every child, youth and young adult deserves to feel safe; to receive nurturing care; and the opportunity to grow into happy, responsible and fulfilled adults. Austin Children’s Shelter is a safe space to begin to heal and learn to thrive.”

Sustainable Food Center

We cultivate a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food. SFC envisions a food secure community where all children and adults grow, share and prepare healthy, local food.”


Worker Spotlight: Dustin

Dustin with his soon to be internet famous dogs.

What do you do at Black Star Co-op?

I’m a cook!

Where are you from? 

ATX, baby.

Which is your favorite house beer? 

Vulcan, because it get you there in a timely and efficient manner.

Favorite late night drunk snack?

Roast beef sandwiches: because I always got beef!

Are you as excited as the rest of the BSC Kitchen Team to see the next Star Wars film? 

I’m not nearly as excited as the Bounty Hunter, Travis (or as much of a scoundrel)! But sure! Solo vs. Fett!

What do you want for Christmas/Chanukah/Festivus/your next birthday?  

—New work shoes; slip resistant.

—Pressure cooker.

—One of those fancy electric smokers.

If you had a dog, and that dog was objectively the cutest dog in the world, would you campaign to make your dog internet famous? Keep in mind that this is pretty much just for your own profit, your dog is a dog and has no celebrity aspirations. 

If you mean: would I want my dogs to be internet famous? Absolutely. I would save up all the moneys for a trip to the Bahamas!

If you see pennies on the ground, do you pick them up? 

Ummm… If I find anything on the ground I’ll pick it up and take it home. No question. That’s what you learn from years of being a loan officer at Sambla AB (Sweden).

Where do you think is the best place in the world to eat a whole pizza by yourself? Think setting and surroundings, not necessarily a specific restaurant. 

As the sun set on Enchanted Rock during an Indian Summer. You can hear all the insects and the birds having one last hoo-rah before the winter sets in on the Hill Country.

Looking Back on 5 Years: A Conversation with Two of the Co-op's Founding Workers

Few workers at Black Star Co-op have dedicated themselves so completely to the Co-op as Dana Curtis and Johnny Livesay, the Business and Kitchen Team Leaders respectively. Both as founding workers and former directors, the past five years at Black Star Co-op is as much their story as it is the Co-op’s. So we asked Dana and Johnny to share a few of their thoughts on the past, present, and future of Black Star Co-op. 

First off, can you tell me how you first got involved with the Co-op? 

Johnny: Back in January of 2006, I was working as a Floor Manager at Wheatsville. That’s where I saw the crudely made flier for the inaugural meeting of Austin’s first co-operative pub, in our staff bathroom—The Black Star Pub.

The flier promised free fine craft beer and discussion about what Austinites really wanted in a beer bar. The meeting wasn’t largely attended, about fourteen of us in a field. I met Steven, the man with the vision for a co-op beer bar, Jeff, the home brewer transplant from Alabama, Jon Airheart, the now brewer for Rogness Brewing, Jason Lively, Millie, and some other beer nerds. There was a kegerator painted with orange and red flames dispensing goodies. We took an iconic photo. 

I was serving my second term on the Wheatsville board, and was pretty into co-ops at the time. We talked about serving temperatures and proper glassware. Jeff said we should be a brewpub, and I brought up the recently adopted co-op statute of the Texas Business Code. 

After that meeting we started a listserv, and the arguments, compromise, progress, and innovation began. 

Dana: My friend, Don Jackson, was a board member and invited me to the location unveiling party. I had been working as a union organizer, so I wasn’t used to attending an event without bugging people to join. So I grabbed a clipboard and signed a bunch of people up for the Co-op! I met Steven Yarak and he asked me to move to Austin and work with him, Jeff, and Karinne to get this place open. 

Black Star Co-op is frequently sought out for advice from fledgeling co-ops on how to start a successful business. Reducing a very broad question into something more specific, what sage advice would you like to offer young co-op businesses?  

D: Well, I think we’re still a pretty young co-op ourselves. But some advice for co-ops just getting started is to make sure you have a good group of committed, caring individuals. When you don’t have much financial capital, all you have is people capital. It’s a lot of work for a small group of folks, but with a good group of people working together, you can make it work!

J: Remember that things take time (TTT!). Getting people behind your vision will take time. Raising capital will take time. Finding your space will take time. Figuring out what the hell you’re doing will take time. Don’t get discouraged, squad up, and kick ass. Surround the baby co-op with the village that will raise it. Be true to your vision, but be flexible, and adaptive; expect bad things to happen and good things to come from them. 

Which of the Co-op’s accomplishment’s do you feel the most proud?

D: There are so many! But I’m really proud of the national recognition we get for our Ends policies. We’re a LEED Gold certified brewpub with zero waste. We’ve been recognized by the White House for our training for frontline workers. We’ve been recognized for our commitment to paying a living wage and not accepting tips. We’ve won two GABF metals! 

JThere have been so many things to be proud of. I guess if I had to say one thing, it would be providing good, living wage paying jobs in a democratic workplace with solid benefits for a couple dozen people in Austin. That, and making great food and beer. 

How do you feel your personal successes are reflected in the Co-op? 

J: I have personal successes? I guess I consider some of our early compromises on structure and vision in the primary architecture of the Co-op stand out as true personal successes. As time has moved on and the days of working boards, and beer socials have turned into burgers and gold medals at GABF, some of those things are lost to the history of the project, and don’t (other than fundamental structure) get recognized on the daily, I wonder if they are as important as having a great team of people that stay inspired and dedicated to serve our members? These are the days of the humble brag. Is it right to say that I feel successful because we are often on lists that recognize positive aspects of what we are doing, whether it be food or drink or wages? Started from the bottom, now we here. 

D: This is tough. I was hired to raise the money to get Black Star open, and I did it along with help from other workers, Board members, and committed member-owners. I didn’t do it alone, but I get the credit. What I like most about the co-op structure is that it’s really difficult to look back and identify personal successes. We really work together. I might come up with an idea, but other people have valuable additions and changes that make the original idea that much stronger. That’s what the cooperative is all about–people working together to accomplish a shared goal. 

What are you excited to see Black Star Co-op accomplish in the future? 

D: I would love to see us open a second location, which would mean more quality jobs in our community, more locally sourced products, and more examples of how a business can support the planet and people.

J: I think our story is far from finished. I think we have a lot of potential to make it easier to get our beer in peoples’ lives. I’m excited to expand at some point, and to keep making beers that win awards and get recognition for how great they are. I’m excited to keep getting better at running our business, and show others that even though you have to make your hard decisions as a group, that a democratic workplace is a viable option as an alternative business model. To cultivate a new generation of Black Star Co-op leadership that will take us there. 

Would you describe your most cherished Black Star Co-op memory?

J: Ten years are filled with a lot of memories, and a lot of lost memories. So many good times, the Beer Socials, liberating our beer cellar from storage, the fig leaf and keg after the first ever Members’ Assembly Meeting, Steven and I driving cross country in 2007 to be young co-op rock stars drinking beer across the Midwest. I don’t know. If I had to pin it down to just one memory, it might have to be the Halloween 2007 Beer Social at the Compound where I dressed like a young Jerry Garcia. We had too much fun that night. Matt Herpin and Chris Apperson showed up in kid’s Ninja Turtle costumes. I’m pretty sure I had a blast that night, no one threw beer at me, and we drank all the Double Dee. 

D: I’ve been working here since January of 2010, so I have a few. I should probably say hiring 16 people and opening the doors for business, but if you’ve ever started a business, you know opening is crazy. Experience is a powerful teacher and I feel like we’ve just really figured out this whole self-managed business thing. 

All my memories here are cherished! It’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. (To be fair, I also don’t have a favorite color, book, food, movie, or band.) I love my job, my co-op, my co-workers, and all the amazing people I’ve met through Black Star and the larger cooperative community. I’m so glad to call Black Star home.


Worker Spotlight: Francis

What do you do at Black Star Co-op?

I work in the kitchen doing kitchen things—making awesome food with great people. It doesn’t get better than that. 

Where are you from? 

South, TX. More specifically Brownsville/South Padre.

What is your favorite dish on our menu? 

Cliche, but I don’t have a favorite. I love all of our food equally… Who am I kidding? Hands down our roast chicken. That crisp golden brown skin, those juicy sautéed seasonal veggies, and our grits!

Favorite late night drunk snack?

Drunk mac! A mid rare beef patty covered in delicious mac-n cheese, topped with fried onions and crispy bacon. What more could you want? 

If  you were MATT DAMON stranded alone on Mars, would you really want to come back to earth? 

Depends Really. If I was waiting on my impending doom while stranded, I would much rather come back. Otherwise, you can call me the Emperor of Mars. 

How do you feel about water privatization? 

It’s not cool. Water should be free. Duh. 

How well would the BSC kitchen perform in a local relay race?

Given the fact that we work harder than any other kitchen, I would say that we’re golden. I mean, the co-op already took the gold at GABF. Who knows what the kitchen can do!?

What are you going to be for Halloween? 

Still haven’t decided. Lots of options maybe something crazy, or I’ll just pair something up with my girlfriend. Who knows? 

Worker Spotlight: Alyssa

What do you do at Black Star?

I make the food and play with mah Black Star peeps.

Where are you from?

I am from a small town called Montgomery, New York which is part of the gorgeous Hudson Valley.

Your favorite beer on Tap?

My favorite beer on tap is Pneuma for a refreshing wind-down drink especially during the summer. But to feel EXCELLENT, Vulcan, without a doubt, does a wonderful job.

The part of working at a cooperative would be…?

Togetherness. Laugh, learn, grow and be merry.

Do you have any tips on how to not burn out in the Kitchen?

Excellent excellent question. I think the best trick is: lotsa coffee and some more coffee, make stupid jokes, and giddy laughters. No matter how tired you are, you gotta laugh even if your face muscles don’t want to work anymore to smile.

What’s your favorite late-late night snack?

Ramen, all the way!

Say a cave-in trapped the kitchen team underground during a spelunking/team building trip gone awry, what are the chances you all would make it out?

I never thought the kitchen team would be in a scenario like this. I can imagine we started a campfire in the cave and created some excellent, mouth-watering feast including ramen. And of course, we would wash down with some delicious Black Star Co-op brews. We’d die happy as we see the blurry rocks fall on our heads. Yeah, that sounds like a painful happily ever after. The end.

Have you ever seen an alien?

No, but that would be an horrifying dream of mine to accomplish one day.