The career trajectory in the restaurant industry is a familiar one. You work your way up gradually from whatever starting point you choose—front of house/back of house—while keeping your head down, putting in long hours, and gaining valuable experience at every step along the way.
At some point down the line, after accruing enough knowledge and experience, you and a business partner or two may solicit investors for a project of your own. But, if you’re tired of working for others while having a vision you want to put into reality, you could also be highly averse to tying yourself to any restraints, financial or otherwise, that could come with large investors.
Enter the people from Win Win Coffee Bar, a new cooperatively owned coffee bar/restaurant set for a tentative launch date of June 1st at 931 Spring Garden (formerly Siam Lotus). Just as intriguing as their locally sourced approach that features cross-pollination across all areas (coffee, beer, cocktails, and cuisine), is the story of how their unusual partnership came about, with ringleader Tony Montagnaro assembling an Ocean’s Eleven like team of friends with backgrounds extending across all facets of the industry.
“Yeah, we definitely have this rat-pack thing going on,” Montagnaro says with a sly grin while sipping from a Miller High Life. The High Life box sits on the cutting board of an open, recently cleaned out, and still unplugged cold box holding a case of Pennsylvania Pale Ale by PBC. Backing up his allusion to Sinatra, Dino et al were the people, this past Friday night, in Breaking Bad style hazmat suits that were assaulting the kitchen’s ubiquitous grease coating.
With a snowballing effect, everyone here seems to have preternaturally come together, with each new member adding something crucial. “It really all started once we had everyone in the same room,” Montagnaro says of the impetus for launching a project that he says took off about a year ago. Most salient for everyone, he says, is that they’re hardly seeking to replicate the same ownership model they’ve all worked under previously.
“Nobody could deal with another industry job where your personality is what makes the place succeed and you have no access to the money you help make.” he says. “People can really make a place what it is,” he adds. To ensure just that, Win Win Café is launching with a cooperative of 8 worker-owners who, going forward will share the benefits of the establishment based on the work they put into the business. Rather than a traditional hierarchy, they’ll operate via a consensus model. And, their financing has come through their own savings, a network of friends and family, and microloans obtained from within the local business community. As of right now, they’re lining up additional small loans, while also considering a Kickstarter. [UPDATE: They decided against a Kickstarter and are currently running a crowd funding campaign that will repay your investment in them with credit you can use once they open. Read Juliana Reyes’ piece on the campaign here]
“The whole nature of our model is that if you work here and help make important decisions, you get access to the prosperity of the business. If anyone’s putting up money, that’s paid back. We’re not looking for silent investors. The model is empowering to those who make it succeed,” Montagnaro says.