... like, intentionally. For the last five months, the staff of Muddy Waters coffeeshop on Belmont have been looking to buy the corner store and convert it into some sort of community-focused nonprofit. On Friday, the paperwork becomes official and the current owner turns the coffeeshop to its four baristas, making them co-owners in an ambitious, super Portland crunchy business/anti-business venture.
When the four Muddy Waters workers started talking about taking over the sofa-laden neighborhood cafe several months ago, they tossed around the idea of becoming a non-profit. But they thought the 501(c)3 regulations were too restrictive, so they're aiming to be an "anti-profit." That means the money earned at the coffee shop will go toward paying the four co-owners personal bills and the bills for the shop. Everything over expenses will go toward local charities (the first is Home PDX). The only money the co-owners really get to keep for themselves are their tips. That's the plan, anyway.
"What's so wrong with profit?" I asked Mike.
"It's not how I want to live," he replied. "In the times that we are right now, to build a cohesive, working community, we've got to be willing to give freely." He estimates that each owner's bills are about $400-$500 a month.
The next few months are probably going to be difficult waters (ha.) for the fledgling co-owners. All of them are between the ages of 23-30 and only one of has any experience running a cooperative. "Honestly, a lot of it we're making it up as we go along," says Lynn. The small group hasn't really branched out to other co-op partners in town — Lynn says he contacted Red & Black a few times looking for advice and support, but they never got back to him. "And now I'm understanding why. You're really, really busy," says Lynn.
"Aren't you terrified?" I asked, "Launching a new business with not much experience during the world economic collapse?"
"Nah," said Lynn, "Having it split between four people, it's better. We all have our responsibilities and we do them." The co-owners are planning to switch up the menu by incorporating as many local foods as possible. "The goal is to keep the money here," said Lynn.
While there's a handful of co-op bike shops and grocery stores here, I'm pretty sure this move makes Muddy Water's the second cooperative coffeeshop in town, after Red and Black. edit: Chance of Rain is cooperative owned coffeeshop, too, on Hawthorne. So that makes three now?