Saturday, March 22, 2014

Visit to Twist Bakery Cafe

Chuck and I took a field trip to Millis, MA to visit Twist Bakery Cafe. While it's not cooperatively-owned, we wanted to visit because it's a locally-owned cafe and their focus is on allergen-free foods. One of the business ideas we've had for our town center is that of a co-op bakery cafe.

Twist owner Kathryn Ernst took time out of her busy day to sit down and talk with us. As we chatted, I sipped my coffee, supplied by local roaster Karma Coffee in Sudbury, and tried to ignore the blueberry cream cheese hand pie on my plate.
Twist, which celebrated its two-year anniversary in December, offers seasonal and local foods prepared on the premises. They do not use corn syrup, artificial coloring or hydrogenated fats. They have always been gluten and peanut-free, and will be phasing out other nuts entirely this spring. Other potential allergens are noted using their color-coding chart shown here.
Twist offers catering and they are open until 5pm daily.

Kathryn chose to open her business in Millis, rather than in the nearby town where she lives because there are septic limitations in her town. A bakery uses a lot of water, she emphasized. This set off alarm bells with us, as we've heard about the septic limitations in our town center. We intend to visit our health department for the full story on this situation.

From the start Kathryn wanted to offer savory as well as sweet food items. "People can't live on sweets alone," she said. To that end, Twist bakes their own gluten-free bread and serves it with several sandwich options daily. They also have specialty meal offerings on weekends.

Kathryn enjoys the creativity involved in preparing food and seeing her vision to come to life. She made it clear that opening a business is a lot of work, and that restaurants are especially challenging. As a hands-on business owner she has worked hard to create a "third place" in the community. The people she has met along the way, and the regular customers she has gotten to know have been a real joy.

Kathryn told us about her visit to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. After hearing so much about it and their two cookbooks, it surprised her to see how small it actually is. This made an impression on her. Check out this video about Tartine, unless you're allergic to wheat and seeing freshly baked wheat bread will make you sad!

After we thanked Kathryn for sharing her time and expertise with us, we dug into our pastries. The blueberry cream cheese hand pie was delightful, bursting with berries on top of a sweet bed of cream cheese resting inside of a flaky crust, all drizzled with icing. The lemon poppyseed muffin was light, nicely tangy with a delicate icing on top. In short, Twist's pastries would please anyone, whether one needed to avoid certain allergens or not. We bought a couple more pastries to take home. Local readers should definitely make a trip to Twist!

Twist Bakery Cafe
30 Milliston Rd.
Millis, MA 02054

Talking to Kathryn affirmed our conviction that we do not want to own this kind of business by ourselves. What we have in mind is a community-building co-operative enterprise undertaken with a committed group of people who want to share in the responsibilities of ownership and profits. AND we want to be able to get a good cup of coffee in the town center.

For more news about the co-op world, check out Chuck's blog:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Signs of Life

While we were passing through the town center this morning, we saw a new banner hanging outside the former French Memories location. Judging from the sign, I had a feeling this was not the "farm-to-table" restaurant we'd been hearing about.

I had a chance to stop by later. There was construction happening inside, but the three men working took a break to give me the scoop on their plans. They are not the "farm to table" people who were previously going to open a restaurant on the site. Those folks must have bailed.

So who are these new guys, and what are their plans? They are Israelis from Weymouth and they intend to open Angel's Cafe on April 1st. The more talkative of the three told me they have had many residents stopping by to ask questions and give suggestions. It sounds like they will take coffee seriously and are open to input from the community. I asked if they would be kosher and the answer was sort of "no - but": they want to be open on Saturdays but will not serve pork products, nor will they have egg and cheese items on the menu. However, they will work with a customer if one wanted cheese on their egg sandwich. I don't claim to know much about keeping kosher - I'm just reporting what I was told.

Anyway, I wish Angel's Cafe many years of success and will certainly visit this spring.

You might be wondering, how does this development affect our vision for a local worker-owned cooperative cafe? I say: the fewer empty storefronts in the town center, the better. It doesn't do us much good if another cafe fails in the center. I concede that we will need to tweak our business model plans. Moving forward!

We also noticed some action happening at the old Mangia location. A couple of weeks ago, I read a "closed for construction" sign on the door, and then this morning saw this one:

It appears we have another pizza place coming to the town center. I wonder what happened to the Mangia people, and the people who took over from them? I hope they took the TVs with them when they left. 

In other news, we wanted a coffee on our way to grocery shop this morning, and found ourselves at a Starbuck's. As I've been saying here on my blog, we have very few choices in our town for coffee! 

What the heck is this doohickey in the sipping hole on the lid?! 

It's like a decorative toothpick/stirring thing. Maybe we are behind the times, not being dedicated Starbuck's drive-through customers, but this was new to us. 

And we found it STUPID. 

First of all, Chuck got it caught on the edge of his window as he was pulling his coffee off the drive-through counter, not realizing he needed extra clearance for it, and spilled coffee on his pants. Even if he hadn't made this error, why did they think he needed a stirrer? Don't the baristas stir our coffees? What if he'd ordered his coffee black, would he still get the decoration? It just seemed like a silly waste of plastic. 

Last thing to report: we will be working on our business plan this evening, brainstorming ideas with K. and B.

Let us hear from you!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Giveaway Winners and Film Screening Recap

We enjoyed sharing the documentary Shift Change with an enthusiastic audience last night. It might have been frigidly cold outside, but the Equal Exchange coffee was hot, as was the discussion following the film. We had great questions from members of the community, and answers from the experts in attendance, Stacey Cordeiro from Boston Center for Community Ownership and Rink Dickinson, CEO of Equal Exchange, a local worker-owned cooperative business.

Of great interest to me and our community cafe idea was the news from Rink that Equal Exchange's cafes are doing quite well. They have plans to open new grocery store-based cafes in Cleveland and Chicago. Cafes were not a direction they planned to go in, but they are meeting the demand for their products by way of the cafes in addition to their other sales avenues.

Another topic we discussed is the education many people need in order to participate fully as worker-owners. We all know how difficult it can be to be open and honest in times of conflict. If you are operating a business with a group of people in a co-op, it's important to speak your mind in a constructive way, and not everyone has the experience to do this well. Also, if you are the type of person who needs to get your way all the time, you might find working in a co-op very difficult. But as one of the worker-owners in the film said, if you work in a democratically-run operation where you share in decision-making and profits, you are not as likely to allow yourself to be pushed around by politicians and other people who might like to have power over you. The societal implications of this are huge. It has been my experience that one cannot escape the need to work with people in this world. And it has been my experience that interactions with people do not always go well. Conflict happens. If we were all trained in how to speak our truth in a constructive way, the world would be a more peaceful place.

We talked about the idea of a library/cafe model. Turns out the Watertown Public Library has one, Red Leaf Cafe. And I found this one in Auburn, Maine: The Library Cafe. I also learned that many college libraries have cafes in them, which makes sense because students need caffeine to pull all-nighters. But the library/cafe idea is a tangent because our local public library has a lack of space already.

I reiterated my desire for a "third place"where I could connect with the diverse people in my community. Many of us chose to live here for the diversity, among other things. And sometimes you just want a place to meet a friend for coffee to chat, or your book group wants to meet outside of someone's home, or you like to knit in public. We all agreed that our town center needs some revitalization.

What's next, you ask? We need to form a Steering Committee and do a Feasibility Study. Let us hear from you if you have interest or expertise to share.

Thank you to the Social Justice Committee at Unitarian Church of Sharon for sponsoring the Shift Change screening.

Congratulations to our Book Giveaway winners, Linda H. and Birgitta M. Your copies of Locavesting by Amy Cortese and Owning Our Future by Marjorie Kelly are on their way! Readers, these books inspired the community cafe idea and I encourage you all to check them out.

If you are a new reader, please subscribe using the box on the right. Your address is safe with me, I won't share it. Thanks for reading!