New Mutualism, baked fresh daily

Sep 24, 2013

When someone says a San Francisco company is transforming the business world, you immediately think high-tech, Internet, Silicon-Valley startup.

But here’s a decidedly low-tech business that’s ahead of the curve: Arizmendi Bakery--officially known as the Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives--has become a leader and a national model for the growing cooperative movement.

It started in 1971, when a small cheese shop and bakery in Berkeley, CA, called the Cheese Board, brought all of its employees in as equal partners.

In the mid-90s, the owners decided to grow, modeling their enterprise on the hugely successful Spanish cooperative, Mondragon Corp. The idea was to incubate more bakeries and create a network of cooperatives.

They named the business Arizmendi, paying homage to the founder of Mondragon, Basque priest and labor organizer José María Arizmendiarrieta.

Today, Arizmendi includes five bakeries in the Bay Area, the original Cheese Board in Berkeley, and a collective entity that helps develop and support the affiliates. Each bakery has from 10 to 30 worker-owners.

New cooperatives get seed money and training from the other Arizmendi bakeries, but they’re all independently owned and operated. Essentially, Arizmendi is franchising the co-op model. The affiliates share everything from recipes and ingredients to legal and accounting support services.

There’s no hierarchy here. All workers are trained in everything from baking to bookkeeping. The mission is to provide workers with more than a living wage (pay ranges from $12-$25 per hour) and benefits.

From the sweetness of the scones to the hours of operation, all issues are discussed during regular meetings.

Credit: Photos are from the Arizmendi website.

Each bakery has from 10 to 30 worker-owners.

Pizza dough and breads are made with organic wheat flour.

All bakeries use similar recipes and ingredients, but they each have different specials every day.

Workers are all trained in everything from baking to running the cash register.

Arizmendi in action.

Arizmendi Bakery is just one of the hundreds of New Mutualist organizations you'll find on our Quiet Revolutionary map! Are there any New Mutualist organizations in your area that belond on our map? Be sure to submit your idea!

Sara Horowitz

As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.