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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Understory: Worker-Led Restaurant

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December 27, 2021
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[Editor's note: while it doesn't appear to technically be a worker co-op, Understory is thinking outside of the restaurant-industry box in significant ways that provide more agency, and pay, to workers. And while it doesn't seem like incubating worker co-ops is a specific goal, it does sound like the type of horizontal workplace that can serve as a useful introduction to, and proof of, the benefits of working cooperatively. And on a related note, nonprofit partner Oakland Bloom is also working to create what something like a shared services co-op for the chefs they work with.]

cross-posted from Cooperative Journal

Show Notes

Understory is a worker-led restaurant, bar, and incubation kitchen in Oakland, CA. In collaboration with Oakland Bloom, they center immigrant, working class, and people of color chefs through pathways to worker-leadership, project support and training, and economic opportunities. It is more than just a restaurant, they offer a platter of ways to physically and socially nourish the community in a co-creative way. You can experience the roots of the workers through their rotating menu of Filipino, Moroccan, and Mexican cuisine, check out local art, attend a dance party, or support an immigrant or refugee chef at their weekly pop-up.

In this episode I speak with one of the chefs Florencio Esquivel about how Understory is shifting the narrative of who receives support and amplification in the restaurant industry. They share how the pandemic influenced the restaurant’s formation, process of assuming responsibilities and navigating decision making, impact and intention of their worker emergency fund, importance of preserving indegenous recipes, and their vision for a changed restaurant world that is horizontally structured while honoring the diversity of workers and their lineage.


Understory’s Instagram

Understory’s Website

Wahpepah’s Kitchen (Kickapoo Tribe Restaurant in Oakland)


A student of life that values food sovereignty, tangible community empowerment, and is the founder of Cooperative Journal - a resource for alternative economic models.

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