Because restaurants operate on very slim margins, profit-sharing won’t always lead to a sizable increase in income. And cooperative decision-making can be messy and inefficient. A co-op “is not a silver bullet that solves the problem of the industry,” says Melissa Hoover, executive director of the think tank Democracy at Work Institute—especially the restaurant industry, which continues to consolidate at a terrifying clip.
But the chance to share in the decision-making process can mean a lot. During the Bay Area’s initial shelter-in-place restrictions, Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective voted to dip into its reserves to continue to pay about 70 owner-members rather than lay some of them off. When Baltimore started allowing restaurants to serve at 25 percent capacity, the owners of Joe Squared, many of whom live with elderly or immunocompromised family members, voted to continue operating strictly as a takeout and delivery restaurant until everyone got vaccinated. “In co-op situations it’s more about the community and the business surviving,” Arabacioğlu says, “rather than just making profits off people.”