New Moon Cafe transforms approach to work

Collective helps make jobs more meaningful for employees/co-owners

Staff reportJune 22, 2014 

Gwendolyn Pehowski, 3, shares the whipped cream off her cup of hot chocolate with her father, Todd Pehowski of Olympia, during breakfast at The New Moon Cafe on a chilly, windy, rainy Friday morning in downtown Olympia.



    Location: 113 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia

    Owners: A collective of 13 employee/owners

    Years in business: New Moon has a long history in downtown Olympia, but the collective process began last year and then was formalized in August.

    Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.


    Advice to business owners: Three of the employee/owners -- Brita Zeiler, Jim Duffy and Michael Snow -- reminded business owner that it's important to value the people they work with. "Mutual respect goes a long way," said Duffy.

    Did you know? Comedian Josh Blue, who graduated from The Evergreen State College, said during an appearance at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts a few years ago, that whenever he returns to Olympia he must go to New Moon.

Let’s face it: Working in the food-service industry can be hard. It doesn’t pay very well and comes with few perks — a free meal and tips is about it — and it also might mean long hours on your feet, dealing with rude customers and cleaning all those dishes piled high by the sink.

After all this, it might lead to a lot of employee turnover, or it might result in the employees wanting a larger say in the work that they do.

That’s the thinking behind New Moon Cafe, which is now New Moon Cooperative Cafe, the employees of the business deciding to form a collective and become co-owners of the longtime downtown Olympia eatery.

The process of forming the collective began last year and then finally was in place in August, said Jim Duffy, Micheal Snow and Brita Zeiler, three of the 13 members of the collective.

All three have food-service backgrounds, knowing the experience of previous food-service jobs, and all knowing that they wanted something more out of their work.

Once they formed the collective, the work become more meaningful, Zeiler said, adding that she felt more energized about her work, too.

The members of the collective just don’t do shift work, they also participate on one of four committees: food, marketing, operations and finance. Committee meetings take place once a week, and they also have a general meeting once a week.

When the business has to make a big-picture decision, such as whether to switch to a new vendor, it comes down to a vote among the members of the collective.

And they work entirely by consensus, Duffy said, meaning that a decision only moves forward with a unanimous vote. Although that takes place for such things as voting on a new vendor, they understand the need to delegate for the day-to-day operations of the business, he said.

The collective also is still a work in progress. For now it doesn’t offer health insurance, although they want to offer it, and they also want to share the profits of the business with the owners of the business. In collective terms, they hope to earn a surplus that they can share with the members as patronage, said finance committee member Snow.

One challenge for all restaurants is that they operate on small profit margins, Snow said, and they also have to pay off the $100,000 it cost the collective to buy the business. They put $20,000 down and have $80,000 to go, paying $1,500 a month.

Besides the collective, New Moon still is known for its breakfast and brunch, including the Cali Girl — herbed rice medallions with two eggs, a choice of ham, turkey, bacon or tomatoes, topped with green onions and avocado.

Doug Erickson, 68, of Tumwater recently ate there for the second time, saying New Moon offers “good, homestyle” cooking. He plans to return again.

“It’s an easy place to feel comfortable in,” he said.

The restaurant also recently put on a fundraiser and special dinner — featuring mushroom risotto — for graduates of The Evergreen State College. Funds raised from the dinner were used to benefit Queer Rock Camp.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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