After graduating with a master's degree in sociology, Jared Blustein needed a job. So he combined his intellectual area of interest — contemporary economic issues — with his own personal experience, working in the restaurant industry.
He came up with The Allium, a restaurant where every single staff member is the boss.
It's an elevated, vegetable-forward restaurant on 12th Avenue S.W. that will be collectively run by a team of co-owners when it opens in August.
Blustein spoke to The Homestretch's Jenny Howe on Tuesday about how the idea was born from a combination of idealism and necessity — and a willingness to put an interesting idea into actual practice.
"A lot of what I looked at [in my thesis] pointed to the worker co-operative as addressing a lot of contemporary issues of economy," Blustein said.
"Many people are extremely debt-dependent households or need a double income," he said.
"We all have mortgages. We see that real wages haven't really increased proportionate to the rise in the cost of living since the '70s. And these are all just basic facts."
Of course, it's one thing to identify a problematic pattern. It's another thing altogether to try to disrupt a pattern through innovation — and have it actually work.
After a conversation with his wife over a drink and some tapas in San Cristobal, Mexico, Blustein began to entertain the notion of launching a co-operatively owned and run eatery.
He was accepted into a program run by Momentum, a local nonprofit that he says provides free business classes with a social focus.
"I was able to develop the business plan with Momentum and then I had one-on-one business coaching through them for about maybe three months after the program ended," Blustein said.
"I was able to really commit to this idea," Blustein said.
"I just began approaching various people and asking them if they were interested — and slowly, the co-op has has come to this, where we're now standing in a physical space and we're about a month and a bit to open."
Every person an owner
What Blustein hopes will separate The Allium from other Calgary restaurants is that every single staff member has a vested interest in providing the best possible customer experience.
"Every person you interact with is an owner," Blustein said.
Of course, none of that answers the question of whether or not The Allium — the name refers to "the genus of cultivated onions and garlic, and a foundation to many delicious dishes", says Blustein — can provide a living for each of its owners.
Blustein isn't banking on it, at least not at the start.
"That is the hope," he said.
"It takes time to grow, for sure," he added. "All of us have other jobs right now. I myself am working with two different non-profits while I'm here.
"My work weeks are close to 80 hours on average right now," he added, "but we do value work-life balance.
"That's something that we really want to work towards," he said, "and that's part of making your own business collectively."
With files from The Homestretch.