In addition to a living wage, Barley credits his job with giving him a new outlook on life, even though he didn't think he needed one.

"I used to have a bad attitude toward homeless people, or people having problems with drugs," Barley explains. "I didn't have a whole lot of sympathy for it. I was like a lot of people: 'They're bothering me,' 'Why don't they get a job,' that whole attitude. But working here has completely changed my whole thought process," Barley says, his eyes widening as he makes his point. "Now I don't just walk past a homeless person; I take my time and find out a little bit about why they're there, what's going on with them, maybe how I can help them," he says.

Barley is also working with Flowers to find a nonprofit he wants to support—a small-scale community reinvestment project of his own. His ideas center around helping small, struggling nonprofit startups build thrift stores or other sources of sustainable income to support themselves—a sort of Demeter Project, writ small. Investing in its employees who, in turn, invest in its mission is the whole point of the Demeter Project. That, and staying in business.

The afternoon shift at It’s a Grind:
a friendly coffee house to its patrons,
a business model dedicated to
reinventing the American workplace
to its employees. From Left to Right:
Marilynn King, Carlos Guerrero,
Danae Bradley, Angela Brashere,
Jo Chung, Stephen Barley
Hal Samples/Roderick Pena
The afternoon shift at It’s a Grind: a friendly coffee house to its patrons, a business model dedicated to reinventing the American workplace to its employees. From Left to Right: Marilynn King, Carlos Guerrero, Danae Bradley, Angela Brashere, Jo Chung, Stephen Barley
Stephen Barley, a barista recovering from a five-and-a-half-year stint at Starbucks, sets out the morning’s baked offerings at It’s a Grind.
Hal Samples/Roderick Pena
Stephen Barley, a barista recovering from a five-and-a-half-year stint at Starbucks, sets out the morning’s baked offerings at It’s a Grind.

Location Info

Map

It's A Grind

2901 Indiana Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75226

Category: Coffee Shops

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

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Flowers' business training told him that a regular coffee house should be making 20 to 30 percent profit, but the way It's a Grind was structured, that seemed impossible, certainly at first. Instead he'd bank on the fringe benefits of having a happier, more invested staff. "Then we could take 3 to 5 percent profits and invest that into care-based organizations or replicate the model." It's like a nonprofit organization that runs on its own profits rather than donations—and passes its ethic on, through its employees, to other nonprofits. "We just see it as an investment in the community," Flowers says.

Flowers admits he's not expecting profits for the first two years, and in late May, he told the Observer he hasn't reached his income goal. "I do think it's going to work," he says. "I know we're not going to get rich."

He also knows he could pull heartstrings with the story of Demeter Project, and the fact that It's a Grind is employing former refugees and lifting up people from all walks of life—but as a businessman, he's adamant that It's a Grind be seen as a real coffee shop and a true test of whether paying a living wage is actually something small businesses can do.

"I'm very sensitive to the cheese factor," Flowers explains. "We are trying to change the world. We're dead serious with what we're doing here, and I don't really want it to be an emotional thing."

No one can tell yet whether paying a living wage in Dallas, in a coffee shop, during a recession, is going to work.

"Give me two years!" Flowers shouts suddenly, banging the table with his fist for emphasis. By then, Flowers says he'll have a clear idea of whether or not this actually works—this idea of promoting an ethical workplace by paying a living wage. Then "we can settle this argument once and for all."

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