Ex-employees of Hampden coffee shop Common Ground announced on Friday plans to reopen the business as a worker-owned enterprise next month.
An exact opening date has not been set, but “we are aiming for early September,” said Nic Koski, who was a barista at Common Ground when it closed and is spearheading the reopening efforts.
Koski had floated plans to relaunch as a worker-owned cooperative back in July, when the shop was abruptly closed after 25 years by owner Michael Krupp. Koski said employees had been exploring the possibility of unionization when the cafe was shut down. Krupp did not respond to a request for comment or provide a reason for the closure.
Twenty-two of the previous staff members will lead the soft opening, with 19 acting as “worker-owners.” The initial menu will offer coffee and muffins, with more to come in the ensuing weeks, according to a release.
“It’s been a lengthy and stressful process, but we are so happy to finally be able to tell you, our customers, the exciting news,” worker-owner Sierra Allen said in a statement. “Get ready to not only come back to your favorite gathering place but to finally gorge yourselves on coffee and baked goods once again.”
The relaunch of Common Ground cafe comes as several Baltimore businesses have taken steps towards becoming worker-owned, including Taharka Brothers, Joe Squared and various Ace Hardware stores.
Red Emma’s, the worker-owned bookstore and cafe now located on Greenmount Avenue, was an early pioneer of the model. The shop’s co-founder, Kate Khatib, later helped launch Seed Commons and its local offshoot, the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy. Both organizations assist businesses making the jump to worker-owned, and both worked with the staff at Common Ground on the cafe’s relaunch efforts.
“I think it’s awesome that Baltimore is becoming a co-op town,” said Khatib, noting that the model has become particularly popular in the food service industry. “There’s something unique and special about Baltimore city that has allowed co-op businesses to grow and thrive.”
Khatib called Common Ground’s transition “incredibly exciting” and said “it really has come together incredibly quickly.” The relaunch shows transitioning to a worker-owned cooperative model can be an alternative to closure in cases where employees are interested in keeping a small business going, she said.
Hurdles remain. The new worker-owners will have to transfer all existing permits out of Krupp’s name, which can be a cumbersome process for any business. But staff have negotiated a deal with Krupp that will allow them to reopen the business before the permitting process has been finalized. Koski and Allen have organized a GoFundMe with a fundraising goal of $50,000 to help cover wages, rent supplies and other costs.
During its quarter-century in operation, Common Ground developed a devoted following among regulars in the North Baltimore neighborhood and beyond. In a Facebook post announcing the reopening, staff thanked longtime patrons for their assistance since the shutdown: “From helping our coworkers pay rent and buy food, we truly don’t know what we would’ve done without you all.”