Hipfish Monthly looks back on the history of Astoria, Oregon’s Blue Scorcher Bakery and Café.
In 2009 co-founders Joe Garrison and Iris Sullivan Daire (married partners) began meeting more formally with a group of the workers who were interested in developing the business as a co-op. While Joe and Iris have officially been the owners in a DBA structure, “From the beginning it was a very participatory, collective business,” says Iris.
Flashback 2004, many customers to Blue Scorcher will remember The Bread Collective, the more humble beginnings of the busy bakery/café — about 5 folks gathered together in the back of a former restaurant, to bake good organic bread together and tasty cookies, and make it available to desiring consumers. What seemed rather experimental at the time has since evolved into one of Astoria’s most popular community gathering places. On a recent stormy weekday afternoon, there was a substantial crowd both at the bakery takeout counter and at the restaurant tables, where patrons enjoyed a daily special of fragrant garbanzo tangine soup served of course, with a gargantuan chunk of bread hand made in the bread oven a few feet away. Unlike most restaurants, here one of numerous chef/cooks delivers your meal to you, a touch that seems especially homey. The Blue Scorcher has also long been a large part of both the social and philanthropic scene in Astoria, hosting the late summer Lughnasa Fest, celebrating local growers and sustainability practices, Full Moon monthly dinner gatherings, making the dining area available to numerous types of events and bread donations to community organizations.
As the Blue Scorcher has curbed some if its own community productions, the focus now has turned to the work of creating cooperative bylaws, and membership agreements as six worker members step up to the cooperative plate with earnest monies. And while a worker-cooperative model serves a practical economic approach, Iris Sullivan Daire speaks passionately to the humanistic qualities that the coop structure allows, “When you have a voice, you are more fully human. When you are separate from what you do [in your place of employment] it becomes enslavement.” The cooperative environment, as the Blue Scorcher proves too, is creating space for people to transition in life and in their relationship to work.
(Previously) Workers from the Blue Scorcher Bakery and Cafe collective in Astoria, Oregon are interviewed in 2007 by a news team from Missouri.