Black Star Co-op inspires change across the US brewing industry

The world’s first co-operatively-owned and worker self-managed brewpub, Black Star Pub continues to inspire change across US communities.

The world’s first co-operatively-owned and worker self-managed 'brewpub', Black Star Co-op continues to inspire change across US communities. 

Black Star’s successful story began in 2006, when Steven Yarak, a local beer lover from Austin started an initiative to set up a neighbourhood beer bar owned by the community. Having travelled across Belgium, Steven had been inspired by the country’s community cafés and came up with the idea to set up something similar in Austin. He spread fliers across the town and soon the idea started to gain the interest of the local community. 

With help from Jeff Young, a brewer who had recently moved from Birmingham, Alabama, the members of the co-op developed a solid list of beers. The Austin-based co-op opened its doors in September 2010, after having raised $325,000 from its member-owners.

“As with most co-operatives, our main challenge was funding. Also, because we were the first, we really had to figure things out and pave the way for future cooperative businesses like ours,” said Dana Curtis, member of the Board of Directors.

The brewpub has become a tourist attraction for those wishing to enjoy locally sourced food and a selection of seasonal house crafted beers. The success is also partly due to the fact that members are the ones running the brewpub. The Board of Directors and the Worker Assembly collaborate in order to run the enterprise. 

Furthermore, all house beers are the voice of the member-owners. Through tasting panels and member-owner beer-design meetings, Jeff Young brews the beers that the members want.

“I think the co-operative model is a better alternative for all businesses! But that being said, it is relatively easy to organise groups of people about beer,” said Dana, who is a strong believer in the power of the co-operative model. Apart from being involved in Black Star Co-op, Dana is also a board member at Cooperation Texas.

Unlike the majority of brewpubs, Black Star does not accept any tips. All workers are paid fairly, thus staff members do not have to work for tips. Instead, they encourage clients to turn their tipping money into a co-op membership and support their successful business.

As a co-op, the brewpub is also concerned with environmental sustainability. It aims to make efficient use of water and electricity, implementing a sub-metering plan to identify which processes are using the most water, electricity or natural gas and work on improving these. It also encourage the use of alternative transportation to the brewpub. 

Every year our member-owners pick four non-profits to support each quarter. This year they are supporting KOOP Radio, Austin Pets Alive, Urban Roots, and the Sustainable Food Center. It also offers smaller support to local groups throughout the year.

With Black Star becoming one of the most successful brewpubs in the United States, beer lovers across the US are now looking at setting up their own co-op breweries. Inspired by Black Star’s co-operative model, San Jose Brewery and Pub and High Five Co-operative Brewery hope to open the first co-operative brewpubs in California and Michigan. Although there are still in planning stages, the two co-ops have big plans for the future.

To help them fulfil their dream, Black Star compiled a list of resources and links to organisations and information that they share with other communities. 

“It's a lot of work: a lot of time and money. But it's completely worth it!” was Dana’s message to other beer lovers who want to set up their own brewpub.

• Read more in our special section on co-operative pubs.

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