Nearly a decade ago, Carolyn Berke, a long-time baker, started baking and delivering pies locally in Niles and surrounding areas. She took orders online and delivered twice weekly to a few local establishments. Soon Niles Pie grew from a part-time endeavor to a full-time bakery.
As the business grew, Berke looked for a permanent kitchen that would support the flourishing business with increased capacity for baking, deliveries, and storage. With support from the Alameda County Small Business Development Corporation, Niles Pie found a location in Union City – housing an existing kitchen and retail space. Berke, who never planned to sell her pies out of a retail space, jumped at the opportunity. She and her team launched a Kickstarter campaign and quickly raised $30,000 in late 2012 to support the business’s launch. With that and a small business loan, Niles Pie opened its doors to the community the following Spring. Today the company, with a staff of ten, sells its artisanal seasonal pies and pastries out of its Union City location and at five weekly Bay Area farmer’s markets. The shop hosts a diverse array of classes, including pasta and pie making, as well as community events out of their bright Union City location.
“We’ve grown so fast – almost 25% a year,” said Berke. “It’s been amazing to see what we can accomplish. This has become an anchor in our community. Everyone loves pie and we love watching how it brings people together.”
This rapid growth prompted Berke to begin exploring opportunities to bring current staff into management and ownership roles. “The worker-owned cooperative model just makes sense,” said Berke. “We want to retain our staff for longer and to offer better compensation. I believe in the idea of democratic economy and sharing profit in the service industry. We want to promote economic sustainability here,” she said. Though Berke still remains in her current role as the businesses’ general manager, the company is now owned by its staff. Strategic decision-making is democratic and profits earned are based on hours worked.
Niles Pie worked closely with Project Equity, a nonprofit that supports businesses in their transition to worker-owned models, to put together the details of the cooperative. When looking for financing to support the endeavor, Community Vision was the local alternative. In summer 2017 Community Vision provided the business with a $90,000 loan to finance the conversion to worker ownership.
“Banks don’t like to lend to coops,” said Berger. “We had a couple of choices, but we loved Community Vision because you are local. – that was really important to us as it’s a key value. Community Vision’s lending team was thinking strategically for us and was confident in us succeeding.”
Niles Pie prides itself on its focus on relationship and community and entering into the cooperative model has only aligned the business further with its values.
“At a time of rising income inequality, worker ownership deserves more attention as a way to create broadly shared wealth,” said Nate Schaffran, Community Vision’s Senior Loan Officer.