The Flaming Eggplant: Past and Present


The Flaming Eggplant is a student-managed café on the campus of The Evergreen State College. It is operated as a collective workspace. However, it is not a stand-alone institution.

The café began operations in 2008 with the mission of providing ethically-sourced, affordable food and education in cooperative development at The Evergreen State College.

A number of its staff members have taken my course on worker cooperatives and democratic management, which was a summer offering from 2014-2018 and is currently on hiatus. However, the staff of the Eggplant have made a huge impact on the Olympia co-op community long before I arrived on the scene.

Alumni of the Eggplant re-invigorated the co-op movement in Olympia. In 2013, former Eggplant staff converted the New Moon Café in a worker cooperative. Alumni, and New Moon members, also helped start the Northwest Construction Co-op, Business Services Co-op, and (most recently) the conversion of Le Voyeur (which I discussed last week). This, in itself, demonstrates the impact of such organizations engaging at the college and university level (much like my experience as an undergraduate in a student worker labor union, Memorial Union Labor Organization, taught me things that I could never learn in a classroom. Unfortunately, these impacts don’t get measured when calculating the College budget–and that is a shame.

Due to a severe financial crisis caused by under-enrollment at Evergreen, the school retrenched, slashed courses (including mine), and shuttered the Eggplant. Fortunately, the café had generated enough love and had champions who recognized its impact. This allowed an experiment to occur this year, which I think is exciting and could become a model for colleges and universities across the country.

The idea, not mine but that of a student from my 2018 class, is to engage the café’s mission in a more concrete and structured manner. In a public-private partnership between Evergreen, NWCDC, and the collective of the Eggplant, we are reimagining the café as a learning lab. Students who join the collective will engage as paid workers running the café, but will also be in programs at different levels of credits. NWCDC will provide weekly trainings on co-op and café management.

This is an exciting opportunity. 16 students signed up for the program! If this is successful and the Café returns to a sustainable operation, it will be one of the only programs in the country where students can learn and practice co-op management at the undergraduate level (I think it will be the only program, but I can’t be sure). Given the impact of the Flaming Eggplant alumni that already exists, it will be exciting to see what this new focused program brings to the worker co-op community.


About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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