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Bartertown Almost Ready for Business

/Ryan Cappelletti

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Stripped wall, ready for a mural...

Stripped wall, ready for a mural... /Ryan Cappelletti

Work underway, getting the place ready for the opening

Work underway, getting the place ready for the opening /Ryan Cappelletti

Have you seen Michael Moore's film, Capitalism: A Love Story? If you have, then you may already know the idea of a worker cooperative. Simply put, it's each employee owning a stake in the business. 
Numbers from the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives show some 300 or so worker co-ops in America bring in more than $400 million in revenue each year. It's an idea gaining steam, as many begin to see the workplace as democracy in action.
Ryan Cappelletti agrees with that. So much so that he's on track to open a new restaurant in downtown that is a bit of a departure from what you may be used to when it comes to a restaurant.
"We'll have a guest chef program," he explains. "This is a community based project, so if you want to come in and create the menu for the day, come on in!"
This will all happen in the old Discussions Coffee Shop on Jefferson just off Fulton. Bartertown Diner and Roc's Cakes won't just be another earth-friendly Grand Rapids eatery, says Cappelletti. He insists it will be employee owned and operated where each of the staff has a stake.
"In restaurants today, most people have no idea what's happening in the back of the house," he explains. "It's long hours with little pay. This is a new kind of place, where we want to focus on food, how it's served, and the environment we serve it in."
The model, he says, is around a simple, basic old style diner: decent prices with delicious vegan food. He believes that he can create a meal that anyone will enjoy, not just a hardcore vegan. "People get this stigma with vegan food, that it's for yuppies and rich people. We want to show that, no, it's actually for anyone who is aware of the world around them," says the restauranteur. 
Plans for completion are clear, but there's no big name with a big wallet behind this project, so money is tight. Several fundraisers have already taken place, including a showing of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, where the Bartertown name originates. Right now on their Facebook page, there's a push to sell t-shirts bearing the new logo. On March 12th, a chili cookoff will take place, and each $10 entry gets a shot at their chili being on the menu and a guest chef internship.
It all may sound kind of utopian, but Cappelletti insists that it's about more than what's on the plate.
"I've said before that I don't care about making it big.  I want to be remembered for giving a damn about food and a fair work place over profit. Maybe that means in a world like this I fail, but I don't care." Cappelletti sees a world where everyone stands as one. "We have such a huge divide in today's world between the common worker and the boss. We have to break it down."
Bartertown Diner and Roc's Cupcakes does not yet have a date for the grand opening.  It's dependent on their fundraising efforts. More information about helping them get off the ground is available on their website.

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I just *love* Cappelletti's edible creations.

So, if I don't eat vegan I'm not someone who is "aware of the world around them"

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the comment.

I don't think that statement is true, however, I think there is little argument anymore that the current state of food in American is unsustainable. It's not about going full on vegan, but buying local, organic...knowing the source of your food is fast becoming a necessity.

An author who I very much admire made a point in one of his books about food sources. He says if you want to know where your bagel from this morning came'd ask the baker, and more than likely he'd take you in the back and show you where is was made. Same goes for many other things we eat. Try to see where your steak, or mass produced cheese comes from, it's a tighter secret than most things in the federal government.

The effects of factory farming are undeniable. Not just for the animals, but for the environment, and ultimately, our health. 

I am not here to tell you to become a vegan, but I strongly encourage anyone to be an informed consumer when it comes to the source of their food.

I completely agree with you. Buying locally and trying to engage with your food [as opposed to assuming it magically appears on the grocers shelf] is critical. But that is not what that quote said. In fact, what I got from this article is that this restaurant is concerned with the economic side of a community driven business - which is fantastic! It is refreshing to see a new approach - even one that says 'if I fail, I fail, but I'm still doing what I believe in'. I'm all for that just as I am all for buying locally. However, this has nothing to do with what I interpret as the owners snide remark about non-vegans not really being concerned with food culture. You know as well as I that you can purchase locally and fairly raised meats just as easily as fruit and veg. I'm not accusing you of anything, but instead pointing out that the restauranteur should perhaps be a bit more careful in how he speaks about those who don't choose his lifestyle. Otherwise, thanks for the article and keeping us informed on what is going on in our downtown community!

I don't think Ryan meant to be offensive with that statement. It's great you get it Jim, but many don't.  If they did, factory farms wouldn't exist as they do today.  Cutting meat out of your diet one or two days a week is not only good for your health, but good for the earth and the animals who suffer.  More and more restaurants are jumping on board and offering thoughtful vegetarian and vegan dishes for those of us who avoid meat altogether.

Overall, Bartertown is an adventurous operation and I can't wait to see how it shapes up, regardless of what they serve on the menu.

Jim, I initially had the same kind of response you did to that quote. But I am inclined to believe it wasn't intended to come across that way (as others here have commented).

Maybe this was the spirit of the quote:

"We want to show that, no, [vegan food can actually be] for anyone who is aware of the world around them [and supports healthy, sustainable food systems, whether they choose to be committed vegans or not.]"

I don't know Mr. Cappelletti, and I don't know if this is really what he meant. I'd like to think it was.

 Yep, Kevin, I think you are totally right.

It actually never occured to me as it being intended that way. Had it, I would have certainly asked for clarification from Ryan.

Thanks for reading the story!

 I can jive with that.