Black Star Co-Op Pub & Brewery

PatioAll breweries operate in different fashions. Some are owned by friends, some owned by families. However, I’ve stumbled upon this little gem in Austin, Texas — Black Star Co-Op Pub and Brewery.

We felt it was one of the more intriguing stories on our path to find the best craft breweries in the world. So much so, that we reached out to Black Star’s President of the Board Erin O’Bryant to find out what makes this great brewery tick. Here’s what she had to say:

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Erin O’Bryant

BM: How did Black Star Co-op get its start?

O’Bryant: Black Star Co-op started in 2006 as the brainchild of Steven Yarak, local Austinite and co-op and beer enthusiast. His dream was to expand the cooperative business model beyond food co-ops and into the entertainment realm by opening a cooperatively owned bar. At the first meeting of interested people, Jeff Young, a recent brewing school graduate moved to Austin, suggested that the bar could better serve the community and incorporate many cooperative business principles by selling beer brewed on premise. Black Star Co-op was born! For the next few years, we gathered more and more memberships by throwing monthly beer socials. We finally opened our doors in September of 2010.

BM: How is Black Star Co-op different from other breweries in the country?

O’Bryant: The main difference between Black Star Co-op and other (micro) breweries in the country is our business model. We are cooperatively owned, and worker self-managed — our Board of Directors is elected by and accountable to the member-owners.

The Workers’ Assembly democratically manages the business, and each other, and is accountable to the Board. Additionally, we developed policies with the member-owners early on in our development that codified our values into the business plan. For example, we pay our workers a living wage with benefits, we put extraordinary emphasis on energy and water conservation (we are a LEED Gold certified business!), we donate money and products to community organizations, and we encourage alternative transportation to and from the pub. Aside from that, we’re just like any other great brewpub. We brew great beer, have an excellent selection of commercial beer including, several local brews and make delicious food from primarily local ingredients.

BM: What is it like to work at Black Star Co-op?

O’Bryant: Technically, I don’t work at Black Star Co-op — mine is a labor of love. As Board President, I spend a lot of time talking with other directors and workers about the business, and obviously hang out there a lot! Here’s a quote from one of our workers: “It’s really awesome! We get amazing benefits, opportunities for creativity and autonomy. I love my coworkers and our members.” – Chris Byram.

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BM: What is it like to enjoy a cold beer at Black Star Co-Op’s brewpub? 

O’Bryant: Oh my goodness, it’s a pretty incredible experience. Working toward a goal for so long, and it actually happened? Well, that was about three years ago, but I still feel a certain level of excitement when I realize, ‘hey, we did this!’ The fact that the beer is delicious doesn’t hurt. It’s an extremely comfortable environment to enjoy great food and drink in, whether you’re sitting alone at our Barninsula, or with a group of friends.

BM: What do you love most about Black Star Co-Op?

O’Bryant: I love that we envisioned goals based on shared values, and have developed a business that now adheres to them and succeeds! Our Workers’ Assembly has done a fantastic job making our dreams a reality, while at the same time running an efficient and profitable business. We’re showing that it’s possible to have sustainable and conscientious business practices and be profitable at the same time.

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