After a year of serving up veggies, Temple's student-run cooperative is gaining steam - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 17, 2016 2:39 pm

After a year of serving up veggies, Temple’s student-run cooperative is gaining steam

In one year of business, vegetarian cafe Rad Dish has had to overcome "a lot of learning curves," according member Sarah Kim. Now, things are getting comfortable.

So many veggies.

(Photo by Margo Reed)

It took some time for the members of Temple University‘s student-run food cooperative Rad Dish to get the hang of running and operating a cafe on a day-to-day basis, let alone a vegetarian cafe that only sources local foods.

At what price point is your produce producing a profit while still remaining affordable? What do you do with all that liquidity at the end of the day? And how are you supposed to navigate leadership turnover when another cofounder graduates every other semester?

In its first year of existence, those are all very real pickles Rad Dish workers found themselves in.

The co-op, which just celebrated its first birthday earlier this month, was launched with the help of a $30,000 grant from Temple. It took one year for the veggie joint’s workers to figure out how to manage the place, but they’ve done it so far by letting the learning experience itself peel back the layers of the onion.

“We’re all learning everything as we go, so you have to really think on your feet and do some creative problem solving,” said member Sarah Kim.  “The first couple of months we were open, we weren’t profitable — which is normal for a startup, but it’s stressful when you’re in that situation.”

No easy feat for a college sophomore balancing a college education and a membership in a co-op. But it’s an experience all 15 members are able to share. A built-in support system allowing for growth, like peas in a pod.

“At first we felt, ‘Is this going to work?” Kim said. “It was pretty rough. It was rocky.”

What was the root of the problem? Was it the fact that a handful of founding members graduated before the co-op even opened? Not quite. Rad Dish assigns members to jobs in accordance with their major — finance majors keep the books, environmental science majors source the food, business majors run human resources.

Rad Dish is a nonprofit in tax status only. It still operates as a co-op with an organizational structure that doesn’t require founding members to lead. While there are managers, they’ll soon graduate — meaning carrot and stick tactics are totally designed out of the equation.

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It sounds like a sustainable model, but there were still growing pains over the past year — learning curves they were able to overcome with the help of a panel of faculty advisers and the opportunity to work in a model that allowed them to learn on the job.

Plus, the cafe’s growing customer base definitely helped.

“As we’ve been open more, we have more returning customers, we have a community around the business, and we’ve been seeing more profits and a larger customer base returning, which is really encouraging,” Kim said. “We’re more profitable, for sure.

Beets being a college couch potato.

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