The Greening of Avenida Restaurant: A Q&A With Weavers Way Co-Op

By Kim and Edgar Alvarez
Chefs and Owners
Avenida Restaurant

Since we opened Avenida Restaurant in 2009, we have focused on buying only the freshest ingredients. That is how Chef Edgar grew up in Guatemala—eating food fresh from area farms. Nothing imported, or from a can. Ever.

While the economics of keeping a restaurant safely in the black is always part of our buying decisions, we also feel strongly about supporting local farmers and buying locally. Increasingly, thanks to co-ops like Weavers Way in Mt. Airy, we are now able to do that.

Starting this fall, we have been buying more and more local produce and meats, using the products grown by Weavers Way farmers whenever possible.

Case in point: The mint in your Cojitos was grown at the Weavers Way Farm. Click here for the recipe, so you can make a Cojito at home.

And, we were honored to host a special dinner on Oct. 20, featuring Fair Trade expert Pedro Ascencio of Las Colinas Co-Operative in El Salvador.

Weavers Way General Manager Glenn Bergman says he is very pleased to be co-sponsoring this special dinner at Avenida Restaurant, for it is an honor to tell others in his community about the important work being accomplished at Las Colinas and through Equal Exchange.

Bergman knows that running a successful co-op is not an easy row to hoe.

Indeed. Las Colinas is collectively farmed and managed on the site of an old coffee plantation in the town of Tacuba, district of Ahuachapán, El Salvador, near the Guatemalan border.

The farmers received their land in a 1980 land reform. However, 30 years later, they still struggle because of they high interest rate they have to pay on the mortgage.

The good news is that since 1997, Equal Exchange has supported Las Colinas by purchasing the majority of their coffee, all under Fair Trade terms, and collaborating with them on improving coffee quality. And in recent years, Las Colinas has obtained organic certification, which has enabled Equal Exchange to pay super-premium prices for special lots of Las Colinas’ coffee, in addition to the premium prices paid for the rest.

“It’s a real success story, and a tribute to what can be done when smart, creative, determined people work together toward a common goal,” Bergman says.

The Importance of Going Green

Following is a Q&A that we recently had with Bergman to discuss how, and why, going green is a trend that is taking root in restaurants around the country.

Chefs Kim and Edgar: Tell us how you got into the co-op business.

Glenn Bergman: I have been a member of Weavers Way for many years, and before that I was a member of the Ecology Co-Op in West Philadelphia. Then, when I left my corporate job eight years ago, I knew I did not want to travel very far for work. I had a few different opportunities, but the co-op was only two miles from my house—and I could travel to work by bike—so this is where I have been working as the general manager since 2003. Although I had spent years in the restaurant and contract food industry, I had no grocery experience. Nonetheless, Weavers Way had plenty of wonderful people, many of them are still here, and they helped me through the early days.

Chefs Kim and Edgar: Why do you think co-ops are such an important part of any community?

Glenn Bergman: I have learned that although we sell food products, the true value and importance of this and any co-op is that it is that third important place for people in their lives: home, work, and “community” (which also includes cafes, religious organizations, etc). Weavers Way is a place and space for people to spend time together in the community of neighbors, and to support the local economy. Not many people know that almost $400,000 of our dairy sales are from local farms in the area. That means a lot to our local community. Once people realize it, they immediately understand the importance of buying locally.

Chefs Kim and Edgar: Do you think more people are wanting to eat locally? If so, why?

Glenn Bergman: No doubt about it. Our market has grown tremendously in recent years, and for good reason. People not only want to buy fresh produce that is grown locally, but they also want to eat “ethically,” when they can afford it, and when they have access to good products.

Chefs Kim and Edgar: What do you think the co-op industry will look like in three to five years?

Glenn Bergman: We are working hard to support community development of retail-based, consumer-owned co-ops throughout the Philadelphia area. There are several new co-ops starting up, and as they move closer to opening, it wouldn’t surprise me if they inspired even more to form. It’s a very exciting time in the world of co-ops because more consumers are realizing the value of being part of a community-focused enterprise.

Chefs Kim and Edgar: If a restaurant like Avenida wants to buy more local ingredients, what can it do to get the process rolling?

Glenn Bergman: In the last five years, many more acres of land have gone into farming production all around the city. Also, there are now a number of local buyer wholesalers who concentrate on local farm sourcing. In this region, for example, we work with the Lancaster wholesale co-op that represents local farmers west of the city. I am told that their sales are in excess of $1 million. The key for local establishments is to work closely with Weavers Way, and Fair Food Philly, to learn more and find ways to buy locally grown products. It is a process, but an exciting one that farmers will be excited to work with you on.