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Pizza shop owner turned his business into a worker-owned co-op

Kirk Vartan created a restaurant that is owned by him and his employees. (Annija Mieze/ Pexels) Kirk Vartan created a restaurant that is owned by him and his employees. (Annija Mieze/ Pexels)
SAN JOSE, California -

There is something different about A Slice of New York Pizza in San Jose. And it goes beyond their award-winning pies.

It's about the people. In fact, everyone in the kitchen owns an equal slice of the business.

"We're a worker co-op, which means all the members and owners of the business work in the business," said the restaurant's founder Kirk Vartan. He started the business 17 years ago.

Six years ago, he turned it into a co-op by selling the business to his staff as a leveraged buyout. The employee-owners are now paying back a business loan with the profits generated by the company. And they all run the shop as a board of directors.

"We have 13 members right now, and every member has an equal vote in the governance and strategic decisions of our business," Vartan said.

"It's not just a job. It's our baby!" said Colin Webster. This was his first job when he turned 18 ten years ago. He now chairs the board.

"There's a stigma to working in the service industry, but I tell people, 'No! I'm a small business owner.' I make more money than some of my friends who went to college," Webster said.

It's not a new business model, but it is getting a lot more attention after the pandemic wiped out many small businesses.

A bill to create a co-op hub and help center in the Governor's office passed unanimously and became law in California this year.

"It creates stability in your community. The businesses are owned and operated by the people living in there," Vartan said.

Co-ops can also be a good option for the tens of thousands of business owners who want to retire.

"It takes care of the business owner. It pays them. It takes care of the employees. It gives them a wealth building opportunity. And it takes care of the community, because the community gets to keep that gem of a business, whatever that is," Vartan said.

Local customer Heather David called eating at A Slice of New York Pizza a "better experience."

"This model works. It works from a customer service standpoint in terms of employee retention, happier employees," she said.

But it wouldn't work unless the product is good.

"The proof it in the pizza," David said.

And the long line at dinnertime means the consumers and the workers are both getting what they want.



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