There is no shortage of coffee shops in the Bay Area. From corporate chains to small mom-and-pop shops, Berkeley residents have a wide range of choices of where they can purchase their cup of joe. However, Alchemy Collective, a Black, queer, and trans worker-owned cafe and roaster stationed on the corner of Alcatraz Ave and Ellis St in Berkeley, goes beyond the typical business.
Founded by three friends with a vision, the collective began as a coffee cart outside of an Oasis gas station over ten years ago. The founders had been coworkers in a cafe, and began to think of how they could construct a coffee shop that functioned as a co-op. As a co-op, their goal was to create a business where those working in the storefront were also the ones who made the decisions.
Jasmine Reynolds, a member of the collective, remarked, “People who work behind the bar, people who work in the cafe, can and should have a say in how the business operates.”
Alchemy has since purchased a storefront and become a multidimensional business, with the majority of operations happening out of their shop on Alcatraz Avenue.
Reynolds joined over four years ago and, despite the challenges that come with managing and working at a small business, has thrived as a part of Alchemy Collective. Her daily routine varies, but because of the nature of the co-op, she juggles leading the roasting program, working in the cafe, managing business aspects, and many other miscellaneous tasks. As an employee-owned business, members determine their own focuses within the cafe and, consequently, have to hold themselves and each other accountable.
“I think it’s really important to have control over our work and what we do every day,” Reynolds stated.
As of now, there are four members within the collective, all with overlap and differences within their work. Everyone completes a shift in the cafe, while three — including Reynolds — work to roast beans and the fourth member focuses on bookkeeper tasks and keeping the business in order.
They meet weekly to discuss tasks, offer support, and make sure everyone has a say. “What inspired me to get involved was witnessing first-hand how well the group worked together to make decisions collectively,” Reynolds explained.
Although Alchemy Collective started out with members of multiple races, it has transitioned to become an all-Black business. With a disproportionately small number of minority-owned businesses, and very few within that number functioning as co-ops, Alchemy works to provide an opportunity that otherwise might not be available to people of color in the Bay Area.
Reynolds reflected, “Our vision is still the same, but now it has this extra degree of self-determination.”
The business has several different aspects to it, with the cafe, coffee roasting program, subscription service, and occasional catering all contributing. They self-identify as a neighborhood cafe and a place where people can come to work, or just hang out, with a cup of coffee.
With COVID-19 shutting down businesses and indoor seating, the Collective has been forced to rely on their subscription service and roasting program to carry the business. The cafe reopened for takeout several weeks ago, but without seating, they’re still working to discover what type of business they want to be.
“We’re still trying to find our rhythm, but everything has been relatively good,” Reynolds said.
Alchemy credits much of their success to their relationships with neighboring businesses and the support of the community. They believe that the care and dedication they have for all of their customers is what sets them apart and has allowed them to continue thriving despite the less than favorable circumstances.
Reynolds stated, “We really appreciate how much our community has supported us through all of this. We’ve been doing our best to move forward in the circumstances that we’re in, and all of our customers have been incredibly patient. Thank you, from Alchemy.”