2011 Small Business Awards - Page 4

The Guardian's annual small business awards celebrate the entrepreneurs who keep this city lively

The La Cocina crew: Daniella Sawaya, Natalie Conneely, Caleb Zigas, Margarita Rojas, and Matt Skov

There's no disputing that the Tamale Lady has achieved T(amale)-list celebrity, but her work is far from done. With the help of her family, Ramos' treats land in rates of about 100 per day in the stomachs of soused locals in bars across the Mission, Tenderloin, and Lower Haight.

She imports her cornmeal and husks straight from Mexico. Every tamale is made by hand in her kitchen — a process that can be witnessed by watching the 2004 Cecil B. Feeder rockumentary on her life, which features a slew of original songs in homage to her work. It's physically demanding, but Ramos bears the honor of being the city's tamale angel with pride.

"I had an unpleasant life growing up [in Mexico]. I've been here for 25 years, and San Francisco gave me something I never had before: it brought me my independence. SF people came into my life as angels, they gave me the opportunity to feel like I can do my thing and nobody can mess with me."

The Tamale Lady's small business award pick: "The independent flower girls who go around selling flowers in restaurants, bars, and shops around the Mission." (Hannah Tepper)





Arizmendi employee-owners, fresh from the ovens: (from left) Yeni Solis, Leidy Fernandez, Juan Clavel, Yelena Khlystova, Isaac Hee, Erica Harris, Celia Sagastume, Troy Vadakan, Sandy Guevara, Liz Fitzgerald, Nicki Green, Madeleine Van Engel, and Jenny Espinoza. Photo by Pat Mazzera

For the worker-owners at Arizmendi Bakery, cooperation is more than just a nice idea — it's their business model. "I've worked in everyplace from Safeway to a bakery that was owned by one person," says Arizmendi worker-owner Heather Coppersmith. "Arizmendi is different because we have to worry about our own finances, cost of sales, and income. We all get a sound understanding of what it takes to run a business, but responsibilities are spread out so that no one person is bearing the full brunt."

So how does the egalitarian model function so well? "All of the work is shared," says Coppersmith. "We create an environment that makes everyone feel valuable and train everyone in all aspects of the bakery, so there is no need for management."

Arizmendi's first sister location, the Cheeseboard, opened in the mid-1990s on Lakeshore Boulevard in Oakland. The concept of a bakery that was entirely worker-owned was dreamed up by Berkeley professor Jaques Kaswan and his partner Tim Huet. The idea was a winner: today there are five bakeries in the Arizmendi family across the Bay Area. When a new Arizmendi is started, newly hired worker-owners intern and train at other locations, learning all they need to know to operate their own bakery before opening for delicious, fluffy, crusty business.

The model has worked so well that Arizmendi was one of only nine food businesses in San Francisco to be awarded a perfect worker treatment score by its employees in community group Young Workers United's yearly restaurant guide. It received high marks in wages, job mobility, health and safety, and job security — not surprising since worker-owners have the final say on workplace issues at Arizmendi.

But let's not forget — how could we, really? — that Arizmendi doesn't just produce happy and fulfilled worker-owners. The bakeries are best known for their more public offerings: delicious brioches, organic breads, and vegetarian pizzas with seasonal toppings that change daily. Cooperation never tasted so good.