Restaurant Cooperative continues to thrive

Restaurant Cooperative continues to thrive

October 12th, 2011 Rachel Sauls in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Restaurant Supply Incorporated may be one of only six restaurant cooperatives left in the United States, but it continues to thrive in the Chattanooga-North Georgia area despite a declining interest in co-ops across the country, according to board of directors member Mike Trussell.

Former Chattanooga Restaurant Supply Incorporated general manager Elwyn Vincent, left, and his wife, Linda, pose for a picture at his retirement party. Vincent is retiring from the co-op after working there for 26 years, but the co-op, one of the last remaining in the country, is still going strong, he said.

Photo by Rachel Sauls

Maybe that's because it serves up savings with a twist. Normally co-ops are open only to members who pay a fee for the benefits. Chattanooga Restaurant Supply's Cash and Carry program allows anyone to come in and buy food at the same price member restaurant owners pay, but without additional members-only discounts.

According to Trussell, restaurant owners must buy 12 $100 shares of stock in the co-op to become a member. Once they become a member, they receive 4 percent back on every purchase and an additional reward of up to 3.5 percent back for timely payments, said the co-op's new general manager Bobbie Swearingen.

"Basically, the local restaurant owners own the co-op," said board member Glen Meadows. "You don't have to worry about where the bottom line is going, because it's coming back to you."

The co-op was originally created in 1948 and currently has approximately 135 members, many of whom have been part of the organization for several decades, said Swearingen. Real customer service, convenient deliveries and being a part of the decision making are some of the major factors that draw restaurant owners to the co-op, said Trussell.

Co-ops are led by a board of directors elected annually by the entire co-op. Although it requires initial trust on the part of the members, or restaurant owners in this case, Meadows said the close-knit, accountable nature of Chattanooga Restaurant Supply is what he thinks draws people to this co-op.

Located on East 11th Street, the co-op is open five days a week and takes all major credit and EBT cards. Cash and Carry often draws churches and catering groups in addition to everyday Chattanoogans, said Swearingen, as the co-op also provides party and wedding supplies.

Email Rachel Sauls at rsauls@timesfreepress.com