The Main Street Phoenix Project is a unique cooperative started in March 2020 aimed at rebuilding a more sustainable economy post-COVID. The project was founded by Employee Ownership Commissioner and employee ownership advocate Jason Wiener.
Main Street Phoenix aims to create a hybrid worker cooperative, private equity fund and holding company. The project will acquire restaurants that were thriving before the pandemic and keep them from closing by providing support, resources and capital to relaunch the restaurant as employee-owned.
Main Street Phoenix is different because as a cooperative, when an employee becomes an employee owner, they become an employee owner of not only their restaurant, but also the Main Street Phoenix cooperative as a whole. This means that their ownership portfolio encompasses all of Main Street’s restaurant holdings.
One of the benefits of a worker cooperative is that each member has an equal vote on the governance of the organization, regardless of the size of their financial investment. Cooperatives (co-ops) are regulated at the state level and unlike some other forms of employee ownership, do not require an annual business valuation. Co-ops are well-suited for small, local firms of at least three employees, all the way up to hundreds or thousands of employees.
Main Street Phoenix was founded by Jason Wiener and is managed by Marisol Lazo-Flores, who has a decade of experience in managing a healthy and profitable consumer-facing business. Additionally, the project is supported by a team of advisors who offer a combined 80 years of restaurant executive experience.
Main Street Phoenix will invite small businesses to become acquired, join the co-op and receive invaluable professional development especially in managerial training. Wiener and his team are dedicated to preserving the existing employees, history and culture of the restaurant, but equipping each business with the unique professional development skills and employee ownership participation that will make it succeed long term.
The movement to convert to employee ownership is becoming more common every day due to undeniable benefits as highlighted by Marisol Lazo-Flores. She noted that when team members shift their mindset from employee to owner they become more invested, feel valued, generate ideas and increase sales. “The workforce overall becomes more attentive and wealth is distributed back into the pockets of those who created it,” said Lazo-Flores.
Lazo-Flores noted another benefit of the restaurant cooperative model, in addition to creating more equitable work environments, is seeing more opportunity for women, communities of color and underrepresented groups.