At a small table in an empty retail storefront in Baltimore, Nicole Foster pores over blueprints with her husband, Dwight Campbell, and architect Evan Wivell. For years, Foster and Campbell had made plant-based ice cream from scratch for their lactose-intolerant children. It turned out the public liked it, too. Could Cajou Creamery squeeze a production space and a cafe into 700 square feet? The architect was doing his best. “I spent some time in Rome in college,” Wivell says. “Tight cafes with three or four seats. That’s the inspiration—that and the scarcity of space you have.”
Sunlight reflects off the windows of a nearby vacant building to illuminate the blueprints. Baltimore is perennially on the cusp of revival, and Foster and Campbell left the Washington, D.C., area to come here in August 2018, lured by a thriving food scene in a majority Black city with an eager sense of community. With Cajou Creamery, the couple is hoping to build more than a business. A former criminal defense attorney, Foster never forgot the obstacles people faced after incarceration. She wants to hire returning citizens. “If we rise, we want to rise with others,” she says.
Rising with others could ultimately mean rethinking how the business will raise money and distribute profits—and even who makes decisions. Foster and Campbell have been talking with the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy, or BRED, which provides financing and technical assistance to nascent worker-owned cooperatives. In these businesses, employees have both equity and a say in corporate
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