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Bartertown Diner and Roc’s Cakes to open at long last

The long-awaited vegetarian diner, located at 6 Jefferson SE, will finally open after several months of delays
The exterior of Bartertown Diner and Roc's Cakes

The exterior of Bartertown Diner and Roc's Cakes /George Wietor

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Bartertown's launch menu

Bartertown's launch menu /Bartertown Diner

After an outpouring of support and a modicum of controversy, Bartertown Diner and Roc’s Cakes will open at long last. The eatery, located in the former Discussions Coffeehouse (6 Jefferson SE), has been in development since late 2010 and will officially open at 11 a.m. tomorrow, June 23rd.

The vegetarian eatery is worker-owned and opened as a collective where each of the employees have an equal stake in the success of the restaurant. The core Bartertown collective comprises Ryan Cappelletti, Roxanne "Roc" Moreno, Matthew Russell, Onya Jackson, Mike Bussler and Dylan Putnam-Smith, all of whom have recently sworn in as members of the Grand Rapids branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Union. Each of the members bring their own expertise to collective.

"Everyone has a specific role,” said Cappelletti, who previously created the vegan menus at both Stella's Lounge and Brick Road Pizza Co. “No one really does the same thing.”

Three additional workers - Mattie Graves, Grace Gager, & Kate Vlaming - are involved at a probationary level. “You have a month from the time you start to see if you like it, to see if you want to join the IWW, and if you want to be part of a collective,” Cappelletti said. “It gives you a month to learn what we are all about.”

Between building woes, lack of finances and a slow response from the city, the restaurant experienced its fair share of delays. It was originally slated to open on March 13.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact [of the] building we took over,” said Cappelletti. “Every single thing you could think of needed to be done to it. It was in horrible shape... we replaced everything but the heater and air conditioner - and there is talk of replacing that.”

The collective did everything from scratch with as little money as they could.

“We found a guy, [William Campbell], who was willing to build our bar, but the deal was he wasn’t allowed to buy anything. We paid him a good wage but he had to find everything but the nails. At night, he would go out and find stuff, and in the day, he would build.”

The cost to open the restaurant has been around $34,000 to date, cobbled together primarily from a micro-loan from a private investor and a successful campaign using the community fundraising website Kickstarter. Cappelletti estimates that he has sunk $3,000-4,000 of his own funds into the business.

“It’s been the community that made this possible. There’s been no banks and very little pocket money and just community interest.”

Kickstarter, which provides a platform for crowd-funding creative projects, helped the collective illustrate the community buy-in their project had. They raised $11,040 from 176 unique backers. Kickstarter backers were also eligible to receive rewards for their donations, ranging from a hand-decorated postcard from the staff to having the donor’s face added to the eatery’s controversial mural. Suddenly, the restaurant had a lot of stakeholders that the collective could leverage when talking to other potential backers.

“That helped us show [potential investors] that this is how many people want us open, this is how many people think this is a good idea...” Cappelletti explained. “These people are willing to spend $150 on a dinner here, which makes people think that maybe we’re doing something right.”

“It’s been just as much advertising for Bartertown as it has been fundraising” added Matt Russell, another collective member and proprieter of the vegan cookie delivery service Wednesday Evening Cookies.

Leading up to the big day, Bartertown had a few test runs, inviting diners to three soft openings. Food for each of those soft openings were purchased and prepared on the day and ranged from imaginative offerings such as the chickpea melt sandwich to a coconut curry slaw to a three-cheese pesto melt called “The Michigander.” The soft opening selections accommodated raw food, vegan and vegetarian diets, complete with appetizer and dessert offerings.

With a 100% clean bill from a city health inspector this afternoon, the collective is busy planning their opening menu (see the full menu to the right). Already in the works are raw layered nachos and pigs in blankets—familiar dishes to satisfy the adventurous and entice the curious to sample vegetarian cuisine.

Russell and Cappelletti estimate the average price of meals at the diner will range between $8-12. "As far as our prices go," Cappelletti said, "If you think something is too high, talk to us about it. I guarantee we'll have a reason why." The eatery will also have a system where every day up to two interested parties can get a free meal in exchange for labor.

To find more information about Barterdown Diner and Roc's Cakes visit the collective's website, Facebook page or Twitter account

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