Restaurant Highlight: Seward Café

Since 1974, Seward Café has served homestyle and vegan dishes to residents across Minneapolis, MN. This worker-owned café is governed by employees who share a passion for the business and dedication to their community.

When COVID-19 led the city to shut down nonessential businesses, Seward Café shuttered their doors completely, ending all of their services temporarily. They haven’t fully operated since March 15th and despite experimenting with delivery in April, they eventually ceased doing that as well. However when George Floyd died in police custody on May 25th, in their own city, the worker-owners of the café decided they couldn’t sit back while protests against police violence raged in their community.

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Though they didn’t have money to spare since they’d been nonoperational for months, they realized that they had other resources at their disposal that they could use to help Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis. Thus, a team of ten worker-owners and their friends volunteered to cook and distribute food, using company funds to pay for PPE for everyone involved. Initially their efforts focused on making rice, beans and sandwiches for the community. However their neighbors, seeking to help in their own ways, soon reached out to see if Seward Café would accept donations of goods and supplies. The workers quickly transitioned to supplying food to protestors and others in need within the community; they viewed this as the most effective way to enact long-term change.

Seward Café also announced via Instagram that customers could “reach out if [they’re] making plans for long term food security. We got people, space, wholesale ordering, garden” and more that helps provide relief to the city. In addition to posting on social media, Seward Café advertised their services by putting up flyers on Franklin Street, where the restaurant is situated, informing the community that they could donate their goods or receive resources through the café if necessary. Community donations quickly poured in and just as swiftly were given away.

Seward Café isn’t limiting donations to foodstuffs either; people can give away diapers, baby supplies, hygiene products and food that people can cook with—not just canned goods but ingredients and other products as well.

On a limited basis, they’ve also begun offering delivery services once again. Sundays only, customers within a five mile delivery radius can receive items such as biscuits, drinks, desserts, dry goods and novelty merchandise. Customers can also simply tip the café through the online delivery store.

Though managing all of this is hard work, the worker-owners of Seward Café plan to continue doing this for the foreseeable future—which, since they don’t have a clear timeline of when protests will end, could last months. For the time being they can best benefit their neighbors by continuing to package and distribute food to those who need it most. There’s no shortage of hungry people in the community as poor people and protestors, two groups that greatly overlap, need food assistance so that they can continue marching. By filling that need, Seward Café have found a concrete way to help widespread, actionable change happen in their community.

These efforts have triggered a major shift, not just for the people they help but in their own business plan as well. Doing good with this project has shown the worker-owners how important benefitting the community is, and how good it feels to assist people on the front lines of the protests in such a direct way. After the Black Lives Matter protests lessen and the threat of COVID-19 fades, they want to continue mobilizing the systems they have in place to combat food insecurity in Minneapolis. They can shift focus wherever their efforts are needed.

However putting a bandaid on won’t solve the underlying issue; giving food to those in need doesn’t fix the systems that allowed them to go hungry in the first place. That’s why Seward Café will seek to address the root of these problems by investing in solutions to low wages and immigration concerns that plague industry workers. By focusing on food service-related problems, they can use their knowledge of the industry to help people in their community. They aren’t limiting themselves to just one cause either but aim to continually seek out where their efforts are needed most. Claire King, one of the worker-owners, said of their plans for the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond: “We plan on taking each day to examine how we can be better the next.”

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