Food & Drink

Hampden’s Common Ground Bakery Cafe is Reopening as a Worker-Owned Co-Op

Thanks to an outpouring of community support and dedicated organizing efforts of the former employees-turned-owners, the shop will reopen early next month.

On the morning of July 2, a group of confused Hampden locals gathered around the locked doors and cleared patio of Common Ground Bakery Cafe on Chestnut Avenue.

Among the crowd were some perplexed employees and delivery workers, who stood with nothing to greet them but a note taped to the front door. Overnight, the cafe’s owners had ceased operations “effective immediately,” leaving the breakfast rush unfed, and dozens of people abruptly unemployed.

Now, the community coffee spot is set to reopen this fall, but under the helm of new management: the employees, who have formed a worker-owned cooperative.

Next month, Common Ground will once again be back to serving up breakfast staples—with renewed vegan and gluten-free options—to the community. A soft launch with coffee and baked goods is expected in early September, with a return to full operations slated for the end of the month.

Scenes from Common Ground following its abrupt closure July 2.
—Joe Martinak

The reopening comes on the heels of weeks of negotiating and community outreach that began immediately after notice of the sudden closure.

“It’s been a lengthy and stressful process,” worker-owner Sierra Allen summed up in a press release, alongside an Instagram post that broke the news this morning.

The day after the initial closure, employees immediately took action to organize, launching an Instagram account, (@commongroundworkers), where the neighborhood was able to share their support. Updates came quietly at first, with a lot of work going on “behind the scenes,” as workers described in a post.

However, things quickly evolved, from calls for crowd fundraising, to a tabling presence at the Baltimore Strike Fest last month, to meetings and eventual partnerships with the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED) and Seed Commons—community wealth resources that were both co-founded by Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, a worker-owned cooperative pioneer in Baltimore. Other local businesses that have adopted the co-op model include Metta Wellness and Thread Coffee Roasters, which have also received support from BRED and Seed Commons.

“It was really all of these components that made it possible,” says Nic Koski, a worker-owner and organizer for Common Ground Workers United.

Common Ground Workers United's table at Baltimore Strike Fest, held July 23 at Mobtown Brewing. —Joe Martinak

Koski makes it clear that the idea of forming a co-op had been on many workers’ minds previously. The closure just accelerated the plans.

“Meetings about improving the workplace transformed into meetings about resurrecting the business,” adds Jonah Gallagher, another now worker-owner.

Before moving to its current home in 2022, Common Ground had stood as an inclusive community staple around the corner on the Avenue for more than a quarter century.

“I went there with my dad growing up,” says Gallagher. Inside, they said, “people could feel like they were hanging out in a friend’s living room.”

Speaking to the community ethos of the cafe and its staff, Koski says, “many of us were already close with each other and cared a lot about our workplace. Our staff had pretty strong relationships with a lot of our regulars, where we actually knew each other personally. I think that’s a lot of what kept people coming.”

As far as immediate plans, the team has opened a GoFundMe to raise starting costs, and aims to host a reopening party and movie night during the first few weeks of reopening.

Overall, Common Ground worker-owners are excited to be back serving the community that helped them reclaim their beloved workplace.

As Gallagher puts it: “This is a chance to express our love for the community as a collective voice.”