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G-Sync: I Want You to Join a Cult

Something earth fresh is coming mid-late March 2013. Tommy Allen says, "Hallelujah!"
Tommy wants you to join a cult.

Often I joke, "I didn't get this size from hating food." So when Bartertown's Ryan Cappelletti called to ask me to meet him at the soon-to-be-open CVLT PIZZA -- another collaborative business project -- I didn't think too long about accepting the invitation.

Bartertown has long remained one of my favorite places to eat in our city for a variety of reasons. Their openness about their politics is evident by the artwork on the walls, and their core philosophy that farm-to-table is not just for the elite are two of those reasons.

Bartertown is also co-op where workers share in all aspects of running the business. Each worker carves a stake in its future. The restaurant is also a place where the diversity of the patrons matches the evolving diversity of what regional food truly looks like in practice.

CVLT PIZZA seeks to maintain many of these core values that made Bartertown so successful. However, don't expect this to be just a clone.

"When we surveyed what we would need to start CVLT PIZZA, we looked at Bartertown model closely and decided there was room for something different here," Cappelletti says.

We are outside in the alley next to CVLT PIZZA's space at 10 Jefferson St. SE, and Cappalletti is hastily tossing topping on the pizzas he is cooking in the wood-fired oven. The newly formed CVLT PIZZA team and I are eager to try a few of the pies he is prepping for the upcoming pizzeria's menu. 

"When we discussed among the core group how CVLT would operate, we wanted to slightly change the model because we needed to take on an investor to make this work," Cappelletti continues.

Inviting an investor to the table might seem like a huge leap for this restaurateur. Cappelletti freely shares that by October 2012, Bartertown had paid off its loans to the bank. This would be the first restaurant I have ever heard to be debt free so quickly.

I wondered what might be changing for Cappelletti as this path appeared more capitalistic versus co-op? A quick observation of the worker easily reveals a fact not lost on anyone who has ever met him. Cappelletti has a hammer and sickle tattoo. The symbol of communism, thoughtfully placed on his hand, clearly alerts any observer of his politics. In my opinion, the real reason the symbol is placed there is to remind Cappelletti to do right by remaining true to the people, and not just the powerful. It is refreshing to see such conviction.

The investor contract seems at odds with the communist philosophy until Cappelletti reveals the details. The contract spells out exactly how it all works. The investor enters CVLT PIZZA with a full understanding that the core principles of this agreement are not just about making a profit. The agreement outlines exactly how this will happen. The investor will not be able to place undue stress on the workers by exploiting their labor, a testament to the idea that fairness is the starting point of a living wage.

It is fitting that since my interview, the U.S. has begun debating the pros and cons of raising minimum wage to $9/hour, producing a yearly total just over $18,000 -- a figure still below the Federal government's poverty line for a family of four - and we are known according to Fortune Magazine as one of the best palces to raise a family.  

Cappelletti and his team are not waiting for the government to figure it out as they forge ahead with their happy investor, who was won over by the food and conviction of the people at Bartertown. Their agreement will create stability, but also a happy and healthy financial arrangement for everyone that touches CVLT PIZZA.

It is refreshing to hear such deliberate planning, but how does the pizza taste?

As I sampled a variety of pizzas, many of which are on their website already, my mouth salivated each time for just one more bite. I watched the pizzas disappear quickly from the outdoor table of our winter buffet.

The interior of CVLT PIZZA will be designed by Nice's Dylan Gunnett. Gunnett's plans feature an open contemporary design. There is a walk up counter for slices or take out, but also a few added bonuses including a back alley entry and the storefront M.A.M.E., a small video game arcade in the front of the space.

"And if you thought the art was provocative at Bartertown, just wait until you see the conversation-inducing art we have in store for CVLT," says Cappelletti, as he recounts stories patrons have shared as a result of Bartertown's murals.

And unlike Bartertown, which has a large pool of workers at their worker co-op restaurant, CVLT PIZZA will only need a staff of just four or five people. These workers will be sharing the cooking shifts throughout the week, but also cross-train to handle any position at this table service restaurant.

While Grand Rapids has over 200 pizza shops already, Cappalletti isn't worried about crowding the market.

"When you look at cities like New York and do the math based on per capita, we still have room for more here," he says. "We just enter the field doing something a bit more awesome."

As an incentive to help them make their next financial goal, the team at Bartertown has come up with a unique offering for people who want to be a part of the action.

For $150, patron investors will receive one 18-inch pizza a month for 12 months, as well as 10 percent off their dining tab for the same period. In addition, they will receive a special CVLT PIZZA T-shirt limited to only the 120 spots open for this offer. CVLT PIZZA is already starting to generate buzz with foodies and scenesters as the opening date quickly approaches.

There are a huge amount of food options in our town claiming to be farm-to-table, but in my humble opinion, there are only a handful that truly get it right. The rest is just lipstick on the pig.

Here's a toast to CVLT PIZZA, a business that will no doubt create many new converts, and that could also start a revolution in our city for how we look at startups and the needs of the workers in all that we do.  

You shouldn't drink the Kool-aid unless you ask how it was made. Cappelletti and co-workers are showing us that open dialogue about farm-to-table is changing us all and changing our region for the better.

"Whatever you do, just don't write that are a vegetarian restaurant," warns Cappelletti. "I don't want people saying, ‘I don't want to go to a healthy restaurant.' It is too limiting. We are a pizzeria. "

Simply put, CVLT PIZZA will sell farm-fresh pizzas that taste amazing. That is all you really need to know.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

To view G-sync Best of Grand Rapids Events for this week, click here.

Limited Edition Membership to CVLT PIZZA can be secured here. CVLT PIZZA is scheduled to open to the public mid-late March 2013.
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