Pedaling pizza pays off for local collective

Bryce Haugen

Though they had to avoid puddles and occasional downpours Saturday night, the Spokes Pizza Collective employees peddled on.

“There’s no such thing as weather permitting,” said Rachel Libon, a member of the nine-person collective, located in the Seward Café along Franklin Avenue South. “We’ve delivered in blizzards.”

Unlike most of its competitors, the Spokes Pizza Collective makes free deliveries via bicycle to south Minneapolis residents.

The two-year-old collective has one of the largest delivery areas of any pizza joint in the area, Libon said. It delivers to the Phillips, Seward, Elliot Park, and University communities, but will go more than a mile outside its stated boundaries for orders more than $15.

The deliveries are made on two “very custom-made” bikes, which have a special pizza rack on the front, said Katie Burgess, a collective member. She said the bikes are serviced at the collectively run Grease Pit Bike Shop on the West Bank.

“We’re working on getting them a lot flashier,” she said.

On Saturday night the vine-covered Seward Café was filled with a steady stream of customers who were eager to get their vegan and vegetarian pizza. Like-minded local residents occasionally called in orders throughout the night.

The restaurant uses only organic ingredients and has no meat on its pizzas.

Chucho Lee, 30, who said he visits the restaurant twice weekly, said he’s drawn by the collectivist mentality.

“The idea that it’s a collective, it’s really inspiring that the people that work here are involved in making the decisions of the business. There’s not somebody directing,” he said. “And the food’s good.”

Collectives like Spokes are a continuation of the “West Bank ethos” – the collective movement that began in the area during the 1960s, said Charlie Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Guitars, which is a block away from the collective.

“Seward has always been something of an activist neighborhood,” he said.

Libon said Spokes’ location between the University, Philips and Longfellow neighborhoods creates a unique community feel.

“It’s an interesting intersection of cultures that congregate here,” she said.

Members of the collective, whose wages start at $6.15 an hour, meet once a week, said Burgess, who serves as the image and design coordinator and nonfood items coordinator – her duties include buying pizza boxes and others supplies. She said decisions must be unanimous.

With Augsburg College and the University’s West Bank campus within a short walk, college students often visit the pizza joint.

Though many of the customers are young, the restaurant serves a wide array of people, said Kevin Mitch, a cultural studies junior and collective member, as he took a break from the kitchen to munch on a slice of pizza.

“We draw a lot of people who are trying to be intelligent consumers,” he said.

Soon after the collective opened, Pizza Lucé appeared across the street. Collective members said they cry themselves to sleep because of such direct competition, Burgess said with a chuckle. But she said Spokes offers a different, better product to a different demographic, which helps them compete.

“As far as quality of food, the response we get is that ours far surpasses Pizza Lucé,” she said.

Heather McDonel, a recent University of Saskatchewan graduate, said she found out about the collective on happycow.net, a vegetarian Web site. She said she and her friends came down from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to visit Valleyfair and to shop.

Whenever she’s in Minneapolis, McDonel said, she shops at natural foods stores and restaurants.

“Having vegan cheese on pizza is very rare,” she said, waiting for her order, “at least where we come from.”

Libon said Spokes was the brainchild of a member of the Seward Collective.

“As legend has it, he was inspired after drinking a lot of Chartreuse,” she said.

But the idea for Spokes lacked a building to make it reality. Libon said the Seward Café agreed to house the collective on Thursday and Friday nights until midnight. Eventually, it expanded to Saturday nights, when it stays open until 1 a.m.

“We’re as open as we can be,” Burgess said.

She said the collective members are looking at expanding to their own building, possibly to Nicollet Avenue South. Then they can stay open the entire week.

Libon said the collective will offer wine, beer and live music as soon as it gets a license.

“We’re basically just waiting on the city right now,” she said.