The anarchist’s cookbook

The Firestorm Café is not referred to as a business by its employees — most of the time it's a "project." In fact, the anarchists that work in and run the coffee shop and bookstore do not speak in terms of a boss-employee dynamic. Firestorm, rather, is run by a community of worker-owners who are collaborating to create a new business model.

"One of the ways that we describe ourselves is as an 'anarchist project,'" says worker-owner Emma Olivia. "One of the forms that this project takes is a business that maintains a community space," she says. "This isn't just a business. We are, in fact, creating a new model for running something that is serving a community and manages to produce an active critique of the way that businesses are typically run." How so? By creating "reciprocal relationships within a community instead of [existing] strictly to enrich an individual or individuals," she says.

Apparently, however, there are ups and downs to a collective, and they manifest themselves in different ways.

Take for example the café's Facebook page, which looks particularly schizophrenic due to the likelihood of several different administrators posting differing opinions.

In reference to a recent Xpress article about Moogfest that mentioned — very briefly — that Firestorm was a great tucked-away spot to grab a quiet bite, the administrators posted this:

"Those jerks at Mountain Xpress are handing out Asheville's best kept secrets like candy," says the post. "They even include us in their 'insider tips.' Hey, MX! How can folks 'escape the masses' when you're smashing the insider/outsider paradigm?"

Mountain Xpress! Smashing paradigms!

Then, I saw this just a little lower on the same Facebook page, posted just a few months earlier:

"Just noticed that we are outranked in Trip Advisor's vegetarian restaurant guide by Jae Thai (closed) and the Yacht Club (not vegetarian)! If you've had an awesome experience at Firestorm, please take five minutes to review us."

Then this:

"Firestorm Café has op-eds in both the Mountain Xpress and Asheville Citizen-Times today! Check out our response to the media's recent defamation of anarchism."

When I visited Firestorm as a representative for Xpress, the employees, er, worker-owners were all congenial and welcoming, and didn't seem necessarily reluctant to be featured in the pages of the food section.

So … does Firestorm want Xpress not to blow up their spot (figuratively speaking, of course), or would they like the coverage? Do they want to remain Asheville's best kept secret, or would they like their customers to give them good reviews on Trip Advisor?

Frankly, I don't care. I seriously just want another one of Olivia's dark-chocolate iced vegan cupcakes. And maybe a tempeh sandwich.

That's right. I swooned over vegan cupcakes. As a matter of fact, my jaw dropped when Olivia, Firestorm's well-spoken, calmly intelligent resident baker-worker-owner person told me that she didn't use dairy in her recipe.

Olivia's been involved with the "project" for about a year-and-a-half. She bakes all of the pastries, and it's nearly impossible to believe that some of them are dairy-free.

"It definitely takes away the stigma of vegan food," says Olivia. "A lot of folks tend to be shocked that our baked goods are vegan. They're so used to things being fake and full of soy, but our cupcake recipes aren't dependent on soy milk and soy yogurt or egg replacer. They're just really good, classic depression-era recipes that depend on non-egg based leaveners."

Everything in Firestorm Café is vegan, except for the milk provided for coffee. Firestorm is also staunchly local. The milk for the coffee is Earth Fare brand, says Olivia, because the health-food store sources its namesake dairy from local cows.

The café also uses Asheville's rave-worthy Smiling Hara tempeh in their sandwiches. "Their tempeh is so amazing," says worker-owner Maggie Welder. "You're going to be at a disadvantage in Asheville if you don't use it. It's the best around."

While nearly every restaurant in town is claiming to serve all-local products from the kitchen, which sometimes turns out to not actually be the case, Firestorm Café appears to be walking the walk.

And it's fairly clear from the start that the crew is serious about nearly everything, including food. I realize quickly that, even if I have little else in common with anarchists, we can all sit around and have very strong convictions about what we eat together.

We can talk until we're blue in the face about the importance of using local tempeh instead of the mass-produced kind, or why fake meat is just plain unappealing. "It doesn't have to be fake. It doesn't have to pretend to be something it's not," agrees Olivia.

"I think that a lot of people wouldn't be able to tell whether some of our items are vegan or not," adds Welder. "We don't push the vegan thing. And if you are trying to stay away from soy, there are plenty of options. [Our menu] is reshaping and redefining veganism."

The crew says that we're fortunate to live in an area where local goods abound.

"It's becoming increasingly easy to source things that are local, to find people like the folks who produce Buchi and the folks who produce Smiling Hara," says Olivia. "They're small producers, and we can work to really close the loop with the people who are providing us with food."

"It's nice to know that, regardless of what happens, we have a community that we can sustain ourselves on," adds Welder.

And how does one become a worker-owner and part of the Firestorm community? Is there some sort of initiation process? Hazing? Turns out there's internship program where the potential worker-owner is scrutinized much in the same manner as a love interest.

"We're sort of dating to see if we're going to get into a long-term relationship," says Olivia. "Around the six-month mark, we have a talk to see whether things are working out and then folks phase on to being owners." It's easy to imagine everyone on their best behavior, proffering flowers, or whatever anarchists bring to dates.

But, Olivia says, everyone — from dating intern to founder — participates in the managerial work, shift work and decision-making. "There's very little distinction between people that are legal owners on paper for the café and anyone who's in here, because we all make decisions and are accountable to one another."

"From responsibilities, tasks, down to the finer details, it feels really good to step into a project and have a say in it," says Welder. "You have an idea and you can see it manifest. That's not typical in a regular job."

It sounds like a lot of work. But woker-owner Scott Evans says that the model allows the crew to "reevaluate and take stock of the types of relationships that we want. Do we want bosses and employees — essentially capitalists and workers — or do we want to envision something totally new? Because, to be honest, working for a local capitalist oftentimes sucks. I think all of us have worked for local mom-and-pop businesses where we've gotten ridden like animals, essentially."

"Promoting a vision of a world without oppression and coercion is something that we all feel strongly about," adds Olivia. "I view a capitalist society as one that uses the threat of state force and capitalist force to keep me in line no matter how I feel about the subject at hand."

Serious philosophies, serious convictions, serious opinions. What exactly does this all have to do with sandwiches? Evans is quick with an answer.

"I don't think that any of us grew up thinking that when we were older what we really wanted to do was make sandwiches for people,” he says. “I think we grew up thinking that we wanted to change the world. As it turns out, making sandwiches might be a way to finance changing the world."

— Send your food news and story ideas to Mackensy Lunsford at


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84 thoughts on “The anarchist’s cookbook

  1. “‘Promoting a vision of a world without oppression and coercion is something that we all feel strongly about,’ adds Olivia.”

    Olivia, do you believe you have a right to not buy health insurance?

  2. Ha! Good ol’ Tim. I thought about you as soon as I started reading this article. You’ll never change.
    Excellently written piece, Mckensy! I don’t generally like such a personal style of journalism, but this really works. Thank you for writing this, and thank you Mountain Xpress!

  3. Who is Evans? The reporter just started referring to “Evans” in a paragraph toward the end but never introduced this mystery person. Is Evan an owner, an intern, some person off the street? An animated mascot, perhaps?

  4. Libertie

    Wow. Thanks for the first-class profile! Regarding our “schizophrenic” Facebook profile, all the posts are, in fact, written by a single individual. What you may have failed to account for is the epically dry sense of humor that some of us relish :) We always appreciate your coverage (and if there are paradigms to smash, let the smashing begin.)

  5. BTW, I’m pretty sure, though I could be wrong, that the “handing out Asheville’s best kept secrets like candy” comment on their Facebook page was meant to be facetious.

  6. Mackensy Lunsford

    @cellorello, good catch. Something got chopped there. All fixed, and thanks.

  7. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Question: Do the worker-owners (“legal owners on paper”) of this anarchist anti-capitalist cooperative project own the business outright, or is it financed through a capitalist lending institution?

  8. Ricky Party

    Good question, Betty. I know it’s an article about food, but left unexplored was the basis of how the company was founded and financed. That retail space must be at least $2K per-month to lease. Where did the start-up capital come from and how was that money earned to begin with, through anarchist or capitalist means? Hmm, I wonder…

    A quick search of the “owner-worker” interviewed for this article reveals that they graduated from a private college that costs over 50k annually for tuition. To be so anti-capitalist they certainly chose a school that requires inordinate amounts of capital to attend.

    I could be totally wrong, but knowing that tidbit just adds to my suspicion that most businesses like this that are built on a political or social idea are more often than not owned and operated by kids who come from money and will never really have to worry about being financially secure in the first place. It’s a little easier to live out radical political fantasies and subsist on low wages when you have an independent income or inheritance to fall back on.

  9. Libertie

    @Betty, our business was financed almost entirely by loans from guerrilla fighters in Zomia, although we did accept a significant donation from Somali pirates in 2009. Also, we swim to work in the French Broad to avoid state-funded roads and sew all of our clothing by hand to resist the capitalist fashion industry. Whew! With all this ideological purity, there’s hardly any time left to smash patriarchy…

  10. Libertie

    @Betty, but seriously, yes. We financed our project with a combination of worker-owner capital and small community loans. No business with less than three years of operation is getting loans from “capitalist lending institution[s]” these days. (I will, however, point out that Mountain Bizworks does a great job of supporting local fledgling entrepreneurs!)

  11. Emma Olivia

    @timpeck, I don’t know what health care has to do with delicious baked goods… But since you ask, I certainly believe I have a right not to buy health insurance (and I think I shouldn’t be penalized for that choice).

  12. Eli Scott

    @Betty, Good question! While someone else might have a more thorough answer, i can say that Firestorm was financed on community loans, sweat, and personal sacrifice on the part of the founders. On at least one occasion (raising money for the bakery display case pictured above) Firestorm had a campaign to sell ‘gift certificates’ to community members as a form of very small in size, but widely dispersed, community loans.

    Firestorm walks the walk. There are lots of ways that they could cut expenses or raise prices (by relying on large scale institutions/corporate food distributors or pushing vegan as an expensive lifestyle eccentricity) but has a commitment to its ethics rather than raking in as much cash-monies as possible. And that pervades their business model and practices.

    This article is in the food section, so it doesnt even mention a lot of the rest of what goes on at firestorm, the venue and meeting space, the free computer terminals/internet access, the family friendly atmosphere, etc…

  13. Dionysis

    “A quick search of the “owner-worker” interviewed for this article reveals that they graduated from a private college that costs over 50k annually for tuition.”

    Well, there is the concept of noblesse oblige.

  14. Emma Olivia

    @RickyParty, I did indeed attend Hampshire College, along with a number of other folks. The tuition there has been ballooning at an unbelievable rate, and I don’t know if I would attend college knowing what I now know. After college, I worked for a while as a baker and a retail clerk, helped found a non-profit organization and now I’m in Asheville working on an alternative model for the provision of goods and services.
    I can’t offer a pure self, one who never interacts with capitalism or the state. I have state and federally issued IDs, a bank account, an apartment where I pay rent and I even pay my taxes. I can say, I’m not “living out a fantasy”— I get up everyday and work really hard to help make this model succeed… and I make some really awesome cookies in the process.

  15. Piffy!

    Ricky and Betty, you seem to think ‘anarchist’ means \living-in-poverty-in-rags-down-by-the-river.

    Here’s a tip; it doesn’t.

    Here’s another tip, try reading some books on different schools of thought concerning ‘Anarchy’ instead of asking such naive questions.

  16. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Say w-h-a-a-a-a-t?

    Victor Newman, my question had nothing to do with poverty or wealth or anything else to do with value judgments about Firestorm’s economic status, past or present, individual or collective.

    I merely asked if they have received financing from any capitalist lending institutions (banks, etc.) for which they often express negativism (anti-capitalism as a marketing strategy for their business model). The term “community loans” is a bit vague.

    And yes, I have read and studied many schools of thought regarding the philosophies and activities of “anarchists” worldwide, including those sources recommended by Firestorm; and my conclusion is that the Asheville definition of “anarchy” is quite localized and clearly unique.

  17. Ricky Party

    Victor, I’m not exactly sure how you extracted that conclusion from my previous post, but I was in no way inferring that anarchy necessarily means living in poverty. What I WAS implying is that anyone who comes from an affluent background (and many politically idealistic 20-30 year olds in this town fall into that category) doesn’t really have to worry about making their lives financially sound or profitable through proven, traditional “capitalist” means and can much more easily pursue unproven (or at least not completely realized) avenues of success and financial security.

    But since you mentioned it, if the anarchist lifestyle and economic model yields comparable financial security to capitalism, why aren’t more people pursuing it? Your comment clearly implies that there is much more to be gained from the anarchist way than simply “living in rags down by the river.” My point is I cannot imagine how someone pays off student loans to an insanely expensive private school while making sandwiches at a business who’s goal is to avoid making profit by traditional means. I’m not saying the folks at Firestorm are living in their cars and taking showers at the YMCA. But retail space in downtown is through the roof, and apparently at least one of these “worker-owners” has an enormous debt to pay off. If not, perhaps their family paid for that 200k worth of tuition? Did their family earn that money by being anarchists or capitalists? It’s a fair question, and what I’m getting at is that it’s incredibly hypocritical to take advantage of capitalism when it’s convenient to get you where you want to be, and then turn around and shit all over it once you’re in a position to grandstand about the evils of said capitalism that allowed you to be where you currently are.

    At the end of the day, it just seems amazingly ironic that such a “project” owes it’s entire existence to funding that was generated through the very channels the business now openly preaches against. And that will always be an inevitable irony when it comes to business models like this.

  18. As one of Firestorm’s founding worker-owners, I can assure you that I (as well as others who are or have been involved with the project) came from a working class background.

    I struggled to go to college (which was a waste of my time), have worked 9-5 for several nonprofits, never making more than $14/hr. (in the Bay Area–not enough to afford an extravagant lifestyle, by any means), figured out how to survive on the less-than-half-minimum-wage we could normally afford to pay ourselves (and periodically paid ourselves nothing when we didn’t make enough money), and have chosen a much simpler life–one that is much more gratifying than the “American Dream.”

    I’ll let others go into more detail on the community loans but, suffice it to say, that people in a position to lend us money did so gladly, because they share the goals and ideals. Mountain BizWorks provided some entrepreneurial training.

    Firestorm was never intended to be a paragon of anarchism, simply an alternative to the capitalist paradigm. No one is exploiting anyone else’s labor to make money. We got paid what we could afford to pay ourselves and endeavored to support each other as we were able.

    Why do you expect absolute purity in every aspect of someone’s life, simply because they’ve chosen a different path than that of the majority? If you consider yourself an environmentalist, does that mean you’re living completely off the grid? Do all Christians rigidly adhere to every tenet of the Bible?

    Why is it that people need everything to be black and white?

  19. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Firestorm Cafe—reputed as being in the forefront of “anarchy” in Asheville—regularly promoted by MtnX for food and news—known for their anti-capitalist marketing strategy—right here in their own words regarding their anarchistic uniqueness:

    “collaborating to create a new business model”

    “creating a new model for running something”

    “smashing the insider/outsider paradigm”

    “something totally new”

    “promoting a vision of a world without oppression and coercion”

    “to finance changing the world”

    Also, their food is “rave-worthy” and is “reshaping and redefining veganism.”

    I love it. When I close my eyes and drift a bit, I’m right back there in California in the ‘60s.

  20. Wha?

    If this place was never meant to be a “paragon of Anarchism,” then why push that angle so hard in your advertising, interviews and social media? The only time I ever hear mention of this place is when it’s referred to as an anarchist restaurant.

    Although I’m sure that it is unintended, your declaration that the establishment was never meant to be viewed as a purists’ haven makes it all come across as a cute little marketing ploy (“OMG that is SO Asheville!”), which is itself a capitalist practice.

  21. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Oh, it’s unique all right, but more of a reincarnation than a new idea.

    Remember Zorba the Greek’s wonder at life, the way he saw the same old things every day as if new?

    It’s rather like that—newfound virginity.

  22. I should point out that I’m no longer a worker-owner and am not speaking for anyone who currently is. I just wanted to provide a little background from my personal perspective.

    Having said that, how would one propose finding an alternative to the exploitative system currently in place (if one were so inclined)? We live under a capitalist regime. We are a part of that, whether we like it or not.

    I don’t understand why someone who could afford to get a university education should not be allowed or expected to find another way of making a living–a way that does not involve exploiting other people’s labor.

  23. Gordon Smith

    Politics aside – I love the coffee, the sandwiches, and the service at Firestorm. I appreciate that I feel welcomed/accepted along with folks of every other walk of life.

    Well done, Firestorm. Thanks for doing what you do.

  24. Libertie

    “…it just seems amazingly ironic that such a ‘project’ owes it’s entire existence to funding that was generated through the very channels the business now openly preaches against.”

    Sort of like the “ironic” way in which capitalism owes its entire existence to funding that was generated through feudalism? (See: enclosure of the commons) I don’t get it. This isn’t ironic at all. It’s just historic progression.

    Yes, I worked 60 hours a week, holding down two shitty jobs that paid little more than minimum wage, to save up money before opening Firestorm. Does that mean that I “[took] advantage of capitalism”? Sure. Kind of like how indentured servants took advantage of capitalism in order to get a free ride across the Atlantic.

    At any rate, we must be doing something right if the best you can do is an ad hominem attack!

  25. Ashevillejoe

    You know, Betty, Rick, Tim, your really, ummm boring and well, petty. Do you troll news articles about Bank of America and make comments about their un-capitalist acceptance of government bailout funds? I doubt it. Y’all should come in some time and let me buy you a cupcake (or an amazing root beer float), you seem to be taking life far, far to seriously, and I would love to help take the strain of all the nitpicking you’ve been doing off your shoulders.

  26. rote zora

    Betty, it’s funny you picked up on that–Firestorm actually has a sandwich wrap called the “Newfound Virginity”. It’s made from grassfed aged ancient hippies from California, lettuces and tomatoes stolen from backyard gardens in Montford, and seasoned with the self-righteous, sadly patronizing comments of people who spend a minimum of five hours a day commenting on Mountain X forums. Oh, and when the workers make it, they continually flagellate themselves for participating in the capitalist system.

    I really recommend that sandwich. It will change your life, Betty. And it’s totally affordable.

  27. It dawned on me today that Firestorm has survived when other businesses started around the same time have vanished: Sugo, Asheville Hardware, (what was the name of that place in the old Dripolator spot across from Wild Wing?), and many, many others.

    As for spending five hours a day posting to the MX blog, I can assure you that doesn’t include anyone at Firestorm. As a business owner (former, in my case), each of us works/ed several 9+ hour shifts behind the register, several more doing the “management” work, and lots of unpaid hours planning for the future, improving the space, etc.

    Too bad these privileged kids are sitting on their asses, plotting the overthrow of Western Civilization.

  28. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Ask a simple question about truth in advertising and you’ll set off a firestorm, but you’ll get no straight answers.

  29. Piffy!

    Interesting that Betty makes herself the Decider on who can call themselves and ‘anarchist’ and why.

    I had failed to get the memo.


    No sidestep, miss. Just you being exceedingly unwilling to listen to reason in your quest to paint a picture that isn’t even there.

  30. Ricky Party

    Yeah, I think this conversation has led some of these folks to deal with their advertisements, intentions and circumstances in ways they were not completely prepared for nor comfortable with.

    There really aren’t that many direct answers to a lot of the questions raised in this thread about where the money came from to start this business and also where the money came from to support at least some of them through expensive colleges and presumably lifestyles. Where there is explanation they seem very reluctant to do so, aggravated that such questions would even be posed.

    Does the girl interviewed for this article have a right to get an expensive education if they can afford to? Certainly. But expect to be called a hypocrite when Daddy pays the bill with his corporate earned money and then you turn around and become an “anarchist” who preaches against the very foundation of your current place in life

    True, taking advantage of the current system to erect a new one isn’t without its historical precedents, but I think it’s pretty telling that you had to go back as far feudalism to make an analogy that is not even entirely appropriate to begin with in the context of this conversation. Capitalism does not owe its entire existence to feudalism in the same way that Firestorm owes its entire existence to capitalism. Capitalism emerged from the old Feudalist system as an inevitable historical transition because Feudalism was failing, much in the same way that Eastern European countries transitioned to quasi-capitalism because communism (at least their brand of it) was dead. Capitalism did not “take” from the fruits of these old systems, as rotten and decaying systems like feudalism produce no fruit for the taking. The capitalist system, as it exists since then and on into the present day, is not and has not failed and continues to produce wealth, and in this case wealth that has been the benefactor of an establishment that is seemingly biting the hand that has fed it. You can argue that capitalism is socially and economically immoral, but it hasn’t failed in the historical context.

    Bottom line – when members of a collective organize a business model around anti-capitalism, and yet take advantage of the capitalist engine to get where they are not only in business, but also gladly take money from their rich capitalist families and friends to go to expensive schools and start “alternative” businesses, like it or not you must be prepared to be called a hypocrite.

  31. I’ll admit, I didn’t handle any of the loan-related aspects of the business so, aside from the loans made to us by community members who supported the project and had the means to lend us, I can’t say whether or not we had any loans from commercial lending institutions.

    Hopefully, someone with that answer is reading and can chime in. One founding member did comment and said they slaved away–as more of a victim of the system than a victor–to save the money to launch this business.

    I can say that, to run a business, one must have a checking account and establish credit. Ours was (not sure if it still is) at a commercial bank. I know that we’d planned to move our account to a credit union (in fact, that was something I was researching before I left). I’m not sure if they ever did.

    If not, it’s just more proof that we can’t be puritanical anarchists in the modern world. Sorry to let you down.

  32. Ricky, have you not been paying attention? At least two of us have declared that we are not trust fund babies and had to scrimp and save, and live at or below the poverty level to start and run this business. That one or more people involved came from wealth and got an expensive education does not invalidate the project. In fact, I give props to those who do realize how empty an easy material life is and create a more fulfilling, simpler, less destructive existence.

    One needn’t go back to feudal times for an example of someone who gave up wealth to live an anarchist life.

    As for Firestorm’s ethos, the premise is simple enough for even y’all to understand: create a successful business within the only economic system available to us that does not exploit workers to enrich owners. Simple as that.

    Add to that striving to support local businesses and serve organic food, reduce waste and our impact on the planet, and you’ll find that these “privileged kids” are walking the walk.

  33. rote_zora

    Mr. Party, I’m confused–is there some other economic system that a business can participate in if they do not wish to transact in the capitalist economy? Please elaborate.

    Perhaps anarchists, in the search for purity, should not speak English, French, Spanish or Portuguese, the languages of the colonists and slave-owners. Perhaps we should not breathe the air of Asheville, since we have participated in its pollution. Perhaps we should not have children, since they must be registered with the state.

    If you can find me one principled person that is not a hypocrite in this city (indeed, this country), I will personally chip in for your tuition to Hampshire College, where they have a fine economics department that might be of some use to you.

    One correction to your argument–capitalism has completely failed in the historical context. We are witnessing its final gasps, and its failure to be revived by the desperate bankers and corporatists. I hope for your own sake that you have some sort of a safety net for when this system crashes, as it is in the process of doing (note the ‘quantitative easing’ that is taking place)

  34. Rick: Why are you accusing Firestorm folks of having come from privileged backgrounds? What makes you think they live extravagant lifestyles funded by their daddies? From what I recall, most of the money went on credit cards. From what I know, these folks have second jobs to pay the bills.
    Also, the arguments against capitalism are not always entirely moral ones. It has always suffered functional criticisms regarding its cyclical depressions and its inefficiency.

  35. Piffy!

    betty thinks you arent an anarchist unless you have a long skinny nose,pointy mustache, and carry a cartoon bomb.

  36. Piffy!

    For Betty, et al. with questions about ‘anarchy’:

    “Many among today’s young radical activists, especially those at the center of the anti-globalization and anti-corporate movements, call themselves anarchists. But the intellectual/philosophical perspective that holds sway in these circles might be better described as an anarchist sensibility than as anarchism per se. Unlike the Marxist radicals of the sixties, who devoured the writings of Lenin and Mao, today’s anarchist activists are unlikely to pore over the works of Bakunin. For contemporary young radical activists, anarchism means a decentralized organizational structure, based on affinity groups that work together on an ad hoc basis, and decision-making by consensus. It also means egalitarianism; opposition to all hierarchies; suspicion of authority, especially that of the state; and commitment to living according to one’s values. Young radical activists, who regard themselves as anarchists, are likely to be hostile not only to corporations but to capitalism. Many envision a stateless society based on small, egalitarian communities. For some, however, the society of the future remains an open question. For them, anarchism is important mainly as an organizational structure and as a commitment to egalitarianism. It is a form of politics that revolves around the exposure of the truth rather than strategy. It is a politics decidedly in the moment.”


  37. Rote, I can’t tell if you were joking when you wrote “anarchists, in the search for purity…” If not joking, what on earth would make you think anarchists are striving for purity any more than the average proponent of the “free” market, or an environmentalist, or anyone else advocating any philosophy?

  38. “A lot of folks tend to be shocked that our baked goods are vegan. They’re so used to things being fake and full of soy, but our cupcake recipes aren’t dependent on soy milk and soy yogurt or egg replacer. They’re just really good, classic depression-era recipes that depend on non-egg based leaveners.”

    This is the best news I have read in many years. When the current capitalist system grinds to a halt from over population, dwindling resources and unbridled greed there will still be tasty baked goods to barter for. That knowledge alone is well worth the price of an expensive private college. Bless you Emma.

  39. lisa

    I’m so happy that Firestorm exists. I’m surprised there aren’t more worker-owned businesses in Asheville. If you’ve been lucky enough to work in a collective – working with people instead of for a boss – you would realize the value of Firestorm as an example of how things could be different. It is much more satisfying and empowering to work in such an environment than your typical hierarchical work place. I hope to see more worker-owned / collective businesses established in Asheville in the future.

  40. Libertie

    “There really aren’t that many direct answers to a lot of the questions raised in this thread about where the money came from to start this business…”

    Actually, I think that a sufficient answer was provided in post #13. But since you seem to have an accounting fetish, I’ll elaborate:

    Opening our doors cost $37,960
    – $26,960 contributed by workers
    – $11,000 in loans from community members
    – $0 from commercial lending institutions

    If you need more information that this, I’d be happy to share as long as you’re prepared to post your own financial information (perhaps the last few years’ tax returns).

    The worker who you’ve decided to make your whipping girl did not help finance the project and no who did has “gladly take[n] money from their rich capitalist families and friends” to fund Firestorm.

    But if they did, I’d give them a high five because that would be awesome.

  41. Scott

    Robin Hood: Friends, look! I’ve brought you food and wine. Let us feast together for a moment and forget our troubles.

    Peasant #1: Oh happy day! For certain it has been too long since I enjoyed the blessings of fine food and camaraderie beyond the miserly gaze of noblemen.

    Betty: Just an innocent question here, with no hidden agenda, but how did you pay for all this food, Robin?

    Robin Hood: Great question, Betty! I and my Merry Men took money from an aristocrat on the road to Yorkshire not five hours ago.

    Peasant #1: Can we eat now?

    Peasant #2: Can I get a computer code?

    Ricky: Ah ha! So you profess allegiance to the poor and yet you cavort with aristocrats. It just seems amazingly ironic that this meal owes it’s entire existence to funding that was generated through the very system you now openly preach against.

    Robin Hood: I feel as though there may be some flaw in your reasoning, friend. Perhaps we could discuss my methods over a fine pork roast?

    Peasant #1: Yes, please! I can’t bear to wait any longer and this nitpickery grows tiresome.

    Ricky: Robin, I can’t help but notice while Google-stalking you that your parents were wealthy merchants. To be so anti-feudalist, they certainly spent a lot of gold on your archery school.

    Robin Hood: Yes, that school was quite pricey and, retrospectively, I might have obtained a better education elsewhere. But honestly, I don’t see why this should stop us from sharing wine, and the roasted potatoes are growing cold.

    Peasant #1: I like potatoes.

    Betty: Oh, goodness! Look at how my entirely reasonable question has resulted in unexpected hostility from these hippies.

    Peasant #3 (mouth full of food): Gmmf fmmm smmlf.

  42. Piffy!

    Wait, is ‘Scott’ saying he robbed his aristocratic parents for wine and food?

  43. Ricky Party

    “If you can find me one principled person that is not a hypocrite in this city…”

    So you admit you’re a hypocrite… haha. But don’t sell yourself short – it’s important to take that first step!

    You guys are trying oh so hard to make creative analogies but I’m afraid they’re coming off more as excuses. It’s kind of cute, though!

    I never said you had to create a separate system to work within and take from in order to establish a business. Obviously any business must work within the current capitalist system – I just think it’s more than a little disingenuous for a business built upon the idea of anti-capitalism not to have full disclosure about how they came to exist. “Community loans?” Could you possibly be any more vague? That’s not too much to ask, just a little request for truth in advertising. Otherwise, it comes off as very gimmicky. It would be as if a restaurant claimed in the marketing/advertising to be the highest standard-bearer for the environment, recycling and re-using everything they could and serving only organic ingredients, and then you find out they dump all their waste into the river, or throw all their cardboard into the dumpster.

    Oh, and could the business not have tapped into some sort of anarchist fundraising network to gain some of the start-up capital? Oh wait, there is no such thing because that would require too much organization and someone would have to be an authority figure in that situation. Oops, nevermind…

    And for all the anti-capitalist doom-sayers, of course you’re going to say capitalism is over. Big surprise! Your ideology requires you to see things that way. But in the end, you sound an awful lot like the dissenters from the 20s who claimed the final death nail of capitalism was at hand. And the ones howling about the end of the market after the Great Crash. And the Depression. And WWII. And the turmoil of the 60s. And the energy crisis of the 70s. Etc etc. Capitalism is far from over, historically, despite what you wish.

    I’d stay and chat but I gotta get back to my job and my slavemaster boss. I feel like such an indentured servant and all, making good money with benefits, saving for the future, working hard and getting promoted. Such a terrible paradigm…

  44. Libertie

    “Oh, and could the business not have tapped into some sort of anarchist fundraising network to gain some of the start-up capital?”

    Uhh… are you not reading my posts? Because that is exactly what we did. But I guess you don’t really care since you’re just hear to troll.

    And, yes. Our borrowing money from friends and then declining to provide their names and phone numbers to you on the MX website is just like a green restaurant dumping waste into the river. You win. The analogy is rock solid.

  45. Liberties, your recent comments highlight one of the flaws in the MntX comment system- the inability to ‘like’ comments. That was the funniest thing I read all day.

  46. mule

    “I’d stay and chat but I gotta get back to my job and my slavemaster boss. I feel like such an indentured servant and all, making good money with benefits, saving for the future, working hard and getting promoted. Such a terrible paradigm…”

    Way to go…at this rate you’ll be off your knees in no time.

    Kudos to the Firestorm folks for remaining engaged and civil despite the outright (not to mention outrightly juvenile) hostility directed at them by the sad-sack wage-slaves Ricky and Betty.

  47. Ashevillejoe

    Dear Rick and Betty,

    What is truly pleasing about this conversation is that no one in their right mind is going to read the entire commentary section of this lovely article, but pleasingly your continuation of this conversation (we would have left this to die down days ago) has elevated this to the second most discussed article of the month, ensuring that it will remain on front page of the MX website for the next month. Thanks, and like I said, if you ever want a tasty rootbeer float, stop by, it’s on me.


  48. Hen

    “Oh wait, there is no such thing because that would require too much organization and someone would have to be an authority figure in that situation.”

    Hahahahahahahaha… too much organization? Hahahahah! Here at Firestorm, we are far more organized than the other local cafes at which I’ve worked! In fact, we are so organized that we don’t need an authority figure around!

  49. Betty Cloer Wallace

    My question, Piffy, was not about the innumerable hair-splitting definitions, philosophies, or practices of anarchism, either historical or contemporary, domestic or international, individual or collective—nor about any of the other disparate issues brought up by mostly anonymous sources above.

    My question, at least partially answered, was about truth in advertising, the disconnect between anti-capitalist advertising and the reality of cash flow, not just at start-up but over the long haul.

    Then, compounding the mystery, Evan Scott’s analogy of Robin Hood feeding the peasants raised other red flags in regard to Firestorm’s repeated hyperbolic posture as a radical revolutionary benevolent non-profit worker-owned anti-state cooperative collective enterprise, including numerous statements to that effect in Asheville Magazine, MtnX, Wikipedia, social media, etc.

    So I googled the N. C. Secretary of State’s Office to see how Firestorm is registered as a legal entity.

    As of today, the NC Secretary of State Corporations Division shows the business to be incorporated as “Firestorm Café, LLC”—a private for-profit limited-liability company with three co-owners: Daniel E. Lee, Evan G. Scott, and Eli H. Scott.

    Anyone else who works at Firestorm is either an employee or a contractor or a volunteer, but not a legal owner of the company.

    One humorous gem among the seriousness of legal documentation is that Firestorm’s Articles of Organization were prepared and filed with the Secretary of State Corporation Division in 2008 by a Hendersonville attorney named—get ready for this in light of the medieval analogies set forth previously in this thread—Thomas A. Beckett!

    Actually, aside from their anarchist anti-capitalist marketing, some comprehensive straightforward unadulterated information about Firestorm’s financial underpinning and business model, as well as their operating structure—if truly and demonstrably unique—might inspire other groups and businesses around Asheville to consider moving toward similar working arrangements, as well as offering encouragement for new start-ups, both for-profit and non-profit.

    Even capitalists invest in projects in which they believe; and the most successful ones even believe in consensus building and cooperative decision-making.

  50. Thanks for bringing up cash flow. It’s probably worth noting that, in the early days, when we didn’t make enough money to have a sustainable cash flow, we didn’t pay ourselves. Because we are all owners of the business (or interns, until one becomes an owner), we are not legally bound to pay ourselves if the business can’t afford to.

    This is one reason why, during this horrible recession, we have survived when countless other businesses have failed–longstanding ones and start-ups. Just like any independently owned, mom and pop operation, we make sacrifices to continue contributing to our community.

    I don’t know why Betty considers us not owners, though, I’ll admit that it could be true. I’m not a lawyer. Just supporting an innovative project like this that provides a model for others sick of a wage-slave existence was enough for me.

    BTW, there are several collective businesses in Asheville. I believe Ariel Gallery is one. I know there are others.

    Finally, apparently, I was mistaken when I wrote that Asheville Hardware had gone out of business. Someone told me that they moved to another location. Good for them!

  51. Ricky Party

    “As of today, the NC Secretary of State Corporations Division shows the business to be incorporated as “Firestorm Café, LLC”—a private for-profit limited-liability company with three co-owners: Daniel E. Lee, Evan G. Scott, and Eli H. Scott.
    Anyone else who works at Firestorm is either an employee or a contractor or a volunteer, but not a legal owner of the company.”

    Well well well… guess there is more to the Firestorm story than advertised/marketed. Regardless of how the “employee/owner” concept there is structured internally to make everyone feel as one and how it may be pushed to the public, in the end, it sure looks like all you guys and gals are technically still serving a master other than yourself.

    That’s a whole lot of energy wasted on making yourself feel important and equal when at the end of the day, at least on paper, you’re still participating in what is ultimately a traditional hierarchy.

  52. Jeff Fobes

    Betty (and Ricky Party): Check the NC Secretary of State’s website listing for Firestorm Cafe, LLC; you’ll see that the three individuals you named are the OFFICERS; officers are not owners.

    LLC filings with the state do NOT contain any information regarding the LLC’s ownership. They only indicate the agent and the officers (who are elected by the owners).

  53. Libertie

    @Jeff, Thanks for the fact-checking. Also the LLC listing is only updated once per year, so it is now somewhat out of date.

    We address our choice of legal structure on our website (see Many other countries offer an appealing framework for registration as a coop, but in the United States (where legislation strongly favors the for-profit sector), the LLC shell is actually pretty typical for worker cooperatives.

    Honestly, as an organization informed by anarchism, we aren’t all that concerned about how the state perceives us. What really matters is the internal agreements we hold to as cooperators and the principles we uphold as community members.

  54. American Woman

    Somehow these comments have gotten away from the point for most consumers- Firestorm Cafe has unbelievably great coffee and food AND it’s so affordable! My husband and I got their wraps for lunch and ended up having them for dinner too because they were so large and filling and, as I said, so delicious. It only adds to the enjoyment that all the profits of the business go to the workers and back into the business so that it sustains itself and to their many community service activities. Do yourself a favor, have a cup of their so good its additive coffee and at least one of their fabulous muffins. After that everyone walks away from Firestorm happy they came.

  55. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Jeff, the three persons named (Lee, Scott, and Scott) are listed as MEMBERS under OFFICERS of Firestorm Café, LLC if you take this general route to the Secretary of State’s Office, which you must have taken:

    If you take this route to their 2010 annual report, the three persons are listed as MEMBERS under MANAGERS/MEMBERS/ORGANIZERS:
    (click on the icon for 2010 annual report)

    Firestorm’s Articles of Organization, however, which supercedes all else until revised, states that Firestorm is a “Member-managed LLC”: (click on first icon to see the document)

    Nowhere in Firestorm’s Secretary of State filing does it say that members or officers or owners are interchangeable, or serve dual functions, or that officers are “elected by the members.”

    The Articles of Organization does say that Members and Managers are interchangeable and that the “company shall have a cooperative form of ownership and management.”

    In any case regarding Firestorm, there are only three persons listed in 2010 as “Members.” In their 2009 annual report there were ten persons listed as “members,” which can be found at:
    (click on second icon for 2009 annual report)

    If any persons currently working at Firestorm want to be sure that they have legal status as a “worker-owner” in more than name only, they should insist that Lee, Scott, and Scott revise their 2010 annual report to include their names as “Members” (the operative word), or better yet, revise and clarify their Articles of Organization.

    And even better, to be in keeping with their extensive anti-capitalist non-profit marketing strategy, Firestorm could register in the Non-profit Division of the Secretary of State’s Office rather than in the For-profit Division.

  56. Yea, this would have been good news for me when I was a worker-owner. All that time, I thought that I was partially liable for the debt we had. I guess this means that only those three have to worry about repaying our supporters in the community should the business fail.

    One thing to note, none of the community loans were investments. None of the people who supported us financially to help us start the business expects to receive anything more than what they loaned us back.

    In a capitalist setup, investors would use their money to invest in a business that exploits its workers in order to pay dividends to the investors so that the investors have more money to invest elsewhere and make more money, all without lifting a finger to provide anything to the community.

  57. Nitpickery is oh so appropriate and my new favorite word.

    The Firestorm members we’ve read here surely have a wonderful sense of humor and it has been a pleasure to read their articulate comments in a medium that often lacks such things.

    And let’s not forget the tasty baked goods.

  58. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Yes, I remember “nitpickery” is one of the terms MacDonalds used against parents who demanded that they quit putting toys in their non-nutritious Happy Meals for children. MacDonalds did finally remove the toys, leaving the children sad but parents happy.

  59. Betty, I just conducted an exhaustive three-minute internet search and could find nothing to back up your claim that McDonalds ever used the term “nitpickery,” either in conjunction with dangerous toys or at any other time in their history. Please provide me with a link to your source. Better yet, the name(s) of the individual(s) who uttered the term.


    As one who lived in an faith-based intentional community many moons ago, I have the utmost respect for the workers and worker-owners of Firestorm Cafe. The powers of this world will always rebuke those who pledge allegiance to a way of life and work that runs counter to the politics and economics of the status quo. Yet our best work and grandest visions have come from people – Jesus, Martin Luther, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Rosa Parks, the Berrigans, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and Arundhati Roy, to name a few – who dared to imagine a world based on justice, mercy, and love and THEN put their lives on the line to struggle for it. As Phillip Berrigan aptly put it, “Hope is where your ass is.”

    Firestorm’s founders, worker-owners, and workers embody Berrigan’s definition of hope while managing to feed and entertain us, swim to work in the French Broad to avoid state-funded roads and sew all their own clothing by hand to resist the capitalist fashion industry. Gotta hand it to ’em, eh?

  61. American Woman

    I find it deeply sad that all this “nitpickery” is going on regarding an organization that honors and values its workers while delivering a superb product- fantastic coffee and delicious, organic food at a very affordable price in a clean (!) friendly, welcoming atmosphere. You may not agree with their business model or politics BUT once you taste their coffee and food you will be a believer in their ethics.

  62. mule

    “I find it deeply sad that all this “nitpickery” is going on regarding an organization that honors and values its workers while delivering a superb product…”

    Agreed. Of course that’s the very reason why those who profit from exploitative economic models feel so strongly about this; can’t very well have this sort of thing catching on, can we?

  63. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Cellorelio, that Happy Meal news story was on television several months ago , most likely CNN, which is the news channel I most often watch, but I do not remember who said exactly what well enough to attribute a direct quote; but I do remember several of the terms because they were so colorful and the verbal exchange so intense.

    The issue was not about the toys being dangerous. It was about obesity of American children and how MacDonalds markets directly to children and entices them to eat non-nutritious (unhealthy and fattening) Happy Meals in order to collect the toys.

    MacDonalds’s stance, with which many people agreed, was that parents should be the “food police” for their own children and not expect the food industry to do it for them and that to blame a MacDonalds marketing strategy for obese children was “pedantic nitpickery” and a “failure of parental responsibility.”

  64. Betty Cloer Wallace

    WORM FARMER, sorry for being off-topic, but if you are an active worm farmer, please PM me. I’m considering ordering many pounds of Eisenia Hortensis (European nightcrawlers) to free range in my elderberries, blueberries, and bamboo, and I would appreciate your advice.

  65. Piffy!

    It’s far-left extremist liberal socialists like Firestorm who are destroying America.

    Where was the staff of Firestorm on Tuesday May 4, 1886??

  66. Betty, I was being facetious, though I did find no story online. And don’t even get me started on Big Food’s responsibility to America’s children.

    However, I will ask how the average parent should be expected to know that the food they’re allowing their children to eat is toxic without truth in labeling laws. Not that I expect government to do everything for us, but how can anyone but a scientist know what the laundry list of ingredients are in processed foods, such as:

    calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, calcium peroxide, calcium propionate, sodium propionate, to name a few found in McDonalds fare.

    Many progressive countries, like several in Europe, wouldn’t allow, for example, peanut butter to be called peanut butter if it contained partially-hydrogenated oil or high-fructose corn syrup (none of which you’ll find in Firestorm’s ingredient list, to keep this on-topic).

  67. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Cellorelio, several years ago I was driving by a Hardee’s and saw a man throwing five-gallon white plastic buckets into a dumpster. I stopped and asked if I could have one, and he said something like, “Sure, but you’ll never be able to clean it up. It had the (???) in it that we use for frying everything.”

    I took a bucket home but finally threw it away because I could never get that greasy white stuff washed out of it. I tried detergents, vinegar, bleach, heat, sandpaper, Brillo pads, wire brushes, etc., but nothing worked. The wire brushes even cut through the greasy stuff and left scratches in the plastic, but the greasy stuff was still there as if bonded to the plastic.

    That was truly my wake-up call about that kind of food, what it does inside people’s innards.

  68. Eeewwwww. I’m sure you’ve seen this:

    Or this:

    Or, maybe this:

    Or, my favorite:

    Again, keeping it on-topic, Firestorm uses real food. Of course, none of it is comprised of animal products (except milk for coffee). But the bread is from a local bakery, and its ingredient list is quite short and one needn’t be a chemist to understand it.

    The tofu is the most processed ingredient they use, and that’s from the commune in VA where I used to live. The tempeh is from a local indie company too. Most everything served at Firestorm is organically grown and produced too, much of it from local sources.

  69. Average Joe

    look guys its as simple as this…these “owner workers” or what ever the heck you call them cant make stuff appear out of thin air there not magicians they are “anarchists”…i came across this article searching for the anarchists cook book and i LIKED IT…. SO waht they had to get jobs and education from the capitolist side of it ipersonally have never heard of a anarchists funded college… they got what they needed to become what they wanted what is so bad about that i dont know much about anarchy or capitolism im only 22..but just from reading these post and all this hypocrit and foul words and comments being thrown around..the real hypocrit is the guy throwin stones at someone who has devolped a way of life that THEY like key phrase there THEY LIKE you dont have to like it or embrace i for one think its crappy i personally wanna make all kinds of money BUT i am not going to pass judgment or question the way they got where they are..untill the day the yBY CHOICE leave there anarchist little civilization and return to the clutch of capitolism you have no right or foiunded reason to call someone a bypocrit…just because they dont believe in some of the things you due DOES NOT give you the right to become god of the situation and label them as any thing all of you haters out there need to look in the mirror and tear yourself down and all you guys at firestorm keep it up…and again let me say I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE WAY YOU DO THINGS but thats whats so great about our country is I DONT have to for you to keep on keepin and ….so for all of you narcistic a$$ES out there leave these people alone so what if there different…and think about it if they really “hated” this capitolism like you guys are saying they do…(and they never said they did they just dont agree with it and they found soming that works for them) they wouldnt still be here in this country that WE ALL LOVE THE SAME U.S.A

  70. “searching for the anarchists cook book”

    oh, really? i am guessing not the one that spunk published a few years back that had food recipes, huh?

  71. There was also a book titled Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook, which was something worth looking at (for a change) from the CrimethInc crowd, but I am sure you were really looking for that god-awful piece of utter nonsense by William Powell. I have no idea how that drivel has survived as long as it has. The book is essentially a collection of instructions that could only end one way: with a stupid kid blowing himself up or being horribly disfigured in a chemical fire.

  72. sharpleycladd

    viz the “rich kid’s an anarchist” thread in this discussion: as a working class hero, my first question is always this: “who are your people?” Like that Jesus guy, descended from the house of David, bound for a career as a member of the clerical elite, what’s up with the carpenter bit? And Buddha, a rich guy renouncing all his possessions, what’s up with that?

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