Ever’man Co-op Grocery & Cafe
Year founded: 1973
Number of members: 11,300
Number of staff: 91
Retail square feet: 17,000, (co-op also has an off-site education center and administrative offices)
The Ever’man Co-op Grocery & Cafe is a 40+ year-old institution in Pensacola, Fla., that serves a variety of people from all walks of life. Pensacola is an unusual mix of beach-town, tourist-attraction, retirement village and military base operations. Ever’man’s ability to thrive has been based on their ability to be flexible and welcoming to a wide range of customers and their needs. “It started out the way a lot of food co-ops did as a hippie shop,” said William Rolfs, the co-op’s general manager, “But over the years we’ve changed to include more people and we’ve become bigger and bigger.”
Like a lot of food co-ops meeting needs in a diverse community, it has also weathered some conflict in its history. By listening to its members and staying the course, the co-op has grown into a business poised to launch a second store. The co-op partners with community organizations and launches a big food drive for a local food shelf. They are known for their teaching garden and education center (offering up to 75 classes a month!) and are the go-to source for the media. “We have a really strong reputation in town and we are considered the authority for good food,” Rolfs said. Clearly they have embraced servant leadership.
When Rolfs came on at the co-op seven years ago, the business was in need of systems and a stronger community service orientation. “The transition was tough at first,” said Rolfs. Some members were vocally against the co-op’s expansion plans. Rolfs found that despite those challenges, the relationship the co-op had to its members was different than and stronger than the customer relationships he’d had at Winn Dixie where he’d worked prior to the co-op. It was something he and the co-op strove to build on.
While cultivating the member relationship is important, Rolfs also said that he works in service to his board and employees, seeking to create an atmosphere of appreciation. “I try to make it fun. I don’t like to come to work and not have a good time, so why should anyone else?”
Rolfs recently participated in a retreat with both board and management team members that helped emphasize servant leadership throughout the organization. “It was great to get the board and employees together. It was very successful.”
Throughout his tenure, Rolfs said he’s been guided by what he thinks is doing the right thing for the co-op and community—including what he said were times he had to forgive and move on. Rolfs said at Ever’man their emphasis has been to walk the talk.