Is this Lunds? Kowalski’s? Whole Foods? Nope. Those for-profit grocery stores are its competitors. This is The Wedge, a member-owned food co-op, as classy as all the above. The big difference is, the co-op partners with its growers and suppliers to assure great food at great prices on your table, while providing producers with a fair price achieved through dialogue and trust. Same goes for its 250-strong paid staff (it’s not run by volunteers—a misconception). All receive living wages, good benefits, and discounts.
Members, today 15,000 strong, receive discounts, too. Even more vital, they get a vote in how the store is managed, all for a one-time, $80 fee (easily recovered via 18 months of shopping). Plus, they receive shares of the annual profit, based on their spending.
You don’t have to be a member to shop here, no siree. The sign above the door reads, “Everyone welcome every day,” and they mean it.
“It’s a community center, like an old-fashioned post office where people congregate,” General Manager Lindy Bannister says. “As people shop, they stop and chat with each other and the staff. We call it The Wedge Shuffle,” she laughs.
They shuffle to the tune of 2,700 transactions a day—the grandpa living alone and lonely; the movie stars passing through town; the tattooed bike messenger stopping for a take-out mac and cheese or pizza from the deli counter; and the socialite in for a fancy-schmancy party cake. The Wedge operates its own in-house bakery, source of everything yummy, from baguettes to bagels.
Countering another misconception, Bannister maintains that shopping here does not cost more. Costs less, in fact, as she proves through reports from mystery-shopping the competition. “The past 18 months’ price increases to us haven’t been passed on, either,” she can boast. “Nor do we beat up our vendors to keep costs low, like in a conventional supermarket,” she emphasizes.
Close relationships with producers are its cornerstone. The Wedge even owns its own farm, Gardens of Eden, and encourages its workers to start incubator farms of their own. Close inspection is key, too, to assure foodstuffs are as organic as possible—though not every item is, or can be, so-certified. Staffers visit farms to assure correct feeding, humane slaughtering, cleanliness, and safe handling, among other essentials.
Scallops are diver-harvested and fish line-caught, including by some of Bannister’s favorite fellows in Tobago, “who work for us unless the day’s too nice, when they don’t work at all. I love them!” she enthuses.
Candy bars? No. No customer demand. Chips and soda? Sure, although probably not the brands advertised on TV.
“Our customers tell us what they want—we don’t tell them,” Banister asserts. “We present options, and let them make their choices”—like which milk producer to support, when given the facts about two rival suppliers. “We’re not the food police,” she states.
OK—other than the cops, then—what The Wedge is: all things to all people, through cooperation.
The Wedge Co-op
2105 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.