Theresa's Eatery: A thriving co-op model restaurant business

Jacob Aginsky and his daughter, Jaia at Theresa's Eatery on Commercial Drive

Jacob Aginsky, owner of Theresa’s Eatery,  isn’t your typical cafe owner, and Theresa’s Eatery isn’t your typical cafe. Aside from the fact that this little place only serves breakfast (and a side of incredible coffee), Theresa’s Eatery is also a co-op model restaurant.

“It’s basically a profit-share model,” said Aginsky, whose primary job is as a musician, “I leave town a lot so ... I turned to my crew and asked them if they could run it.” Aginsky describes the co-op model, which he has applied to Theresa’s, as a “nicer version of stock options.” If the business does well, then the workers benefit as well. “For me,” said Aginsky, “this means taking people who would normally earn about eight dollars an hour plus tips and pay them over 12 dollars an hour including tips. So at the end of the month, if there’s extra, then everyone gets extra as well.”

 Aginsky is confident that it is because of the co-op model that his cafe has survived. “Just sitting here [on Commercial Drive], I can see five places that were former competitors just come and go this year.” Theresa’s has been open under Aginsky’s ownership for over four years now and apart from a fire that caused the cafe to close down for nine months, the cafe has been thriving.

“It’s really reassuring to see an alternative business model working. The standard model just isn’t balancing out so well. I am not doing this for a huge gain, I’m doing this as a cool social art project” said Aginsky about his cafe, “It’s nice to see it does work. If you just give people incentive and you treat them with respect, allow them to make a basic living. How does someone survive on eight dollars an hour in this major metro city?”

Theresa’s Eatery has had the same staff for many years now, and it is because of Aginsky’s co-op model that they have remained loyal to the business. “They make more money when the cafe does well,” said Aginsky, “sometimes on a slow day, they’ll go home early because it’s better for the business. I really respect how they carry themselves” he said of his staff, “I know that if I treat them well, they will take care of the business.”  

The cafe was in the midst of extending its hours until the accident a year ago. Aginsky is now concentrating on opening up for the evenings and serving home-style dinners with organic beer. “The fire really put a stopper on things, but the next step is serving really good, cheap, simple [dinners],” said Aginsky.

Theresa’s Eatery is on 1260 Commercial Drive and opens for breakfast every day. The cafe has a wide range of tasty, homey dishes including pancakes, specialty eggs and breakfast sandwiches. Theresa’s caters to many different customers including those with wheat allergies.

All photos taken by John Wu.

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