Unfortunately for Grand Rapids' Garden Diner & Café, refusing to be a traditional business proved to not be very good for, uh, business.
Photo via Flickr user Steven Depolo
After five years of business, Grand Rapids, Michigan's famously Marxist vegan sandwich shop is closing its doors due to bumps in the road toward what it hoped would be an egalitarian, worker-run business model. The Garden Diner and Café put Grand Rapids on the alternative diet map thanks to its widely acclaimed vegan, vegetarian, and raw food offerings. Unfortunately, the restaurant also proved the old adage that it doesn't matter how tasty your black bean patty is if you can't afford to pay your workers and it takes 45 minutes for you to put a sandwich together.
During its tenure as the Garden Diner and Café—you may know it by its original moniker, the (a little on-the-nose) "Bartertown Diner"—the café prided itself on forgoing a tipping system, paying its employees a living wage, and eschewing the concept of management. The interior of the restaurant even featured a custom mural that showed Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and other famous communist and Marxist revolutionaries performing restaurant work.
Unfortunately, refusing to be a traditional business proved to not be very good for, uh, business.
Not only did the café struggle to pay its workers, part-owner Thad Cummings told local Michigan site MLive, but its Facebook page (no longer active) swelled with comments from angry customers who routinely complained of slow and spotty service, saying that they would sometimes wait nearly an hour for what we're assuming was a very passable vegan sandwich. And that's when it was open; thanks to a policy of setting hours by "group decision," the café didn't keep standard hours, as some users noted on its (four-star, for what it's worth) Yelp page.
"It had never been a worker-owned restaurant," Cummings added. "That was a misnomer. We still bought locally and paid living wages."
Although their food largely received praise, some people, particularly those of the "Redditor" variety, saw the restaurant's closure as an inevitable manifestation of Communism's flaws in practice.
But not everyone was convinced that the restaurant was true enough to its proletariat stance; in August, it faced complaints after sending a free meal to the Grand Rapids Police Department, which some saw as a move that was just a little too chummy with a "nearly all-white police force in this era of police violence."
Anyway, short-story-with-a-very-predictable-ending short, the The Garden Diner and Café is shutting its doors. The owner took to Facebook this week to announce that both the café and the pizza place next door are up for sale.
Which brings us to the real news here: Apparently, in Grand Rapids, you can rent a restaurant space—complete for three parking spaces—for a mere $1,650 a month. Though, you'll still have to sell a decent number of sandwiches if you want to stick around.