Farley's 65th, Emeryville. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Employees at all Farley’s locations, including Farley’s on 65th in Emeryville (above), will now get to share in the company’s profits. Photo: Emilie Raguso

When Chris and Amy Hillyard opened Farley’s East coffee shop in Uptown Oakland in 2009, they knew they wanted to involve their employees in the business in a more inclusive way than is typical for a coffee shop. It took them six years, but they have now launched a profit-sharing program for all of their employees across the three Bay Area Farley’s locations.

The Hillyards announced the program at Farley’s first all-staff meeting last week. “Farley’s is proud to share the success of the business with the people who are core to that success: our employees,” the Hillyards wrote in a Facebook announcement July 21.

Unlike formal 401(k)-type profit-sharing programs, the Farley’s program is not tied to a retirement plan and it does not deduct from the employees’ paychecks. Instead, the Hillyards are dividing 10% of all profits across all employees who have been with the company for at least six months. “A [formal] profit-sharing plan wouldn’t be beneficial to our employees right now,” said Chris Hillyard. “It would be a disservice to take money out of their paychecks. Right now additional income is more important.”

And while Hillyard notes that his employees are “not going to get wealthy,” the extra cash certainly helps service employees as the cost of living continues to increase around the Bay. In addition, the Hillyards hope that this move will incentivize their employees to learn more about the business of running a café and “help them grow as individuals.”

“They’re all small owners of Farley’s now,” said Hillyard. “They can take pride in it and have a stronger connection to our community.”

Chris Hillyard at Farley’s East in Uptown Oakland. Photo courtesy: Chris Hillyard

Community building has been part of the Farley’s tradition since its inception in San Francisco in 1988. Founder Roger Hillyard, Chris’s father, built the Potrero Hill location into a neighborhood gathering place after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, keeping long hours for customers without power and water in their homes.

Chris and Amy expanded the business to Oakland in 2009 and Emeryville in 2010. The couple has been paying close attention to employee wages since the expansion. Chris Hillyard was a vocal supporter of Measure FF, Oakland’s voter-supported minimum wage increase that went into effect this past March. And the Hillyards intentionally gave their cooks the job of delivering food to customers so that they could legally participate in the tip pool.

Read more about Measure FF and the minimum wage on Nosh

Farley’s joins a growing community of small businesses with non-traditional pay structures. The Cheese Board Collective, Arizmendi Bakery and Zachary’s Pizza are all 100% worker-owned co-ops. Mandela Foods Grocery in West Oakland is also worker-owned. Oakland’s Red Bay Coffee takes a different approach; when the first Red Bay café opens in Uptown’s Hive complex, founder Keba Konte plans on distributing all profits to his employees.

Not surprisingly, Hillyard reports that the announcement went over very well and that his employees were excited for the change. Likewise, Hillyard said, he and Amy are “really happy” about sharing their profits with the rest of the team. “We’re proud and fortunate that we were in the position to do so.”

Farley’s East is at 33 Grand Ave. (between Webster Street and Broadway), Oakland. Farley’s 65th is at 1195 65th St. (at Vallejo Street), Emeryville. Connect with the café on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Kate Williams

Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...