Seven Local Entrepreneurs Who Get It Right
Hope catches you at odd moments— seeing an ice cream store with solar panels, a pizza place delivering by bicycle, a coffee company fostering prosperity in the Third World. Activists often focus on the businesses who make the world a worse place, without giving enough credit to the ones who get it right.
Pulse this week looks at seven local entrepreneurs who recently started businesses – or revamped existing ones – to run on clean energy, to be owned by its employees, to use organic food from local growers, to help Third-World farmers support themselves. Here are the businesses who give back, whose success is measured in more than profit.
with Values: A Galactic Combination
by Audrey Dutton
Last year, Galactic Pizza’s drivers sped forth
on their first deliveries—navigating motorized pods clad in helmets, capes
and spandex jumpsuits.
Sure, the gimmick helped Galactic Pizza stick out in the crowd of style-conscious
Lyn-Lake eateries. Sure, the hype surrounding the drivers’ humorous get-ups
has presumably sold a few pizzas on its own.
But the driving force behind the company’s mounting success is not just
entertainment. It’s the fact that Galactic Pizza creates a product using
organic ingredients in a largely sustainable facility, all to benefit the neighborhood.
After graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000, Apple Valley
native Pete Bonahoom began a career in the financial industry, working for Piper
Jaffray. In a matter of months, he became frustrated and stepped back to reassess
wanted to add more meaning to my life,” says Bonahoom. “I wanted
to make some sort of difference in the world in a little way.” That goal
became more specific as Bonahoom researched socially responsible businesses,
transportation and food issues.
He was inspired by his role models, Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben
Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and by his belief in sustainable business. He wanted
to create a pizzeria that was both profitable and principled. And he wanted
it to be fun. So Bonahoom combined his personal savings with a loan from the
Small Business Administration and got the gears rolling on Galactic Pizza.
The Galactic relationship with the community starts long before the piping-hot
Paul Bunyan pizza (a wild rice, morel mushroom, bison sausage concoction) arrives
at a customer’s door, and goes on beyond that transaction. For every Galactic
Pizza ordered, $1 from the sale goes to the Second Harvest hunger relief organization.
Five percent of after-tax profits are donated to charity. It’s a multi-tiered
In developing his business plan, Bonahoom firmly established that he would seek
alternative energy sources for his store. Galactic Pizza then arranged to pay
extra for 100-percent wind-powered electricity, purchased a stable of cars that
run solely on that electricity, and found pizza products that are organic or
growth-hormone free (Chippewa Valley cheese is used on most non-vegan Galactic
pies). Even the packaging is sustainable; Galactic Pizza staff members “strive
to use packaging that is either made from recycled materials, or is 100-percent
As a result, the store has been so environment-friendly that it’s now
considered an EPA Green Power Partner—one of only three such facilities
The biggest obstacle keeping Galactic Pizza from total sustainability, however,
is that the ovens run on natural gas. This stumbling block represents what Bonahoom
sees as potential, both for Galactic Pizza and for other private companies’
“I think if [clean energy] was cheaper, if organic ingredients were cheaper,
more people would use them for their businesses,” says Bonahoom, “but
we need to create more demand. It takes people making a sacrifice first.”
Bonahoom echoes the sentiments of other environmental business advocates: as
long as private commercial entities are satisfied with the status quo, there’s
no demand for progressive materials and energy sources. That lack of demand
prevents alternative energy and equipment from becoming commonplace.
“People are really adamant about supporting that kind of business—something
that promotes so many different avenues of being conscious of the environment,
being ecologically aware and safe,” says one deliverer who goes by “The
Gus Driver.” And, as Gus explains, the costumes add an aspect of fun to
the whole store’s concept: “I always wanted to be a superhero when
I was a kid. Pete is letting me live out my dreams!”
With word-of-mouth promotion—Galactic does not advertise itself—sweeping
Minneapolis and a spot in an upcoming national documentary, Galactic Pizza has
become a model for sustainable business, and in the process, has energetically
thrown itself into community growth projects. Maybe there’s more to those
superhero costumes than we think.
Visit Galactic Pizza at 2917 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, call 612-824-9100
or visit GalacticPizza.com.
Izzy's: Solar project brings community together
by Jan Willms
Solar-powered ice cream will be the final result of
the sustainability project in process at Izzy’s Ice Cream Café
at 2034 Marshall Ave. in St. Paul.
What began as an idea to “follow the sun” with solar energy has
brought the neighborhood together, with residents volunteering to help make
Izzy’s the first community-supported solar ice cream shop in the United
States. Owners Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel started exploring the possibilities
of alternative energy over a year ago.
started looking into natural gas micro-turbines, but that was not going to work
for us,” said Sommers. “Then I looked at solar energy, and I did
tons of research on it.”
As part of his research, he visited the Green Institute, an eco-business incubator
located on Lake Street and Hiawatha in Minneapolis, whose building has a 34-kilowatt
solar panel system on its roof.
Sommers then visited the website of Old Man River Café, a coffeehouse
in West St. Paul that installed a 1-kilowatt system for $12,000. “I started
doing the math in my head, and I realized we could do more for less,”
The Green Institute had extra panels that had been donated by British Petroleum
Solar, which Sommers and Hammel purchased.
“We put together a plan [the High Noon Solar Project], started fundraising
and getting permission from the landlord for the renovation,” Sommers
said. “We started gathering volunteers who came in and helped us caulk
the panels. We hired a boom truck to get the panels on the roof, and construction
started in October.”
The project ran out of money around the business closed for winter, but ice
cream socials and a silent auction have helped raise funds, and individuals
who want to help can buy panels for $100 each. An application made to the STAR
program in St. Paul for a grant of $5,000, based on the recommended approval
of City Councilmember Jay Benanav was approved last September. Izzy’s
owners are creating an 8-kilowatt system, hopefully completed by June, for an
overall cost of $55,000.
J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient
Economy, has been a part of the High Noon Solar Project. “I see the solar
energy projects as a wave of the future,” she noted. “Renewable
energy is ready now and perfect for urban neighborhoods.”
Drake Hamilton said she sees alternative energy more and more necessary as the
bad air alert days increase.
like Izzy’s are real leaders in showing that you can make a community
more livable through clean energy,” she stated.
Ralph Jacobson of Innovative Power Systems, the contractor for the High Noon
Solar Project, said money for solar energy projects needs to all come up front.
This community project allows individuals, who don’t have $40,000 to install
their own system, to kick in $100 towards their favorite neighborhood gathering
Doug Shoemaker volunteered for the High Noon Solar Project by following the
panels—literally. Shoemaker, who retired two years ago, had volunteered
last spring and again last summer with the Green Institute. When the extra panels
found their way to Izzy’s, he followed the panels and has been helping
out, although he lives in Apple Valley.
“I’ve always had a major interest in renewable energy,” he
said. Growing up on a farm, he said he spent the first 12 years of his life
without electricity. “Lots of people ask why I am doing this,” he
said. “I’m doing it for my grandkids. I just want to help make the
world a little better place for them.”
Shoemaker said he doesn’t think people are aware of how serious the energy
crisis is. Although he has volunteered with many organizations over the years,
he said he enjoyed the hands-on work that he is doing with Izzy’s.
“What I really like,” he added, “is that Jeff has said he
is going to eventually take some of his savings and put it in a fund to offer
to the next organization that wants to try something like this.”
White Bear: Going Green for Fitness
by Audrey Dutton
"When we started out, we had the same misbelief
that’s out there, that becoming sustainable is about giving up things,”
says Paul Steinhauser, general partner of White Bear Racquet & Swim Club.
“The truth is exactly the opposite.”
In 2001, Steinhauser’s facility underwent a $3 million renovation project,
with the one express objective being “sustainability.” Steinhauser
discovered that instead of making enormous sacrifices to become sustainable,
the club actually saved money by adopting more alternative practices for lighting,
energy and facility upkeep. The end result also fit with what White Bear Racquet
& Swim Club wanted to provide for its clientele—total health.
replacing chlorine with a salt-based water purification system, the Club’s
swimming pools are exponentially less caustic, and healthier for swimmers. Members
have expressed their satisfaction with the new system, happily noting less dry
skin, less need to replace swimsuits, and an all-around better feeling when
they use the pools.
Additionally, clients have been pleased with the change from standard light
bulbs to Solatube lighting, which directs outside sunlight into the facility’s
fitness center, main lobby and café. This single change, says Steinhauser,
has reduced business costs by cutting down on energy costs and lightbulb expenses,
as well as adding a general ambience of natural light for its members to enjoy.
But one of the major benefits of going progressive has been a reduction in fossil-fuel
usage. The facility replaced its gas-heated, humid tennis bubble with a permanent,
ground-source heated insulated metal building. As Steinhauser attests, “We
reduced our fossil fuel use by $40,000 per year when we replaced that bubble
with the new tennis building. The ground-source heat pumps are so much more
efficient than the standard way of heating.”
White Bear Racquet & Swim’s Team Sustainability—the five-member
direction group responsible for the changes—began this project with the
intention of providing its members with total health. The group could not resolve
the fact that, although they were running a fitness facility, the facility itself
wasn’t providing a healthy environment for members or staff; the inconsistency
was obvious to them.
Simple switches, like using plant-based cleaning products instead of ammonia
and chlorine, “has made the cleaning staff ecstatic.”
As White Bear Racquet & Swim Club continues on its mission to become 100-percent
fossil-fuel-free by 2010, Steinhauser muses on attitudes toward sustainability
and how false assumptions keep other businesses from going the green route.
“You know, the myth that existed in the 1960s, that it was either jobs
or the environment; a portion of that myth is that we have to choose either
comfort or environmental sustainability,” says Steinhauser. “And
that’s just baloney.”
White Bear Racquet & Swim is located at 4800 White Bear Parkway, White
Bear Lake, MN 55110. For more information visit WBFit.com
or call them at 651-426-1308.
Peace Coffee: Building bridges at home and abroad
by Kurt Fischer
The blue eyes of Peace Coffee’s self-described
“Roastin’ Cowgirl,” Beth Backen, brightened as she talked
about her recent weeklong trip to Nicaragua to visit the farmers who supply
Peace Coffee with its basic raw material. She had seen firsthand the impact
of her employer’s commitment to Fair Trade principles on people’s
lives there, and she appeared energized as she tweaked the roaster’s controls
and fed the machine beans grown and harvested by families she knew personally.
Peace Coffee began in 1997 when director Scott Patterson, then in his mid-20s,
signed on with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to spearhead
a project to find out whether a company could be 100-percent committed to Fair
Trade and succeed. In the past eight years, the IATP demo has become a viable
business. Patterson describes Peace’s ongoing mission as one of commitment
“to the farmers, to the people who drink our coffee, and to ourselves.”
The business, headquartered in The Green Institute’s Philips Eco-Enterprise
Center in southeast Minneapolis, develops long-term relationships with individual
coffee farmers to “change the traditional trade dynamics, so farmers are
empowered to negotiate a fair price on their own,” Patterson said. “Our
goal is maintaining the viability of small farmers. Dealing with farmers directly
is the most powerful way to help them become business owners, not just laborers.
Fair Trade helps growers control their destiny.”
Trade practitioners pay a minimum floor price for coffee beans, currently $1.41/lb.,
and many—including Peace—tack on a $.05/lb. “solidarity premium”
that helps fund special projects in grower communities. Because Peace’s
purchases are made through Cooperative Coffees—a joint coffee importing
venture Peace helped found—Patterson says that a respectable $1–$1.10
chunk of the $1.41 floor price ends up in growers pockets (The rest pays for
freight and post-purchase processing.)
To the extent it’s economically able, Peace Coffee offers pre-harvest
financing to coffee growers with whom it does business. To help underwrite growing
costs and spread farmer income to the non-harvest season, Peace makes low-interest
loans to farmers of up to 60 percent of the contract price for raw coffee beans.
About half of Peace’s purchases are pre-harvest financed.
Through Cooperative Coffees, Peace buys raw beans directly from grower co-ops
in seven countries: Mexico, Sumatra, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru and
Ethiopia. In violence-ridden Colombia, roastmaster T. J. Semanchin spent time
with “farmers working together in the most extreme conditions.”
Semanchin gave a one-word description of what Fair Trade brings to these growers:
“Through Fair Trade, they’re seeing the ability for their co-op
to survive,” he said. “Fair Trade has helped people stay in their
communities and make a living.”
Patterson lists several projects that Fair Trade income has helped make a reality
in grower communities: a health clinic in Mexico, a new co-op coffee warehouse
in Guatemala, potable water wells in Ethiopia and funding for a woman-owned
and operated micro-credit bank in Nicaragua.
Though compromises have been made in the interest of economics and growth, Patterson
has sought to extend the values of which Fair Trade principles are a hallmark
to other aspects of Peace’s operations. Peace buys only shade grown, organic
coffee beans. And, famously, Peace endeavors to deliver its products by bicycle.
As I toured Peace’s facility, “bike geek” Brad Wilson was
loading 300 pounds of coffee onto a trailer to be pulled by his bike—that
is to say, by Wilson—over the day’s 11-mile route. To ease deliveries
to customers in Stillwater and other even less bikeable locales, Peace acquired
a van but does its best to fuel it with biodiesel.
Patterson hopes that, if Peace Coffee continues to be successful, others will
copy its business model. “That’s why we need to be [financially]
successful,” says Patterson, and then adds: “But at the end of the
day, we want to feel good about what we do.”
Ecopolitan: Eating close to nature
by Mehnaz Alam
The name Ecopolitan comes from the idea that “even
city-dwellers (metropolitans) can preserve Earth’s resources and ecology
(hence the name Eco-Politan).” Founded by Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren three
and a half years ago, Ecopolitan was created to promote an ecological approach
to life, including food.
The restaurant offers 100-percent organic vegan unprocessed, unheated cuisine,
wines and juices. The menu includes breakfast foods, salads, entrees and dessert—even
cakes and pies (unbaked, of course)—and organic wine. Also housed in the
building are an ecological shop that sells natural, non-toxic home and body
goods and a library featuring ecology-friendly reading material.
aspect of the business was designed to be sustainable. Ecopolitan staff use
non-toxic items to clean, wash dishes and to do laundry; compost 100 percent
of their organic waste; recycle; use biodegradable and recyclable items; encourage
cleaner modes of transportation (electric cars, buses, bicycles, feet), and
eventually generate solar/wind power on-site. For take-out food, the staff encourages
customers to bring their own container, so cardboard and paper are not wasted.
When he is not running the restaurant, Tel-Oren still sees patients and holds
free lectures every Tuesday to “educate people about the benefits of healthier,
more sustainable lifestyles by setting an example and providing continued social
support.” He touts the benefits of Ecopolitan’s healthy foods, and
the restaurant’s website includes testimonials from a diabetic who has
lowered his use of medication and a woman who “effortlessly lost weight
in a few weeks.”
The only all-vegan restaurant in the area, Ecopolitan receives its produce from
local growers and cooperatives, family estate farmers, environmentally-oriented
agricultural and community programs and nonprofits dedicated to social and ecological
health. Tel-Oren claims that going to Ecopolitan is the perfect way to be an
activist and still maintain your health.
Tel-Oren hopes to expand the restaurant into an environmentally-friendly spa
and what he calls the world’s first ecological hostel.
Ecopolitian is located at 2409 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis. They
are open seven days a week, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Fri and
Sat. Call 612-87-GREEN for more information.
Mulroy’s: Auto body with a soul
by Nancy Sartor
After 44 years in business, Mulroy’s Body Shop
moved four months ago to a new building with a state-of-the-art paint booth
and began using water-based paints instead of solvent-based paints. Mulroy’s
is only the second auto body business in the Twin Cities to use water-based
paints—Latuff Bros. in St. Paul also uses them—and the first body
shop to use a specially designed, environmentally friendly paint booth.
“Anytime you can update your business to the most current system, you
have to take the opportunity,” said owner Pat Mulroy. “We looked
at the technology that was available and decided to go for it.”
That technological upgrade included a $30,000 investment into a high-velocity
paint booth created by Sterling Design, a company out of St. Croix Falls, Wisc.
The booth has a sophisticated air system that reduces the total operation time
for painting cars by about 40 percent, increasing productivity. Using less energy
provides Mulroy’s with a significant savings on its gas bill; and in fact,
CenterPoint Energy is offering rebates to companies that purchase the system.
But the technologically savvy paint booth accounts for only part of the savings.
Using water-based paints rather than solvent-based paints requires less heat
for drying, again reducing the amount of energy needed.
For about 10 years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required car
manufacturers to use water-based rather than solvent-based paints. Mulroy thinks
it’s just a matter of time before the EPA regulates body shops, too. “Solvent-based
paints contain lacquer,” he said. “By switching to water-based paint,
we’re not emitting as many toxins into the air and there’s not as
much that has to be recycled. Our waste is less and we’re cutting our
emissions in half.” He says that by 2006, regulations in Europe will require
all auto body shops to use water-based paints.
Adopting a proactive, eco-friendly approach with his business was an easy decision
for Mulroy. “When you’re looking at a body shop that’s based
in the middle of south Minneapolis, I don’t think you really have any
choice,” he said. “We’re right in the middle of a neighborhood
here, not in some industrial park. There are people who are closely affected
by us and you definitely have to factor that in. Hey, I have three grandkids.”
Mulroy’s environmental commitment extends beyond using water-based paints.
He said his company has been recycling “since before ‘recycling’
was even a word,” including solvents, metal and plastics.
“There’s so much plastic … where’s this plastic going?”
he asked. “Everything’s made out of plastic: plastic bumpers, plastic
headlights, plastic cars…They’re going to have to address the plastic
issue, because as you know, plastic will sit in a landfill forever.” Some
types of plastic can be recycled, however, and Mulroy says his company recycles
By implementing these new measures, Mulroy’s shop has become a mini-training
center for other auto body businesses that are interested, but skeptical, about
switching to water-based paints or investing in new equipment. He said about
six shops—including Youngblood’s and Sears Imports, as well as businesses
outside the Twin Cities—have toured his shop to see the process at work.
In addition, Mulroy is working with a researcher from the Hennepin County Pollution
Control Agency on tracking cost savings and reducing hazardous emissions, and
is providing data to the EPA about self-imposed air pollution controls. By 2007,
the EPA is expected to regulate the auto body industry.
Mulroy is pleased with the environmental progress his business has made. “Back
when we first started, we had three employees and we recycled 150 gallons of
[paint] thinner a year. Now we’ve got 11 employees and we’re recycling
55 gallons [of paint] a year; and out of those 55 gallons, only about 10 gallons
are going to be recycled, the rest is water. That’s a huge difference.”
Mulroy’s Body Shop is located at 3920 Nicollet Avenue South in Minneapolis.
They are open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from
8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays they’re gone fishin’.
Spokes: Delivering pizzas by bicycle
by Mehnaz Alam
Most businesses have a boss. The nine members of the
Spokes Pizza Collective don’t need one.
Now in their nineteenth month of making organic, sustainable pizzas and delivering
them by bicycle, the business has an equal-opportunity structure instead of
a hierarchy; everyone shares the responsibility, so there are no managers or
is an important aspect for collective members Amanda Peterson, Rachel Libon
and John Langley, who believe that workers should have control of their own
work, sales and the economy.
Spokes Pizza began a few years ago as an idea of local co-op organizer Tom Pierson.
Pierson’s friends jumped on board, and in September 2003 the collective
began operating out of the Seward Café at nights.
Known for their environmental ways, Spokes stresses that taste is still a crucial
element of their success. Because they use the freshest ingredients, many of
their customers come back for that reason. In addition, people with food allergies
also enjoy the cuisine offered at Spokes. The menu not only offers pizzas, but
salads, pastas and calzones.
Their suppliers include the Roots and Fruits Cooperative for produce and Whole
Grain Milling for the wheat that is used in the crust. One unique aspect is
that the pizzas are delivered by modified bikes, instead of cars. Spokes has
applied for a liquor license, and if one is granted they will be serving local
and organic beers, along with the usual bar fare. Since they have limited hours,
the pizzas are available in frozen form at the Eastside and the North Country
Open Thursdays and Fridays from 6 p.m. until midnight and Saturdays from
7 p.m. until 1 a.m. Spokes Pizza is located at 2129 Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis,
More businesses can be found here.