Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia Is Now a Co-Op


As of April 1, 2024, the Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia is functioning as a community-owned cooperative, or co-op. Former sole-proprietor Evan Price is excited about the transition and what it means for the over 300 worker and consumer members of the new co-op. The Olympia bakery will continue to provide amazing bread, granola and delicious healthy foods, just as it’s always done since 1977.

“I am excited for this new chapter of the Blue Heron story and very thankful that all of us will be part of it,” Price shared in a press release. “The hard work and focus on reaching this transition must be acknowledged. . . My sincere thanks to all the Herons of the past for without them none of this would be possible.”

Matt Hy (left) and Evan Price (right) signing the Purchase Sale Agreement the made the Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia a hybrid co-op. Photo credit: John McNamara

Blue Heron Bakery’s Move to Co-Op Gives Evan Price a Chance to Relax

You’ve spent decades building your business. But now it’s time to step back as you think about retirement. If you sell, will a new owner honor your company’s mission? Will they keep your hard-working and dedicated employees? These were questions that Price asked himself, and what ultimately helped him decide to convert the Blue Heron Bakey to a hybrid co-op, rather than sell outright.

In 2023, Washington State passed a new law on Employee Ownership, where the State would provide support for those businesses wishing to convert to a co-op model, which helped Price in the transition.

Matt Hy, the new general manager of Blue Heron Bakery, explains that the main change was structural, as the company went from 1 owner to over 300 at the signing of the documents. “We had already been operating in the spirit and, in some ways, the practices of a co-op, so it wasn’t an entirely abrupt change,” he explains. “But there are many changes. We have member-owners now. We have a board, which acts as trustees of the membership.” Hy’s role of general manager is new too.

six Blue Heron staff members standing in a row posing for a photo
Blue Heron Bakery staff at the Co-op Conversion Celebration.. Photo credit: Joan O’Connell

“What it means on the practical level is that the workers have increased power and responsibility for managing the operations of the bakery,” he continues. “We have self-managing teams based around workers creating a particular product – granola, bread, cafe food, etc. – and a management team that organizes and coordinates the various teams.” Called circles, these teams are responsible for creating and enforcing their own policies.

It all means less stress and work for Price. “Now I’m the Office Circle rep, and also in the Cooks Circle,” he shares in their latest co-op newsletter. “And I’m a weekend warrior now! I have a weekend! I haven’t had one of those in years. It’s such a weight off my shoulders. Everybody’s really stepping up. People are getting their sea legs.”

Olympia Bakery Can Pivot More Quickly in Uncertain Economic Times

One of the benefits of the circles and being member-owned, Hy stresses, is their ability to make decisions quickly and efficiently.  “It means we are able to be more flexible and adaptable to customer needs and changing industry trends,” He explains. “We are also more flexible in adapting to each other and creating policies that reflect the kind of workplace we want to be in.”

One example he gives is a recent menu change made by the Pastry Circle. Hy says chocolate prices are skyrocketing, so the team had a choice. Raise the price of their chocolate biscotti, or try something new. “That decision was made almost a day after hearing about the chocolate price increase,” Hy explains. “Rather than dramatically raise our costs we thought this would be a good chance to try out a new flavor. That shows how the Pastry Circle has the autonomy to do what it thinks is in the best interests of the co-op with its particular knowledge and skill.” They will receive feedback from front-end staff and customers about the change as they move forward.

Hy says they will continue to tighten their budget, streamline processes and create a better experience for their customers. “One way we’ve done this recently is by creating more indoor seating space and having Sunday brunches with specialty items every other month,” he adds. “We’re getting a lot of requests from the Olympia Food Co-op and other accounts to increase production.”

people sitting at large tables at an auction
Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia does a lot of the community, like this fundraiser/pie auction in May, with board members, workers and members in attendance. Photo credit: Doug Riddels

Consumer Members of Blue Heron Bakery

“Customers can expect to see more engaged workers – it’s more than just a job to them, most are also owners!” says Hy. “So obviously a sense of ownership in terms of knowledge about the products and processes, and of taking care of our customers and members. They might see some changes to products, some innovations or tweaking old favorites to make them even better.”

Another change are consumer members. These are what make the Blue Heron Bakery a hybrid co-op. Consumer members are members of the co-op that are not employed by the bakery. “They are customers who support the co-op both financially with their membership shares and purchases, and in other ways through providing their ideas, outside expertise and time,” Hy shares. “Our board reflects that two-part dynamic by having four consumer member directors and four worker member directors.”

Membership shares are $77 for both workers and consumers, and each member gets one vote at meetings. For more information including how to join, visit the Blue Heron Bakery website and follow on Facebook.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email