Our History

1972 – East End Food Buying Club

1972 – East End Food Buying Club

Point Breeze residents David & Rodah Zarembka were impressed by their experience with “buying clubs” in Philadelphia and decided to start one in the basement of their building on Hastings Street to serve the other tenants. When the mission grew to address poverty in Pittsburgh’s East End, the club received a $20,000 start-up grant from the U.S. Catholic Conference Campaign for Human Development and organized through the East End Cooperative Ministry. Membership cost only $1 and food was distributed at open air markets, in church basements, at homes for the elderly, and even private residences.

1978 – Open to Everyone

As the East End Food Buying Club grew, it opened both a retail storefront and a supply company in a warehouse at 5474 Penn Avenue in Garfield. The Consumer Cooperative of Pittsburgh operated as a produce and bulk goods distributor to 20 local food clubs, plus 150 co-ops and other local businesses in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The retail store was operated by three full time staff members, funded by AmeriCorps VISTA, and each of the approximately 600 member households were required to work two hours per month to keep the business running.

1980 – EEFC Incorporates

1980 – EEFC Incorporates

On June 12, 1980, the East End Food Co-op officially incorporated as a domestic nonprofit cooperative corporation under the District of Columbia Cooperative Association Act. Officially incorporating provided several key legal benefits, including more favorable tax regulations and most importantly, limited liability protection of the personal assets of shareholders. Shortly after incorporation, the Consumer Cooperative of Pittsburgh went bankrupt and EEFC found a new supplier with the Federation of Ohio River Co-ops.

1985 – Pittsburgh’s Only Cooperative Grocer

In January of 1985, the Semple Street Food Co-operative Association closed its doors and encouraged its members to join what was now Pittsburgh’s only cooperatively-owned grocery store – the East End Food Co-op. The EEFC Board offered a year of free membership privileges to all former Semple Street members, many of whom eventually became stalwart members of EEFC. This is also the year that EEFC began keeping official membership records!

1986 – Move to The Factory

As the eighties progressed, EEFC outgrew the Garfield warehouse space and became one of the first tenants of “The Factory”, a building which formerly housed the Pennsylvania Electric Coil factory. In order to finance the move, each member household was required to buy a $35 share, as well as continuing to pay the $6 annual fee. Co-op staff, board, and members made the move and most of the alterations to the space as volunteers.

1989 – The Co-operator

1989 – The Co-operator Volunteer members, at that time known as “skillsworkers” launch The Co-operator newsletter. Initially a sporadic bulletin, by 1992 the “Voice of the East End Food Co-op” is a bi-monthly publication mailed to each member household, featuring store news, sales information, board updates, member and staff profiles alongside informative articles, recipes, and advertisements from the broader community.

1990 – Co-op Café Celebrates Grand Opening

1990 – Co-op Café Celebrates Grand Opening In April of 1990, the Co-op Café celebrated its grand opening, boasting a “most unique, multifaceted vegetarian menu including vegan delights, wheat free alternatives, macrobiotic simplicity, and egg and dairy favorites.”

1993 – East End Food Co-op Credit Union

1986 – Move to The Factory EEFC members gained another member benefit when the EEFC Federal Credit Union opened its doors to members residing in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties on November 3, 1993. This established a member-owned democratically-run financial institution serving as a source of low-cost credit for EEFC members. Within one month of operation, the Credit Union had gained over 60 shareholders and began offering personal loans and savings accounts.

1995 – Profit and Expansion Planning

As early as 1993, the Board of Directors started considering expansion opportunities for a more “user-friendly” space based on member and staff feedback that “shelf and warehouse space are severely limited.” By 1995, expansion became the primary focus of the Board’s work. To increase working capital, the Board instituted a fundamental change in the requirements of membership – the “household” membership was eliminated and all members of EEFC were required to join as individuals. While the increase in member equity fell short of projections, sales growth and sound financial planning did manage to turn a profit for EEFC in 1995!

1998 – “Membership Appreciation Day”

July 11 – EEFC held an event called “Membership Appreciation Day”. The store conducted a sampling of many products and gave members 10% discount on all purchases. Members responded in grand fashion, purchasing close to $18,000, a one-day sales record for the time. “MAD” days became a monthly tradition that continued until the implementation of the 10% quarterly discount in 2011, a change that enabled the majority of Co-op members to take advantage of the extra discount. While loved by many, “MAD” days presented major challenges to both members and staff, in the form of crowded store and parking conditions, and chronic out-of-stocks on popular items.

1999 – Capital Campaign

1999 – Capital Campaign After 18 months of actively searching for a new store location, EEFC Board and Management identified the ground level west end of The Factory as an ideal new home. Expansion and renovation costs were estimated at $750,000 and the Board set a lofty goal to raise half that amount directly from the membership, via share capital increases and member loans. On May 16th, members convened at the Annual Meeting voted to increase the membership share value from $36 to $100, and also to eliminate yearly fees. Ultimately, the fundraising efforts fell short, but EEFC was determined to expand quickly. By this time, the EEFC Board had received word that the first corporate natural food store would be moving into the Pittsburgh market.

2000 – Expansion

2000 – Expansion In January, EEFC signed for a small loan from PNC and signed a new lease for the space immediately adjacent to its current store, essentially doubling the amount of retail space. Then Board President Ray Schinhofen, an accomplished architect and construction manager, offered his services at no cost, saving the Co-op roughly 30% of the expense. The store closed for three days and nights in mid-May, as staff worked nearly around the clock, shoulder to shoulder with skilled carpenters, painters, electricians and technicians. The store reopened, a thing reborn, with expanded product lines, more expansive aisles and lots of new features, including a Customer Service desk!

2003 – New Levels of Member Engagement

2003 – New Levels of Member Engagement

  • In order to allow greater member knowledge and participation in donations to community non-profit organizations, the Co-op instituted the One Percent Wednesdays Every fourth
  • Wednesday of each month, the Co-op donated one percent of its sales to a chosen charity, based on the recommendations of members.
  • For the first time ever, the EEFC was able to provide profit sharing for the staff.
  • Marketing & Member Services staff hosted the first-ever Member Drive.
  • A Comment Card system was implemented to collect valuable member and customer feedback.

2004 – National Cooperative Movement

EEFC and 100 other food co-ops, previously organized into regional Cooperative Grocer Associations, joined together to form the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA). Pooling their buying power, NCGA become the second largest supplier of natural foods in the country. With hopes of getting more co-ops to join, the goal was to become the industry frontrunner, translating into more selection, better pricing, more efficient distribution, and the growing presence the cooperative business model. Joining NCGA provided a tremendous opportunity to truly live out the 6th Cooperative Principle, Cooperation Among Cooperatives, and was hailed by the EEFC board as the beginning of a “national cooperative movement”

2006 – Major Technological Innovation

In September 2006, a major efficiency upgrade occurred – the installation of a Point-of-Sale (POS) system. This computerized register system enabled staff to price our merchandise efficiently, to scan items at check-out, and to track and analyze sales data. Members were provided enhanced customer service with more accurate pricing, quicker check-out time, and ease of access to member benefits with shiny new scannable member cards. Co-op staff said goodbye to the days of manually applying price tags to each and every item on the shelves, and re-applying if an item went on or off sale. Although an expensive investment, it was a long-awaited innovation!

member owner

2005 – Local Partners Program

2005 – Local Partners Program In an effort to support local neighborhood businesses in the face competition from national “big box” stores, and to provide another useful benefit to its members, EEFC instituted the Local Partners Program. Independent and locally-owned small businesses agreed to offer Co-op members discounts on merchandise and services, in exchange for advertising and promotion opportunities. This mutually-beneficial program lives on today, under the new name Community Partners.

2006 – Art Harvest

2006 – Art Harvest While the Co-op hosted several summer street events over the years, including a Grand Opening Picnic for the new storefront and the Summer Wellness Festival, perhaps the longest running and most celebrated event was Art Harvest, which was first in September of 2006. The community spilled out onto Meade Street in front of the store as members and vendors displayed and sold their hand-made arts and crafts. Live music and spoken word performances entertained the crowd throughout the day, and children enjoyed activities hosted by local schools. Art Harvest was an annual tradition that continued until 2012.

2008 – Cooperative Discussion Course

The EEFC Board published a manual for community self-directed education entitled, “A Discussion Course on Cooperatives.” This self-directed study course entailed short readings and discussion tools about co-op history, philosophy, and models. The debut of this educational resource was accompanied by an eight-week study group led by Board members right here at EEFC and was also distributed nationally.

2008 – No more plastic bags

Ahead of its time, EEFC stopped providing blue plastic bags for shoppers, in an effort to promote reuse, eliminate waste, and to mitigate the environmental impact of plastic bags. The Co-op continued to provide brown paper bags, and to offer a 10-cent discount for every reusable bag or box that a customer brought with them for hauling groceries.

2008 – Co-op Community Fund

2008 – Co-op Community Fund The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation matched earmarked revenue from EEFC for the development of a “Co-op Community Fund.” The purpose was to award grants to social and environmental organizations, with particular emphasis toward beginning new co-ops.

2009 – Sustainable Agriculture Business Leader

2009 – Sustainable Agriculture Business Leader EEFC was named the 2009 “Sustainable Agriculture Business Leader” by the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, in recognition of “outstanding contributions of health, well-being and eating pleasure rendered to the natural foods community throughout southwestern Pennsylvania by the staff, directors and members of the cooperative, and for their consistent commitment to promoting wholesome products from local farms whenever possible.”

2009 – CCMA Host

EEFC was selected to host the 53rd Annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference, bringing together more than four hundred participants from nearly seventy co-ops, providing the opportunity to communicate, celebrate and learn more about cooperation in Pittsburgh!

2009 – Seeds of Justice Award

2009 – Seeds of Justice Award Anti-hunger non-profit Just Harvest honored the Co-op with the “Seeds of Justice Award” for leadership in social and economic justice at the 21st Annual Harvest Celebration Dinner. EEFC was recognized by the organization as, “a leading force in our region for sustainable and local food, fair trade, and just treatment of workers in the food industry.”

2010 – Co-founding Pittsburgh Food Policy Council

2010 – Co-founding Pittsburgh Food Policy Council The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, a collaborative advisory organization committed to working with City residents and officials to develop food and urban agriculture policy, is founded. As a founding member of the Council, the Co-op hosts early meetings in EEFC’s administrative offices.

2010 – Jefferson Award for Volunteerism

2010 – Jefferson Award for Volunteerism In recognition for twenty years of dedicated volunteer service, Bill Wekselman was honored with the Jefferson Award, a prize given each year to individuals from across the nation for their achievements and contributions through public and community service. Bill was invited to the national Jefferson Awards Ceremonies hosted each year since 1972 in Washington D.C., where he represented Western Pennsylvania and EEFC in receiving a bronze medallion commissioned by the Franklin Mint.

2012 – Bicycle Friendly Business

2012 – Bicycle Friendly Business The League of American Bicyclists acknowledged EEFC with a Bicycle Friendly Business Bronze Award, based on our expansive outdoor bike parking, indoor bike parking and DIY repair station, and for bike education and advocacy efforts. At this point we also became one of 33 certified Bike Friendly Businesses in the state of Pennsylvania.

2012 – 10,000 Members!

EEFC grows to be 10,000 active household memberships strong! In celebration, Martin Scanlan and his family were awarded with a gift certificate and cupcakes at the Annual Meeting in recognition of becoming our 10,000th active household membership.

2013 – Register Round Up

2013 – Register Round Up The Register Round Up program debuts, replacing the donation programs formerly known as 1% Wednesdays, and later 5% Wednesdays. Rather than allocating a percentage of sales from one day a month, the Register Round Up program engages every customer during each transaction with the ability to “round up” to the nearest dollar amount. These contributions are collected and awarded to a different community organization on a monthly basis on behalf of Co-op members.

2014 – Volunteer Program Ends

2014 – Volunteer Program Ends In the process of accessing the feasibility of expanding the volunteer program to include off-site opportunities, it became clear to EEFC board and management that current labor laws and corresponding insurance requirements did not lend support or favor the use of volunteer labor within the cooperative corporation business structure. September 14, 2014 was the last day that member-owners volunteered.

2015 – 412 Food Rescue Partnership

2015 – 412 Food Rescue Partnership A partnership is forged with 412 Food Rescue, a local non-profit working to end hunger and eliminate food waste by utilizing a network of volunteers to collect excess or unsellable food and deliver it to organizations in need. EEFC donated more than 500 pounds of fresh food in the first month of the partnership!

2016 – Co-op Staff Unionize

2016 – Co-op Staff Unionize On September 21, 2015, the East End Food Co-op staff voted to be represented by the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE). Included in the collective bargaining agreement are all employees of the Co-op excluding supervisors, managers, and confidential employees. Leading up to the election, the Co-op board and management took a neutral stance, basically being neither for nor against the union. The primary objective was for the election to be amicable and that the staff had as much information to make an informed vote. On March 18, 2016, the East End Food Co-op and UE Local 667 finalized their first union contract!

2016 – Co+op Kids Free Fruit Program Launch

The Co-op introduces a free fruit program called Co+op Explorers (now Co+op Kids). Children who sign up for the free program receive one free piece of fruit per Co-op visit. The Co-op gave out 960 pieces of fruit in the program’s first year.

2020 – Co-op Cafe Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant Designation

Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants are evaluated based on 149 actions across 6 categories of sustainability standards: waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency, people, responsible sourcing, and nutrition. East End Food Co-op Cafe earned a Silver Level designation in recognition of the commitment we have to our community, our economy, and our planet.

2020 – Celebrating 40 Years of Cooperation!

After four decades as a cooperative business, the East End Food Co-op has 14,520 current members, 70 staff members, supports nearly 100 local vendors, and does over $11 million in annual sales. We have also raised over $160,000 for local non-profits through the Register Round Up program.

2022 – 16,000 Member-Owners!

EEFC grows to be 16,000 household memberships strong!

2023 – EEFC Receives Silver Designation as Sustainable Pittsburgh Shop

A Sustainable Pittsburgh Shop recognizes small retail businesses that demonstrate a commitment to take economic, environmental, and social actions that benefit the region. These shops earned designation by helping to build vibrant communities and support environmentally responsible practices.