Judy Wicks sees her restaurant, the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, as an experiment in bringing business and social responsibility together. Besides serving meals of contemporary American cuisine, Wicks also "raises consciousness and creates a sense of community."
The 17-year-old business makes $4.4 million a year and gives more than 10 percent of its proceeds to nonprofit groups through food, labor, and cash donations. Speakers, theme dinners, and other special events at the cafe address public concerns, as does a newsletter Wicks publishes three times a year. The newsletter organizes 19,000 loyal customers around various causes, including global warming, fair trade, and the School of the Americas. "We join organizations that focus on these issues, and we become involved locally," Wicks explains.
Wicks’ business model is grounded in her experience as a VISTA volunteer in an indigenous community in Alaska. "There was an interconnectedness with the environment and the community," Wicks said. "There was no hoarding, no envy, and everyone had access to resources." Wicks has incorporated the belief that "economic connectedness should mirror spiritual connectedness" into her work.
In 1987 Wicks began the International Sister Restaurant program, which she affectionately calls "Eating with the Enemy." She established relationships with socially conscious restaurants in countries that have poor dialogue with the United States. She has taken her customers on tours of seven different countries, including Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Thailand, encouraging cultural exchange and world peace through dialogue and connection instead of economic domination. Wicks feels her ability to merge the business and socially progressive communities allows each of them to "eat with their enemy" and be "enlightened to use business correctly."
ELIZABETH NEWBERRY is an editorial assistant at Sojourners. The White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; (215) 386-9224; www.whitedogcafe.com. The Social Venture Network (a movement of business persons and socially conscience entrepreneurs, vice-chaired by Judy Wicks), www.svn.org.