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Judy Wicks – Environmentalist and Owner of the White Dog Cafe

By Admin | August 3, 2008

Judy Wicks is the owner of Philadelphia’s legendary White Dog Cafe. A perennial member of the “Best Places To Work” lists, she also travels extensively in her role as activist, environmentalist, and lecturer. She recently took time out of her busy schedule to speak to us.

Where are you from?

I was born in Pittsburgh and have lived in Philadelphia since 1970.

Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?

Lake Erie College, BA in English, 1969.

What was your career path from college to opening the White Dog Café selling muffins in your front parlor?

I was a VISTA volunteer in an Alaskan Eskimo village for a year. In 1970, I co-founded the Free People’s Store, now called Urban Outfitters.

I co-founded a non-profit publishing company called Synapse, and was the editor of two editions of The Whole City Catalog in 1972 and 1974, and the Philadelphia Resource Guide in 1981.

I was the General Manager/co-proprietor of Restaurant La Terrasse 1974-1983, and founded White Dog Cafe in 1983 and the Black Cat in 1989.

Why did you decide to open your restaurant?

I wanted to start a business on the first floor of my house once I purchased it, and that was the business I knew, besides retail, and I started the retail store a few years later.

What dish or specialty is the White Dog Café’s best? What are you known for?

We are known for buying from local farmers and serving farm fresh food in season. We are known for grass-fed steak and hamburgers, pastured pork, and free range chicken and eggs, as well as organic fruits and vegetables.

Other than your own restaurant, what is favorite restaurant in the Philly area?


You have won numerous awards and special mentions. Which is most important to you?

James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award and Business Enterprise Trust Award.

Your organization has been named as a “top place to work” and as being very employee friendly with great pay and benefits. How did you come to adopt this business model?

I want to work with people who are happy and secure, so the better the business did, the more I shared with them. I don’t like the idea that employees in the restaurant business don’t usually get benefits, as though we are a second rate industry.

How long have you been interested in eco- and sustainable growth issues? What prompted you to become interested in this area?

I have always been interested because I have a love of nature and realize that the long term health of all life depends on working in harmony with nature. I became more interested when I would read about climate change because there is an urgency now.

Do you think you will ever run for political office?

I doubt it. I don’t think I would like campaigning and asking for money, and I think I would feel frustrated by the slow moving of government. I prefer the private sector.

How many hours a week do you work? What is your normal work day like?

I work an average of 12 hours a day during the week, and usually 4-6 on Saturday and Sunday. So I guess that’s about 70.

But, I work mostly on non-profit work. I spend about a third of my time on email, a third on conference calls and meetings, and a third writing, public speaking, thinking, planning.

The (restaurant and gift shop) business takes up about 25% of my time at most, and the rest is non-profit work with several organizations.

What areas in any of your businesses what you like to improve on?

At this point in my career, I’m working on helping my staff take over the business, so I guess I would say leadership development on the management team.

What is your next new project going to be?

I have launched an Economic Justice Initiative at the national group I co-founded (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) and am doing the same project locally through the non-profit White Dog Community Enterprises.

I believe we are moving from a corporate controlled industrial global economy based on exports and imports to a global network of community-based sustainable local economies.

Climate change and peak oil are adding urgency to this transformation. We need many new local businesses that help build community self-reliance in food, energy, housing and clothing.

Now is the time to see that those left out of the old industrial economy have the opportunity for ownership positions in the new green economy.

I am also working on a book about the White Dog Cafe and the local living economy movement.

Copyright 2008 DailyInterview.com

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