The East End Food Co-op has humble beginnings as a food buying club operating out of the basement of Rodah and David Zerembka’s Hastings Street residence in South Point Breeze in the early 1970s. Each week, David and Rodah would get fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce market in the Strip District and unload it at their home where 10-15 neighbor “members” would pick it up.
The Food Club
In 1976, the concept formalized as The Food Club, a cooperative food buying club operating out of the East End Cooperative Ministry with 660 members, one staff member, and three VISTA volunteers. Membership was $1 and food was distributed through outdoor markets.
The co-op’s first retail storefront opened in 1978 at 5474 Penn Avenue (now the Pittsburgh Glass Center). It was located in the same building as the Consumer Co-ops of Pennsylvania (CCP), which operated as a bulk and produce distributor to 20 local food clubs, plus 150 co-ops and local businesses in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. On June 12, 1980, the East End Food Co-op incorporated as a domestic nonprofit cooperative corporation under the District of Columbia Cooperative Association Act.
Co-ops Struggle for Survival
Throughout the 1980s, co-ops across the country struggled to survive. In 1981, just one year after EEFC incorporated, CCP went bankrupt, leaving the co-op without a distributor. EEFC weathered the loss by affiliating with the Federation of Ohio River Co-ops in Columbus, OH. In 1985, our sister co-op, Semple Street Co-op in Oakland, closed; East End Food Co-op absorbed their members and became Pittsburgh’s only food co-op.
In 1986, the East End Food Co-op moved to a larger space in Point Breeze in what was formerly the Pennsylvania Electric Coil Factory. Most of the alterations required to make the space a store were done by member volunteers.
Today, we have more than 14,500 members and 77 employees. Our store has undergone several expansions, adding the Co-op Cafe in 1990, doubling the size of the store in 2003, and making necessary updates throughout the years to remain competitive with national health food chains and supermarkets.
Thank you for 40 years!
Whether you have been with us from the very beginning, or just learned of us recently, we want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has kept the store going over the decades, from all of our members, shoppers, board members, staff, and local vendors. Prior to COVID-19, we had a big summer party planned to celebrate. Instead, we will be spreading the celebration out over the entire year, so stay tuned as we adapt our plans!
Share you Co-op Memories
Send us your co-op memories (photos also welcome) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be entering participating members in drawings for Co-op gift cards and giving away some new Co-op swag!
View our complete history timeline here!