Good Morning, Beautiful Business

That Urban Outfitters was founded in Philadelphia is local trivia that nearly everyone who grew up in the 5th largest US city knows. But that one of its founders, Judy Wicks, would help launch localism as a national and international campaign is less known and confirms the importance of her book Good Morning, Beautiful Business.

For more than 15 years, Wicks owned and managed the White Dog Café, an independent restaurant tucked away on a quiet street near the University of Pennsylvania campus on the first floor of her home. This restaurant would become an international model for environmental sustainability and community engagement.68319267-1

Good Morning, Beautiful Business is an autobiographical account of Wicks’ approach to business and begins with her formative years. She revisits the values of her youth and demonstrates that her life has always been purpose driven. The tight-knit community in which she grew up and the freedom to explore the world around her nurtured her independent and determined spirit, which gave her the strength and vision to pursue business on her own terms. After many years as an owner and manager in the restaurant business, Wicks would come to describe her philosophy in this way: “I didn’t view profit as a mission, but rather a tool to better serve our mission.”

The challenging moments in her youth also informed her management style, which set her apart from other restaurant owners and allowed her to build a stable clientele and loyal staff in an industry that is notorious for high turnover. Wicks highlights the struggles of growing up as a girl in the 1950’s, when gender roles were reinforced in the classroom, at home, and on the playground with other kids. Her desire for inclusivity in sports and the sciences evolved into one of her most important insights. She began to realize that, although discriminated against in many environments, her feminine qualities were essential to her success. For example, Wicks intuitively nurtured a connection with customers in a variety of ways, such as remembering people’s birthdays and hosting events that contributed to the liveliness of the neighborhood. She also intentionally invested in the work climate, hiring talented people and building positions around their skillsets. Wicks was so successful as an entrepreneur because, for her, “…business is not about money, it’s about relationships.”

Since business is about relationships, it was only natural for Wicks to begin to examine the other connections that make business possible. She started by compiling an all American wine and beer list and soon discovered that the best beer is fresh beer. This sent her on a hunt for microbrews in the Philadelphia area. Suddenly, not only was her restaurant offering the best-tasting beer, but it was also creating a niche that set it apart from other businesses. From there, she began trying to source all her ingredients locally.

The most unique aspect of Wicks’ approach to business is that, when what she needed was not immediately available, she went looking for it. If she did not find it, she created the infrastructure or strategy necessary to bring her vision into reality. Take, for example, sourcing ethically raised pork. Bacon was a staple of the café breakfast experience, and it was nearly impossible to find a local supply. Even after meeting a single farmer who was able to provide two ethically raised pigs a week, it proved difficult to incorporate these products into the restaurant and retail market. In order to make it easier for her to develop this network, Wicks founded Fair Food, which encouraged the supply and demand for local farm products in the region.

Her commitment to ethically sourced food and fair trade continued to grow. First, she founded a sister restaurant program, which helped her raise awareness for the ethical sourcing of coffee and other imported ingredients. Because of her work with alternative business practices, she quickly became involved with the Social Venture Network (SVN), a contingency of like-minded, socially responsible businesspeople who met to trade ideas twice annually. Through these relationships, Wick’s learned that 45 Maya coffee farmers and civilians had been executed for their affiliation with the Zapatistas and outspokenness about their historical exclusion from the democratic processes in 1998. She immediately reached out to other SVN members and founded Business for Ethical Trade and Human Rights in Chiapas (BETHRIC). Within weeks, a consortium of 15 companies had formed and was willing to back the farmers and host a press conference in Mexico City, where national newspapers finally picked up the story. From this initial show of support came more opportunities for direct trade with indigenous farmers.

These are only a few of the many examples of Wick’s innovative approaches and commitment to the triple bottom line—planet, people, and profit. She was the first to admit that “what I gave away as charitable contributions to nonprofits was insignificant compared to the dollars I spent on day-to-day business expenses.” To have the most impact, she had to pursue environmental sustainability and social justice along with profits.

Although Wicks influenced business and trade internationally and supported efforts to help people of other countries to engage in a local, living economy, all her work sprang from the love of a single place. Could she have known that her “Save the Block” campaign to keep her house on Sansom street from being bulldozed and developed would have led to exploring and improving the entire web of supply and demand? Wicks demonstrates how following our hearts on a single issue can be the first step in finding our purpose and passion.

  1. Kim Harmson
    Kim Harmson04-08-2016

    Judy Wicks is one of my longtime heroes/mentors!….and I love her White Dog cookbook too.

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