Molly Moon’s Quest for Seattle’s Most Diverse Workforce Begins in Columbia City

by Marcus Harrison Green

Molly Moon wants South Seattleites, and she wants them badly.

More specifically the ice cream maven is seeking to fill more than 60 seasonal and full-time positions prior to the June opening of her Columbia City ice creamery.

Moon’s insistence on hiring from within the community for what will be her 8th eponymously named gourmet ice cream establishment, and first in South Seattle, coincides with her company’s equity hiring initiative, which began after Moon commissioned an “equity audit” in 2016.

Auditors assessed the company’s recruiting, hiring, and employment practices along with the demographics of Molly Moon’s workforce. The results ultimately left the progressive Moon unsatisfied.

“I want to be an employer with the most diverse work force in Seattle, promoting and bringing up our employees of color into management in record time,” says Moon, who also had her employees undergo equity training.

 While Molly Moon’s has made strides in diversity recently, increasing its non-white workforce by two percent from the previous year, the improvement isn’t coming fast enough for Moon, given the city’s rapidly shifting character.

“I am impatient for our city’s segregation and financial disparities between races and classes in Seattle to end. I want to be a bigger part of the solution than I can be with eight ice cream shops and 200 seasonal employees but when I think about the progress that we are making and how that will build on it in three to five years I feel proud,” she adds.

Ever outspoken about her social values, Moon says she’s been immersed in social activism since exiting the womb.

Her grandparents were two of the only white members of the Idaho chapter of the NAACP, and her parents exposed her to the kaleidoscope of progressive causes while coming of age in the liberal haven of San Francisco. As a high-schooler, she founded environmental group Students Against Vanishing Eco-Systems.

But it was in 2006, as the Executive Director of a music-based non-profit, when she found herself attending a holiday party hosted by then House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats had just taken back congress, and the congresswoman stressed the importance of young people granting her party victory during that year’s mid-term elections.

Pelosi’s words made an impression on Moon, who had grown tired of attempting to survive in an increasingly unaffordable city on a meager non-profit salary. The experience provided her affirmation that it was time to move on and follow her life’s passion to, as she says, “change the world through ice cream.”

Moon has since attempted to use her nearly ten-year-old company as a vehicle for social transformation with progressive values at its core.

The company currently sources 90 percent of its ingredients from local Pacific Northwest farmers, donates a portion of its sales to local food banks, invests in renewable energy certificates, has fully compostable utensils and packaging in its shops and gave more than $65,000 last year to Political Pacs, Seattle schools and non-profits including South Seattle organizations the Rainier Valley Food Bank, Families Of Color Seattle and El Centro De La Raza.

Moon’s beliefs also manifest themselves in employee compensation. Her company pays beginners $13 to $15 an hour, with plans to pay more than Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage once it goes into effect, and fully covers health care premiums for all its workers, including those working part-time.

Moon also provides 12 weeks of paid family leave, something she wishes was universal at all companies. She also stressed the importance of wages allowing people to afford to live in Seattle, fearing the city is well on its way to mimicking San Francisco’s failure to adequately address the issue of affordable housing before it squeezed out its working class.

“The number one thing we need to address is affordable housing. It’s hard right now even with Seattle’s increased minimum wage for people to live here. We need to require developers to provide more units per building. Everybody is celebrating this two percent affordable housing requirement. But guess what? New York City just passed a 20 percent requirement for developers,” says Moon, who relates being priced out of her San Francisco apartment on a $45,000 a year salary prior to founding Molly Moon’s.

Moon became enamored with the South Seattle area five years ago, but held back plans to open a location in Columbia City over fears of further adding to the displacement of long-time residents in need of affordable housing.

Installing a Molly Moon’s on the ground floor of a newly constructed mixed-use building while expensive apartments sat atop it was a non-starter for the business owner.

“I really wanted to go into an historic building. I wanted to have a landlord that wasn’t an institutional investor but any actual person,” she says. When the space in such a building on Rainier Avenue—which formerly housed a Subway sandwiched between a Starbucks and Arklodge Cinemas—became available the time was finally right.

Reaction from South Seattle residents to Molly Moon’s newest location has ranged from excitement to cautious optimism, with some pointing to the two existing ice cream shops in the area, Full Tilt in the same neighborhood and 12 Scoops a few blocks away in Hillman City. Others fall somewhere in the middle.

“It is great to have new businesses here, and we welcome Molly Moon. But one thing I see with these local chain restaurants that are moving in is that the owners are not always as hands on—since they are often not in the neighborhood. If we can encourage more involvement from these newer businesses—even if they appoint a manager, it is always a plus,” says Karla Esquival, owner of clothing store Andaluz and a member of the Columbia City Business Association.

Full Tilt is treating the arrival of a direct competitor with a “the more the merrier” attitude, downplaying any rivalry.

“I think we will skip the ice cream wars, though I have always felt that would make a great reality show. We have figured for quite some time that Columbia City, being the vibrant neighborhood it is, would eventually attract a larger ice cream company, and we would have to face that competition. I feel that we have some deep roots in the community, and in the end competition will just make us all better,” Full Tilt founder Justin Cline said in an email to the Emerald.

Moon’s competitive juices flow however, when asked why someone should select her store over nearby competitors.

“Our product is far richer and creamier. It’s the highest milk fat ice cream you can get in Seattle in a strip shop and I’ve worked on that recipe for a long time with our friends at Snoqualmie Ice Cream to make our recipe unique and very best possible ice cream you can provide,” she says.

Though the real gauntlet she’s throwing down is to all employers in Seattle.

“I literally want people to quit their jobs and come work for me because we’re offering a better opportunity,” she says.

Moon’s hope is that enough workers come to have all available positions filled by May 20th, so she can begin training employees before opening the Columbia City store, set for the first weekend in June.

MHG ColorMarcus Harrison Green, is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the South Seattle Emerald, the current scholar-in-residence at Town Hall Seattle, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, a past- board member of the Western Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. He currently resides in the Rainier Beach neighborhood and can be found on Twitter @mhgreen3000

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