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Judy Wicks

We love her because she's put in place more progressive business practices per square foot than any other entrepreneur.

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2004 | By: Jess McCuan


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Judy Wicks White Dog Enterprises

because she's put in place more progressive business practices per square foot than any other entrepreneur

When people ask Judy Wicks how she got into the restaurant business, she loves to tell them it was by accident. And she means it. In spring 1971 she had just left her first husband, Richard Hayne, with whom, in 1970, she'd founded the Free People's Store (now Urban Outfitters). In fact, she had just left her husband and was driving away from the West Philadelphia apartment where she and Hayne lived. Half a block from the apartment, she ran a red light and smashed into another car. Jobless and broke, she poured out her sob story to a man on the street who, lucky for her, worked at a nearby restaurant that needed a waitress--a job Wicks was happy to take and at which she stayed for 13 years.

Her rise from waitress to management at Sansom Street's La Terrasse ended in disappointment when the cafe's owner did not, as she expected, make her co-owner. But by that time Wicks was running a muffin shop out of the first floor of her brownstone down the block, and one morning in 1984, when she had breakfast customers out the door, she left La Terrasse and expanded the White Dog Cafe's menu for the first of many times.

Today the White Dog Cafe is a Philly institution, and it's come far since the muffin shop days. Dinner entrees now average $20 a plate, and the cafe has expanded into nearby brownstones. The White Dog is also a local center for progressive politics and practices, hosting events ranging from lectures by activist authors to whimsical celebrations like the annual "Dance of the Ripe Tomatoes," an autumn fete for organic farmers. Since the late 1980s Wicks has been "eating with the enemy" at restaurants in countries like Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Cuba. She calls the program "Table for Six Billion, Please!"

But for all her global efforts, her most revolutionary acts have taken place on the West Philly block where she has lived for 33 years. The White Dog and Wicks's adjoining Black Cat retail store are the first Pennsylvania businesses run solely on electricity that is generated by wind power. She sources most meats and vegetables from Philadelphia-area organic farms, and she goes out of her way--by loaning local farmers money for supplies, for example--to help local businesses flourish.

Wicks is a community builder, the queen of what she calls "small-to-small relationships." She's a co-founder of BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and she stirs debates, even

in the green business world, when she proclaims things like "Businesses should not grow bigger!" and scolds entrepreneurs for opening "cookie-cutter businesses" instead of meeting the actual needs of their local economy. For her part, Wicks distributes 20% of the White Dog's profits to a foundation she set up to support a range of local nonprofits and social justice groups.

Wicks hopes Grace, her 24-year-old daughter, will someday help run the restaurant, but at the moment she has no problem holding the reins. She loves the merry-making at parties; she loves watching children in photographs from her Pajama Party Brunch grow up to bring their own children back in pajamas. She likens her feeling for her business to that of farmers for their land. "My business," she says, "is really a way of expressing my love of life."--Jess McCuan

Jess McCuan is a staff reporter.

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  1. Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com
    because "optimism is essential"
  2. Betsey Johnson, Betsey Johnson
    for her stylish life
  3. Russell Simmons, Rush Communications
    for his powerful example
  4. Scott Cook, Intuit
    because he learns, and teaches
  5. Sergey Brin & Larry Page, Google
    for their integrity. And, well, for Google
  6. David Neeleman, JetBlue
    for creating an airline fit for humans
  7. Tom Stemberg, Staples
    for doing it exactly right
  8. Jack Stack, SRC Holdings
    for going naked
  9. Judy Wicks, White Dog Enterprises
    because she's put in place more progressive business practices per square foot than any other entrepreneur
  10. Davin Wedel, Global Protection
    because he's a lifesaver
  11. Pat McGovern, International Data Group
    for knowing the power of respect
  12. Steve Jobs, Apple Computer, Pixar
    because we like to be seduced
  13. Lance Morgan, Ho-Chunk
    because a man must make his own arrows--Winnebago proverb
  14. James Goodnight, SAS
    for saying no to Wall Street (repeatedly) and yes to the people who really matter
  15. Stella Ogiale, Chesterfield Health Services
    for doing good while doing well
  16. Rhonda Kallman, New Century Brewing
    for seizing opportunity-- again and again
  17. Laima Tazmin, LAVT
    because she's a lot like other kids--and then again...
  18. Laura & Pete Wakeman, Great Harvest Bread
    for living a little --no, a lot
  19. Andra Rush, Rush Trucking
    for rolling up her sleeves
  20. Kathleen Wehner, Cirrus Aviation
    for refusing to quit
  21. Frank Venegas, Ideal Group
    because he parlayed a little bit of luck into a lot of good fortune for others
  22. Dan Wieden, Wieden + Kennedy
    because he's a true independent
  23. John Sperling, Apollo Group
    because he stirs the pot, and apparently always will
  24. John Stollenwerk, Allen-Edmonds
    for his commitment to U.S. workers. We also love the shoes
  25. Mel Zuckerman, Canyon Ranch
    for showing the way

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