Craig Rosebraugh's War

Oregon restaurant owner Craig Rosebraugh is much like any other person battling to get an ambitious new business onto solid ground. Except for the part about striving for the overthrow of the United States government.
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Craig Rosebraugh is six feet three and until recently he weighed 140 pounds. He does not eat meat, and until he was diagnosed three years ago with dangerously low cholesterol, he was a practicing vegan. He did not eat any animal products whatsoever, including milk and cheese. Now, on the advice of his doctor, he eats one organic egg and a few shavings of organic cheese every week. He never eats the egg in a restaurant, for fear that even eggs advertised as organic may not be, in fact, organic.

Rosebraugh, who is 33, has a lean and weathered hawklike face, with slightly protruding front teeth and piercing blue eyes. He often wears his ginger hair in a buzz cut, and he is generally polite but also a little bit taut--combative, even. If you ask him what he thinks about the U.S. government, he will not snicker or roll his eyes comically. He will just look at you cold and say, "The same people have been in power since 1776: rich white men. And are they benefiting women? No. Latin Americans? No. The environment? No. It is time to start talking about a revolution in this country. And yes, if there is a revolution, it will be violent. Name one revolution in history that was not violent."

From 1997 to 2001, Rosebraugh was, famously, a spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, two still-thriving, intertwined networks of saboteurs who have inflicted $100 million worth of property damage on those they deem despoilers of nature. The more prominent ELF has claimed responsibility for setting fire to four chairlifts in Vail, Colo., and also for vandalizing dozens of Hummers sitting in the lots of SUV dealerships nationwide. Rosebraugh says he never directly participated in such destruction. Instead, he fielded messages from the saboteurs and then, sitting in his office in Portland, Oreg., sent out incendiary press releases. "If we are vandals," he once said, "so were those who destroyed forever the gas chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz."

In 1998, The New York Times Magazine called Rosebraugh the "Face of Ecoterrorism." In 2002, Congress summoned him to testify. FBI and ATF agents raided his house twice. Rosebraugh was unmoved. He went on to found the Arissa Media Group, a nonprofit with the stated purpose of pushing for a revolution in the U.S.A. Through Arissa, he then published his own book, The Logic of Political Violence, which bore on its cover a photo of the World Trade Center engulfed in orangey black flames.

What few people knew was that, as he angled to take down the Man, Rosebraugh also honed a taste for fine living. He bought an old Victorian house and furnished it with antiques. He became an accomplished vegan cook, treating his houseguests to some portobello tofu crepes, say. He disdained the prevalent view that, as he expresses it, "if you're for world change, you have to live in sloppy squalor." He saw elegance, in fact, as consistent with ELF's sabotage--as a matter of "pride and dignity and caring."

But his gourmet passions were little known. I live near Craig Rosebraugh in Portland, and until recently I always conceived of him as the consummate low-budget radical. He played drums for a garage band called the Procrastinators, and whenever I saw him out walking his dogs, he was dressed, head to toe, in penitent black.

So I was a bit shocked when, late in 2003, Rosebraugh's parents, Fred and Marilyn Rosebraugh, laid down $650,000 for a sumptuous three-story Portland Victorian so that Craig could make it the home of Calendula, then the city's only all-vegan restaurant. After an extensive refurbishment, the place bore graceful orange stained-glass windows and little crescent moons carved into the gingerbread surrounding the windows. The spindles on the railing of the large wraparound porch were painted a chromey silver.

The whole place seemed so...impeccable, and so cruelly dismissive of the scruffy radicals with whom Rosebraugh had traveled all through his twenties. And the business plan for Calendula seemed, likewise, almost overbearing in its ambition.

The restaurant would serve only organic vegan food. No pesticide residues, no genetically modified fruits or vegetables. Its entrées--which now cost roughly $12 apiece and range from shitake-seitan fajitas to tomato-coconut tempeh--would abound in local produce. Some dishes would be uncooked, in deference to a growing subset of vegans who eat "raw," meaning they won't touch any food that has been warmed to over 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

Indeed, a certain moral rectitude would guide the whole Calendula project. Rosebraugh opened the restaurant explicitly to raise money to produce revolutionary media--TV programs, documentaries, and books. And now, on the walls of Calendula's dining room, there are framed photographs of famed radicals: Che Guevara, for instance, illuminated by two sanctifying headlamps.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that Calendula would be a full-bore co-op, at which even the lowliest dish scrubber has license to quote Das Kapital ad nauseam at staff meetings. But no, no, no, no, it's not like that at all because collectives are bad too. "In a collective," Rosebraugh explains, "all people do is debate trivial things. They'll spend six hours deciding whether to leave the light on or off. I believe in hierarchy, and I like the way corporations are structured. They're successful because that's what they set out to do--succeed. And I want to succeed."

Yes, Craig Rosebraugh is a tangle of contradictions. And when he first opened his restaurant, I didn't have much hunger to eat there. I was inclined, frankly, to leave Rosebraugh alone, festering on his own tiny island of piousness. But still, every time I passed by Calendula, I was galvanized by the acid battle that I imagined was frothing inside, between lynch-the-landlord anarchy and the white linen tablecloths. I was intrigued, too, by Rosebraugh's über ethical campaign, just seven blocks from my home, to build an idealistic restaurant in a world where the vast majority of consumers favor Whoppers to go. Craig Rosebraugh was making no concessions whatsoever to crass reality. He was just plain right--stubborn, convinced of himself in so many irreconcilable ways--and he was plowing forward. How long, I wondered, would the guy last?

I first met Rosebraugh face-to-face on a drizzly, gray morning last January. It was early, around nine, and he was in Calendula's kitchen, wearing a white chef's smock as he minced broccoli on a white plastic cutting board. His weight was up to 165 pounds, but still there was a certain severity to the tableau I beheld, as though it were part of a film shot by Stanley Kubrick. The stainless-steel countertops were all gleaming and impeccably clean, as were the silver pots neatly racked on the wall, and I was distinctly aware that Rosebraugh was alone, hacking small objects to bits. This is his métier, really: Rosebraugh is not a people person. He's an independent guerrilla. "When you're running a business," he told me, "every force in the world is pushing against you to avoid ethics. I go into Cash 'n' Carry, where they sell wholesale goods to restaurants, and I see people packing out huge crates of subgrade produce. Everything's incredibly cheap, but you can't buy it if you're trying to be ethical. And I don't. I occasionally get recycled paper products there, or maybe some soy milk, but that's it."

Rosebraugh invokes very precise operating procedures at Calendula. He explained as he began chopping carrots. "I've taken full color digital photos of each entrée," he said, "so hopefully the kitchen staff can copy the pictures as they're putting food onto plates. I've also implemented a system for tracking waste." His workers were digitally weighing each morsel discarded during preparation and keeping a weekly waste tally. Meanwhile, Rosebraugh was taking produce poised to go bad and concocting impromptu specials--for instance, the seitan sausage fajitas he was making now. "The goal," he told me, "is to keep both food and labor costs below 30% of total costs. Now I'm at 27 and 26."

Rosebraugh is the executive chef at Calendula, as well as the owner, and until he recently hired two managers, he was working 100 hours a week--and all the while sequestering himself in a sort of political isolation ward. Rosebraugh has never voted in an election. Even now, as he feeds Portland's most well-heeled liberals, he scoffs at the left, which by his lights achieves only incremental change. Groups like the Sierra Club, he feels, just let "the beast of injustice" grow, instead of working toward the future he craves--a heady era in which a new American government provides universal health care and endeavors to wipe out global warming as it fights illiteracy and poverty.

Rosebraugh kept chopping, and soon he spoke of his revolutionary ambitions. He was careful. "I'm not advocating that all the black-hooded anarchists go out and start shooting government officials," he said. "And I'm not saying we should go door-to-door in Portland, Oregon. If you went around saying, 'We're signing up people to be part of the revolution,' they'd call the counterterrorism task force on you."

The key to overthrowing the government of the world's sole superpower, Rosebraugh stressed, is education. To this end, he hopes to produce a documentary film that would deliver a primer in revolution to mainstream America. "I'd like to interview Assata Shakur, of the Black Power movement," he said. "And Nelson Mandela, and Fidel Castro..."

"Fidel Castro?" I said. "Do you know Spanish?"

"I'm learning," said Rosebraugh. "I have the tapes at home."

Craig Rosebraugh situated his restaurant in an optimal spot. Portland may well be the nation's most radical and steak-hostile city. The activist community here is not one small troupe of worrisome dweebs gnashing their teeth in the back of a single café. It is, rather, a gathering of tribes: grungy tree sitters, pacifists, urban gardeners, anarchist skateboarders. The phrase "Got Kucinich?" still commands a wistful cachet in certain quarters of Portland. It sings, especially, on Hawthorne Boulevard, where Calendula sits near scuffed-up old record stores, coffeehouses, and boutiques selling aromatherapy candles. But still Portland's political landscape is uneasy terrain for a firebrand like Rosebraugh.

Portland's radicals inhabit, as most people do, a closed little society. When a guy like Rosebraugh comes along--pontificating, with dollar signs in his eyes--he will be made into organic mincemeat.

Portland's radicals may extend their hearts to small farm animals and disenfranchised molybdenum miners worldwide, but they inhabit, as most people do, a closed little society that knows its share of rancor and backbiting. When a guy like Rosebraugh comes along--pontificating, with dollar signs in his eyes--he will be made into organic mincemeat. The attacks, however, will be kept inside the community. When I asked other local activists about Rosebraugh, I found very few people willing to talk about him in a national business magazine. But a popular bulletin board, portland.indymedia.org, bristles with venom.

"All bosses are f--faces," one indymedia correspondent wrote recently, discussing Rosebraugh. "Calendula is a 'guilt-free' politically correct reification of capitalism."

"I can't believe people haven't f--ing torched the place already," added another scribe.

How can anyone nurture a business in such a climate? Rosebraugh didn't have it easy, in part because his restaurant was bound to a troubling reality: Fred Rosebraugh, Craig's dad, earned the money to finance Calendula by manufacturing hydraulic valves for tractors and lawn mowers. The elder Rosebraugh founded a company called Compact Controls in his suburban Portland basement in 1977; he retired 24 years later after selling his company, which had 270 employees and $35 million in annual revenue, for an undisclosed sum.

Per Portland (and ELF) protocol, Craig Rosebraugh should have publicly renounced lawn mowers--lawns, even. Instead, he spoke of his father fondly and in defensive tones. "My dad's a moderate Republican," he told me. "He voted for [George W.] Bush the first time, but then he deeply regretted it. If you get down to it, he believes in education and welfare--he really believes in those things. In his industry, he was a leader. He was very responsible in making sure that toxic chemicals were disposed of properly."

When Rosebraugh was subpoenaed by Congress in 2002, he brought his dad with him to Washington. "He flew out to support me," he told me. "That was one of my greatest moments with him--for him to be witness to the everyday proceedings of the U.S. government."

At a House subcommittee hearing, led by Colorado Republican Scott McInnis, a panel asked Rosebraugh probing questions about his links to ecoterrorism. He intoned versions of "I'll take the Fifth Amendment" 54 times.

I asked Rosebraugh if I could talk to his dad, and he grew protective. "You can try," he said, "but I'm going to tell him to ignore you because I trust you about as much as I trust any other reporter I've dealt with, which is not at all."

Rosebraugh's father ignored my calls; I never spoke to him.

When Calendula opened in January 2004, Rosebraugh had 18 employees, including an executive chef. He managed them as I imagined his dad would have, as de facto CEO. He called mandatory staff meetings and sat at the head of the table. He distributed detailed employee manuals and enforced a dress code, insisting that his servers wear "business casual" clothing. He began to rankle his underlings. "He was working against our collective flow," a server named Abigail Barella would later write on indymedia. "His ego often blocked communication."

Andrew Hodgdon, also a server, was more outspoken. "Working for Craig was an altogether negative experience that just consumed my precious energy," Hodgdon, a professional actor, told me. "We had to wear these stiff black button-down shirts that were tight in the collar, and Craig--he was always watching you. You were always on thin ice with him. He'd say things like, 'I've told you numerous times you need to iron your shirt. And button your top button--this isn't a sex appeal kind of place.' I started hating my job, and others were hating it too. I said, 'Craig, there's some s-- going down, bro."

Indeed there was. By midsummer, just six months after launching his business, Rosebraugh had lost almost $100,000 of his parents' money. By his own reckoning, Calendula was mismanaged. He had too many employees, and the chef cared not a whit about finances. "He ordered anything he wanted to," Rosebraugh recalls ruefully. "I mean, produce shipped in from all over the world, out of season. The walk-in freezer was a gold mine of exotic fruits and organic nuts."

On July 28 Rosebraugh took a bold step: He reduced servers' hourly wage, before tips, to $7.05 from $8.00. He also made it clear that health care benefits would be a long time coming for his employees. Manager Katharine Atkinson teed off on Rosebraugh and, she wrote on indymedia, she got nowhere: "When I told Craig that the servers were disappointed, he said, 'Let them quit! If they don't like it, they can work somewhere else. This isn't a utopia, it's a business!"

Within two days, Rosebraugh fired Atkinson, Hodgdon, and Barella, along with one other waiter, James Horn. In turn, these four employees allied with an all-but-forgotten union, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies, who 90-odd years ago shook fear into the titans of industry. Today the Wobblies can claim only 1,000 members worldwide. In Portland, however, they have serious street cred and clout. One night in August 2004, they ambushed Rosebraugh at Calendula. Led by their union rep, Pete Beaman, the striking workers stalked up the steps of the silvery porch and demanded their jobs back. Make no mistake: This was now civil war--and Rosebraugh was steamed.

He told the strikers that they were trespassing. He refused to give the Wobblies their jobs back, and he threatened to call the police. (That's right: the donut eaters that Rosebraugh has called "the thugs of the state.") Then, as a coup de grâce, he made one final supremely corporate gesture: He issued a self-explanatory press release. He spent $1,650 to place, in an alternative newspaper called Willamette Week, a full-page rejoinder to the strikers, who, he said, "received nothing but patience and respect from me." Calendula's servers, he said, "set their own schedules and received any time off as requested....The insinuation that I sit back in my office counting stacks of money while the 'wage slaves' do all the work is both insulting and laughable."

In the same issue, the newspaper named Rosebraugh "Rogue of the Week," noting that, during the restaurant's first two months, he made his four-block commute to work in an SUV--a Toyota 4Runner. Rosebraugh, who now drives a Honda hybrid, couldn't quite fathom the indignation against him. "Why do they single me out?" he asked me. "They hold me up to some superhuman standard. Most people drive their car to work, don't they? Seriously, who the f-- cares what I drive?"

Calendula customers, apparently. In late September, a sign on Calendula's door said: "Closed, owing to financial difficulties."

Eventually, I phoned the organizer who'd helped bring Calendula down--Pete Beaman of the Wobblies. Beaman was guarded when I told him I was writing for Inc. "Why would I want to support their capitalist agenda?" he asked me. He said he'd take my interview request to his board and get back to me. I never heard from him.

Thinking things over, I began to hone a certain respect for Craig Rosebraugh. If nothing else, the guy was willing to get down in the mud. He was tenacious.

When Rosebraugh was working with the Earth Liberation Front, he suffered the ill effects of low cholesterol. He was frequently dizzy. He hallucinated; he lost his balance. He had severe food allergies. Rosebraugh conducted over 700 media interviews, many under the hot glare of TV studio lights. He never once spoke of his illness. He stayed on message. He also wrangled, he says, with an FBI agent who conducted "psychological warfare." After one raid, the agent left all of Rosebraugh's papers torn up and piled in a sort of pyre in his bedroom. On top, in shreds, was an announcement for the funeral of Rosebraugh's grandfather. Rosebraugh cleaned up the mess and kept working.

On December 12, Calendula café reopened for business. This time it had a pared-down staff of nine. Rosebraugh himself was shaping the menu and relying on his digital scale for salvation--he immediately began the weighing of scraps and monitoring of costs that he thought would save him. Soon, his employees would be shielded from his astringency by two new managers, cook Tony Hauth and waitress Allison Bagby. Hauth works off the clock an hour every day, "just because I want to see this place still going in a year," and Bagby, who's served at Calendula almost since it opened, has defended Rosebraugh on indymedia. "I have quit two jobs due to my bosses saying something rude to me," she wrote. "I would leave this job too if there was any reason to."

Ive' brought my parents, my daughter, and friends to Calendula, and each time I've taken delight in telling my guests that the place is run by the unrepentant Face of Ecoterrorism.

I've eaten at calendula a number of times since the reopening. I've brought my parents, my daughter, and friends, and each time I've taken delight in telling my guests that the place was run by the unrepentant Face of Ecoterrorism. I've liked watching them sit there in the dim lamplight of the dining room, trying to add that one up, because in truth Calendula is an exceptionally pleasant place to eat. Rosebraugh had contradicted himself once again: The man who'd told me, "There are no utopias" had created what he calls, in his promotional literature, "a gourmet vegan paradise." He'd labored to attain a space that was true to the chiffony vibe of that phrase. As you eat at Calendula, you can see that he worked at it earnestly--and that some details are a bit overwrought. The mojitos, for instance--why did Rosebraugh give them this funky vegetable undertow? Really, who needs organic cilantro in a cocktail?

But that's a minor point. Mostly, Calendula does what any restaurant must: It lulls you. It cocoons you. And so recently, on a warm night, I found myself at Calendula sipping a chocolate martini and listening to the wheedling strains of the Decemberists playing softly on the stereo. The waitress came around and, with a tattooed arm, replenished my water glass. The busperson cleared the neighboring table and delivered the young couple there--sober and Pilates-lean--a pot of chamomile tea.

Just before 10, a tall, thin man--slightly disheveled, with his shirt hanging loose--burst up the steps and into the dining room. It was Rosebraugh himself, and for maybe two seconds he stood there, amid the tables, pivoting, as though in search of lost keys. And right then I thought: What would it be like to be him, to carry a storm of conflicting ideals inside you and to feel obliged, always, to force those ideals on the world, even as others called you a jerk?

Partly, I reckoned, Rosebraugh felt proud: Calendula is now turning a slim profit most months. (It's been accepted in Portland as part of the woodwork--as a place where, say, a stylish real estate agent might take her more earth-friendly clients.) But partly, I was sure, Rosebraugh also felt frazzled. I remembered him telling me, "When I'm working 100 hours a week, I feel guilty that I'm not doing activism." And I remembered visiting him once for 10 minutes in his office in Calendula's basement.

For all but a few seconds, Rosebraugh stared straight at his computer screen, manipulating a graphic image of a calendula flower. The flower would decorate a menu, and it was fulgent and lovely, in keeping with the gentle vibe of the Calendula brand. Rosebraugh sat with his back facing me, his responses terse as he dialed in on his task. He was working: His restaurant was going to succeed, even if, in succeeding, he had to embrace the very capitalist system he yearned to destroy with a war. He would succeed.

"So is there anything else you want to say?" I asked into the tense silence.

"No," Rosebraugh said. One syllable.

I left. Rosebraugh kept working. He peered into the screen, the war bubbling on, as always, inside his head.

Bill Donahue has written for The New Yorker, Outside, Runner's World, and other magazines. This is his first article for Inc.

Last updated: Oct 1, 2005




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