Authors Posts by Molly Oleson

Molly Oleson


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Photo courtesy of Hector Saldivar, Tia Lupita.

This week in the Pacific Sun, our Food & Wine Issue features the chef behind Copita’s creative “cousins” menu, Tia Lupita hot sauce, which pays tribute to the founder’s Mexican mom, and a recipe for morels. On top of that, we’ve got a review of ‘The 39 Steps’ and an interview with songwriter Paul Thorn, who will be performing at Rancho Nicasio this weekend. All that and more on stands and online today!

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This week in the Pacific Sun, our cover story, ‘Surreal Stage,’ follows singer/actor Phillip Percy Williams as he sings the national anthem at a Giants game. On top of that, we’ve got a piece on the creative ice cream flavors at Larkspur’s Posie, an interview with Butcher Brother Mitch Altieri about gory filmmaking, a review of Marin Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and an interview with Onye Onyemaechi of Onye & the Messengers. All that and more on stands and online today!

advice goddess
Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess

By Amy Alkon

Q: My girlfriend and I broke up recently, so I’m back in the dating pool. Do you think online dating is a good way to meet people? If so, which are the best dating sites?—Diving In

A: Asking, “Which dating site is best?” is like asking, “Is pro basketball a viable career?” That question can only be answered by asking other questions, such as, “Aren’t you a 47-year-old, 5’2” Ashkenazi Jewish woman with 20/80 vision and bad knees?”

To put this another way, context matters—which isn’t what they tell you in Datingsiteville. Save for specialty sites—like those for farmers, the disabled and people who relish a good flogging—the advertising for these venues tends to be context-free: “Hey, everybody in the entire galaxy, get your lasting love here!”

Annoyingly, though most of us have a sense of what context is, nobody’s done a very good job of defining it—either in the dictionary or in Researchville, where I found a herd of dueling definitions, all so unhelpfully worded that they seem to be in secret code. So here’s my definition: Context is a combo platter of the particular situation at hand, plus the details relevant to it that affect how you understand or experience the situation. In the context of online dating, the relevant details include age, sex, the quality of the competition and one’s desired situation, as in: Do you just want casual sex, or are you holding out for something a little more, uh, black tie?

There are sex differences in when people are at their most appealing, because men and women tend to be at their highest “mate value” at different ages. This comes out of how male sexuality evolved to be visually driven. Women, however, evolved to go for “providers”—men with high status and earning power. So, online dating tends to be more fruitful if you’re a hot 23-year-old female espresso jockey or a 43-year-old male VP of a successful startup, but it can have some challenges for the 43-year-old female startup star or the 23-year-old dude who’s the senior vice barista.

So the question is not whether dating sites work but whether the qualities you have and the situation you’re seeking add up to more than a few tumbleweeds blowing around in your inbox. Because online dating success is shaped more by personal context (and plain old luck) than by the particular site you’re on, you might experiment with two or three. If things go poorly, use online dating as a supplement to meeting women the retro way, like at cocktail parties, where you won’t be competing with the 362 more genetically blessed males within a 35-mile radius. This vastly increases your chances of dazzling the ladies with your personality—distracting them from how Mother Nature zoned out when she was handing out necks to your family.

Q: This guy asked me out and suggested we meet up after his dentist appointment. He said he’d call around 2pm. Well, at 9:30pm, I got a “Hey” text from him and didn’t respond. A friend said I shouldn’t write him off so fast. Am I being too harsh?—Dependability Fan

A: Individual bits of behavior are like cockroaches. You might see just one lonely roach twerking atop the toaster oven, but its presence suggests a whole colony of the buggers … gluing sequins to their exoskeletons and practicing their moonwalk behind the baseboard.

No, you can’t always judge someone by a single thing they do, but this guy’s one-word text—seven hours after he said he’d call—speaks volumes: “Holy moly, wouldya look at the time. It’s 9:30, and I could use some sex.”

How a person behaves is driven by their personality traits, which social psychologist Brent Roberts describes as habitual patterns of thoughts, feelings and behavior that are relatively consistent across time and situations. Granted, there are occasions when impulse gets the best of us, and we’ll say something like, “That wasn’t really me.” But, at least in some way, it really was, because even impulsivity is part of personality.

A person can resolve to act more conscientiously, but personality has a strong genetic basis, so they’re unlikely to be as motivated to be conscientious as someone whose genes make them feel icky when they aren’t. In other words, you were probably wise in nixing this guy, who couldn’t even be bothered to fake respect for your feelings by supplementing that “Hey” with “Carjacked!” “Carried off by a raptor!”

Photo by Michael Lionstar.

This week in the Pacific Sun, our cover story, ‘Fictional Facts,’ features author Nathan Hill and his hit book ‘The Nix’ in an era of ‘fake news.’ On top of that, we’ve got news on merging marijuana laws, a guide on how to pickle veggies, a spotlight on Fairfax’s The Utility Room, a review of Aurora Theatre Company’s ‘Splendour’ and an interview with the band Charged Particles. All that and more on stands and online today!

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This week in the Pacific Sun, our cover story, ‘Pipelines & Battle Lines’ investigates a proposed fracked gas pipeline in Oregon that threatens West Coast water. On top of that, we’ve got a piece on Tam Tam Ramen, a behind-the-scenes look at movie camp with a film critic, a story on Marin Shakespeare Company opening its 28th season and an interview with musician and songwriter Ila Cantor. All that and more on stands and online today!

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Photo courtesy of Natasha Kolenko.

This week in the Pacific Sun, our cover story, ‘Magical Arrangements,’ features the work of floral designer and stylist Natasha Kolenko. On top of that, we’ve got a story about the rise of the ESOP in the North Bay, a roundup of sweet & savory summer events, a review of Marin Theatre Company’s ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ and an interview with jam band The Rock Collection. All that and more on stands and online today!

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North Bay employee-owned companies on the rise

Armstrong Garden Centers, with locations in Marin, has been employee-owned since 1987.

By Tom Gogola and Kate Hoover

While the big news in the business pages of late is that Whole Foods Market is being purchased by independent-retailer-gobbling behemoth Amazon, another regional grocer, Oliver’s Market, is going in the opposite direction and focusing on local ownership—as in, employee ownership.

Oliver’s, Sonoma County’s largest independent grocer, just sold 43 percent of the company to its employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), granting a majority of its 1,000-plus employees the ability to collectively purchase this portion of the company.

With the move, the company joined the ranks of companies such as Armstrong Garden Centers, which has been employee-owned since 1987 and has also sided with workers over the monopoly racket undertaken by Amazon.

A 2015 report in the Mercury News noted that several companies in Marin, including the recently-expanded Armstrong Nurseries (which purchased Sunnyside Nursery that year), are employee-owned: Fairfax Hardware and Bank of Marin among them.

“The owners of the company decided not to have another corporate entity buy them out,” says San Anselmo Armstrong Garden Center manager Eugene Rougeau. “The concern in our industry is that knowledgeable gardeners and nurserymen are rare, and the fear is that in turning the company over to another entity would liquidate the employees.”

Armstrong Garden Centers has 30-plus outlets around the state, most of them in Southern California, and three in the Bay Area.

Corey Rosen is an Oakland-based expert on the ESOP phenomenon at the National Center for Employee Ownership, which he founded. He notes that there are good ESOPs and there are bad ESOPs, and highlights the failed employee-ownership attempt at United Airlines to empower its employees with buy-in on ownership of the company.

“There are companies that have done very poorly with it,” he says—and a key arbiter is whether a company, such as Oliver’s, can absorb the cost of creating an ESOP—which means that a company already has to be profitable going in, in order to make it work.

When the ESOP does work, Rosen says, it provides workers with additional layers of protections and security that non-ESOP employees simply don’t enjoy.

Rosen cites a recent data set that found millennials who are working for ESOP-participant companies have a median income 33 percent higher than those who aren’t. “Participating in ESOPs answers not just your retirement question, but your overall economic well-being,” Rosen says. “And they are much less—hugely less likely to get laid off.”

Rosen is among several people interviewed who gave Oliver’s high marks for its employee-focused move—especially in light of the Amazon purchase of Whole Foods, a move in the complete opposite direction of worker protection.

He notes that John Mackey (the Obamacare-hating owner of Whole Foods, aka “Whole Paychecks”) could have gone the ESOP route but chose not to.

Companies that do make this choice are not always motivated by the bottom line, says Rosen, and usually are already highly invested in workplace development and other pro-worker programs, including retirement plans.

“In companies where owners have a choice—and Oliver’s is a very good example of this—[company president Steve Maass] could have sold it to all kinds of people,” Rosen says. “Most of the time the ESOP will pay a competitive price, but he could have sold it for a lot more, and instead he said, ‘I have enough money and legacy matters to me.’”

Now Oliver’s has joined the regional club of ESOP businesses, and Maass says that he wanted to continue the legacy of the market and keep the stores independent.

“It’s a way of keeping a local business local,” Maass says. “It has created a lot of excitement with the employees and with the community.”

With the announcement of the stock ownership plan earlier this month, Oliver’s is now the largest employee-owned company in Sonoma County. More than 600 of its employees qualify to engage in the stock ownership plan.

The plan will provide employees with more than 10 years of service full vesting of their allocated shares immediately. All eligible employees that began working at the start of the year will be fully vested for three years.

Maass founded Oliver’s Market in Cotati in 1988 with a vision to create a store where customers truly enjoyed shopping for groceries. The store is now the largest supporter of products made and grown in Sonoma County, carrying products from more than 600 businesses in Sonoma County alone.

Maass credits the success of Oliver’s Market to the longtime managers, staff and employees who have played key roles in the company’s growth over the years.

“I certainly didn’t build the place myself,” Maass says. “Everybody here participated.”

Maass says his own future played a role in the decision to enact the stock ownership plan. “I’m 71 years old,” he says. “I was trying to figure out how to retire—sort of.”

Regional business and labor leaders praised the move by Maass.

Ben Stone, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, described the Oliver’s move as “very progressive and definitely a way to reach out to the employees and let them be involved in new ways as owners of the company,” as he cited a couple of other ESOP-inclusive businesses in the area, including the muffler movers at Flowmaster.

North Bay labor activist Marty Bennett echoed Stone’s enthusiasm—but with a caveat.

“It can only be good news from labor’s perspective,” Bennett says.

Yet Bennett says he has heard from younger employees at Oliver’s about some issues around uncertainty in scheduling—“they don’t know the schedule until a week before”—and the starting pay is $13 an hour. Bennett’s a huge champion of the Fight for $15 across the North Bay.

“They are better employers than many retailers,” he says, “but I do not want to say that they have the highest possible labor standards.”

Meanwhile, Armstrong Garden Centers recently expanded its ESOP community with a joint venture with a nursery in Georgia that’s also an ESOP, Pike Nurseries. The company’s growth, says Rougeau, is directly linked to its employee-first mandate.

“Like all the companies in 2008, we suffered,” he says, referencing the Bush-era Great Recession. “The management team that was here cut their personal wages to keep the company solvent. We all want to see the company build.”

P.S.: They’re hiring.

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This week in the Pacific Sun, our Eco-Living issue cover story, ‘High Standards,’ profiles Sausalito-based Safe Catch, a company that tests every fish for mercury. On top of that, we’ve got a piece on Kuhn Rikon, a kitchen supply store based in Novato, a story about where to find fellow seed-lovers online, a review of ‘The Roommate’ at the San Francisco Playhouse and an interview with the band Luvplanet. All that and more on stands and online today!

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This week in the Pacific Sun, our cover story, ‘United by Strength,’ explores a group of LGBTQ+ activists speaking out about the current presidential administration. On top of that, we’ve got a story on North Bay mascot Clo disappearing, an interview with Componere, a fine catering company that sources food from a Novato farm, a Spotlight on Novato that features homeware and clothing design company Norwegian Wood, a review of Berkeley Rep’s ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and a story about the Mountain Play Association’s upcoming celebration of the Summer of Love’s 50th anniversary. All that and more on stands and online today!

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'Fractured Flag' painting by Patrick Gannon.

This week in the Pacific Sun, our cover story, ‘Positive Action,’ explores resistance art in the era of Trump. On top of that, we’ve got a piece on the beached whale in Bolinas, a story about Marin’s new Surf ‘n Turf Shack, a review of Ross Valley Players’ ‘Private Lives’ and an interview with new-wave band Merchandise. All that and more on stands and online today! 



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We know what you’re thinking: “Romance? Ewww!” But come on—anyone can find love in Marin … even if it’s just with that cocktail you’re...