Dan Ramos Haaz was elected to the Willy Street Co-op Board of Directors in August 2013. Dan grew up in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Seven years ago, he moved to Madison from England where he was studying computer science. He recently completed his MBA at UW-Madison and is now the finance manager at the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA). I recently met Dan for lunch and asked him a few questions.
CB: How did you first learn about cooperatives?
DRH: At the interview for my job with NCGA. One of the first questions the CFO asked me was how much I knew about cooperatives. My answer was, “not very much.” So he started talking about what co-ops are, their mission and values. He saw the little twinkle in my eyes as he was explaining co-ops to me and I think that’s kind of why he hired me.
CB: Tell me a little bit about NCGA and your role there.
DRH: NCGA is basically a cooperative of co-ops that provides resources to grocery co-ops around the nation. Their mantra is “stronger together.” We work to get better purchasing contracts for our members and provide any additional efficiencies that are possible at a group level. As the finance manager, I’m in charge of preparing all the financial reports for NCGA and reviewing operational reports from some of our member cooperatives.
CB: What is the first co-op you joined?
DRH: The first co-op I joined was the UW Credit Union. Willy Street Co-op was the second!
CB: Why did you decide to run for the Board?
DRH: Only a handful of people who work at NCGA don’t come from a co-op background and I was one of them. I decided I needed to get a little bit more involved.
CB: Is there anything you have been surprised by during your first few months on the Board?
DRH: I have been really impressed by the talent pool at Board meetings and on committees. There are some really intelligent people working with and for this organization. I swear I’m not sucking up!
CB: What excites you most about serving on the Board?
DRH: Being a part of the decision-making machine. The process of trying to get Willy Street Co-op to be financially savvy and make strategic decisions for the Co-op’s betterment and for our Owners and our community.
CB: What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the Co-op in the next two years?
DRH: I think expansion is a great opportunity. The hardest part was converting from one store to two stores, so a third store should be slightly simpler.
CB: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the Co-op?
DRH: Competition. I’ve seen a lot of co-ops struggle when competition moves in. Another challenge is maintaining Owner engagement.
CB: Do you have any favorite family food traditions from childhood?
DRH: Mexico has such a wide variety when it comes to culinary traditions. A couple I miss the most are pan de muerto and rosca de reyes. Pan de muerto is a traditional sweet bread with orange zest, covered with sugar that is available for Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Rosca de reyes is very similar to Louisiana’s king cake and is traditionally eaten in early January. It also comes with a baby Jesus hidden inside. If you get the baby Jesus, you have to throw a tamale and champurrado party on February 2nd.
My other favorite traditional Mexican food is mole. My paternal grandmother made mole from scratch that was awesome. In the mornings she would work at a tortilla mill nearby. Every morning I would wake up around 7 a.m. and she had already been at work for about two hours. She would come home with fresh tortillas and serve them with mole and an egg on top. It was heaven. I actually make my own mole now because I miss it so much. It takes about five hours to make, but it’s worth it.
CB: Lastly and most importantly, name three co-op products you couldn’t live without.
DRH: I can’t live without the made-without-gluten bakery. My partner just started a gluten-free diet, so we buy a lot of pumpkin bars and peanut butter chocolate brownies. Granola from the bulk aisle is another new thing I’ve been eating a lot lately. The last thing would be the Theo chocolate bars. I guess I have a bit of a sweet tooth!