Chris Hewitt, Co-Founder/CEO, Hudson Valley Current/Tilda's Community Café
In 2013, Chris Hewitt co-created a community currency called the Hudson Valley Current (HV Current), with a value of $1 per Current. The non-profit HV Current, supported by the Novo Foundation, supports local businesses and nonprofit entities by keeping money local and recycling wealth, trust, and love within the local economy.
Chris attended Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship Network’s first Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, with five students, in 2015, held at Marist College. There are now 1,100 GCSEN graduates from 9 campus partners- from 14 states and 14 countries. As a pilot program student, he met GCSEN Founder and President Mike Caslin, who is now treasurer of the Current board. Mike inspired Chris to merge the operations of his magazine, now Midtown Lively, with the Current, and encouraged him to continue on the path of “4P” Social Entrepreneurship—for People, Planet, Profit and Place.
Nowadays, Mike Caslin is one of many regular visitors to Tilda's Kitchen & Market, the latest addition to Chris’s venture, or an “undercurrent” to the Current. Tilda’s, a big, friendly space with exposed brick, lots of wood and sturdy, re-purposed furniture, and has locally-made products for sale on utilitarian shelving, and a comfortable charm. A few years ago, Chris had the realization that his magazine (then called Livelihood) was the “user of last resort” for Currents, meaning that it was the one place people knew they could turn to when they had lots of Currents to spend. This was an “ah-ha” moment: many people were paying for their advertising with Currents, but not everyone needs marketing - but everyone needs food! So, Chris started a catering business that quickly became profitable, and soon after, opened Tilda’s, an unusual business based on “gratitude food.” Farmers bring fresh food, and people can buy food (with dollars or Currents), get free soup every day, and/or attend weekly prix fixe dinners, or hold events.
Tilda’s is the only business currently bringing in more than 1% of its gross income in Currents- in fact it recently passed 6%! This is great news, according to Chris- it means that Tilda’s is “bringing the Current to life!” Another big change to the venture is a tighter focus- pulling its efforts into a smaller neighborhood (as opposed to the three-county focus he started with, which spread the currency too thin.) Now Chris thinks of Tilda’s as the center of a spiral that spreads out from the Midtown Kingston neighborhood. This hyper-local approach has helped them to understand “how a local currency can stabilize a business and then a local economy.” They’re trying to “shift the food service model” through different things, like an upcoming event, Open Table, a day where all breakfast and lunch is free, and sponsored by Ulster Savings Bank. (Other Open Table events have been sponsored by Adams Fairacre Farms, Kingston Land Trust, Rondout Savings Bank, and others.)
Chris reflects often and fondly on his time with GCSEN, and not just because Mike Caslin is on his board and a supporter of the café. “I reference Mike and GCSEN often…GCSEN has been a sponsor of different 4P Social Entrepreneur workshops and advertising campaigns for the Kingston/ Ulster County Community. It’s part of my story of becoming a nonprofit leader, growing from being just an entrepreneur.” Chris grew up with parents who were entrepreneurs, and started his first of many businesses at age ten. But it wasn’t until he learned about 4P Social Entrepreneurship (People, Place, Planet, and Profit), that his thinking expanded. Now he believes that a business isn’t a 5-star venture if all it produces is profit. “As soon as I mention ‘multiple bottom lines’ to anybody, I mention GCSEN next.” He is moving towards a form of capitalism that is “more regenerative than extractive.” Tilda’s, Midtown Lively Magazine, and the Current are key parts of a path towards doing just that - creating wealth as part of a holistic system that benefits everyone!