I started offering boxes of assorted fruits and vegetables, mostly from local farms, along with staple foods like flour, sugar and yeast. I kept in touch with my customers through weekly emails and posts of new inventories on social media. As the word came out, I also started seeing new faces.
Orders are now placed online in advance. Customers are given time slots to spread the crowd. The bakery patio, usually full of tables and chairs, has turned into an elaborate pickup line with bags and boxes arranged alphabetically by surname. We have an external refrigerator full of milk and eggs and an external freezer with raw chicken, beef and cinnamon rolls to cook at home. Every morning, arrows on the chalk, instructions and six-foot spacing are marked along the sidewalk.
Every piece of bread, every donut and every croissant every day is already promised at home. At 9 in the morning, there is a row of carefully spaced people waiting to pick up their orders that wraps around the block.
From the outside, Montclair Bread Co. is killing him in quarantine and making the most of a bad situation.
But behind the scenes, there is a completely different story. On March 13, after limiting the entrance to the bakery to staff only, I was forced to fire all our part-time staff, over 20 people, to minimize the risk and exposure to our full-time staff and to our customers. I removed the made-to-order coffee and sandwiches from the menu, because the sales process required too much contact with customers. These items typically represent half of our sales.
When I opened the doors for the first time, I embraced the opportunity to diversify. What if the donut trend ends? No problem, sourdough is the next big ticket. When does it end? I can sell gallons of cold brewed coffee drinks. If it wasn’t something edible, it was an experience – children’s camp, adult lessons, fun 5K.
But when the pandemic hit, catering orders for weddings, bar mitzvahs and graduations were canceled. The bakery management club has been suspended until further notice, and with it all sales of post-run coffee and donuts. The summer camp we host has been canceled and refunded. The practical artisan cooking lessons have been postponed, reimbursed and rescheduled. The 5- Mile Race to BRUNch, an event sold out to 1,000 runners, has been postponed. St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day – all these events have been revised and reduced to look like alternate quarantined days.
These earning opportunities are not available under these conditions: 75% of my annual revenue potential has been decimated.
Why not just make more baked goods? With the reduction of staff, we are realizing the maximum allowed by our ovens (and our bodies). I’m cooking from 3 to 20, six days a week.
I’m breaking the tie, but the tie won’t pay for replacing the fridge when the engine blows or when we need the oven technician to fix a defective heat sensor. I have no real idea how this will impact my business in the future because I don’t know what my business will be like next week. During the first weeks of quarantine, the bakery items ran out as quickly as they were posted online. But as consumers are becoming more comfortable going to stores and more restaurants are reopening, my sales are decreasing dramatically.
In this industry, one thing I can count on is the ups and downs, which is why I have created alternative sources of income to help keep my bank account consistent. Those alternative sources are gone now. These are real and quantifiable losses following the forced quarantine orders. But when reported to my insurance company, the race that never happened, the summer camp refunds, the cooking lessons canceled – all these losses of commercial claims were denied. Pandemics are not covered by my policy. In eight years of activity, I have never made a request, but my rewards continue to grow as my pastry shop grows. The only time I really need help to stay afloat and I need to use the service I’ve paid for all these years, it doesn’t exist.
Companies should be able to depend on the security insurance they should provide. Restrictions must be lifted or new policies put in place. Rather than offering first-come first-serve grants to small businesses, we need a program to replace specific revenue associated with events and revenue streams in the same way that unemployment benefits protect lost wages. It’s time to get creative if we want to keep Main Street, USA on the map.
Until then, the only thing I can plan is tomorrow. I will continue to wake up at 2 am and will continue to bake bread for as long as community support lasts.