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Bakeries overcome challenges to sell sweet treats during pandemic

Local bakeries are rising to meet obstacles and setbacks produced by the coronavirus pandemic.

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By Aaron Royce

Local bakeries are rising to meet obstacles and setbacks produced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The year was marked with numerous restaurant closures, but most local bakeries remained open due to customers’ affection for sweets and through some strategic reinvention.

When Gov. Ralph Northam issued a lockdown in March, events were canceled and many businesses had to reduce operating hours.

One bakery that depends on events was hit hard but quickly adapted. Sweet Fix, located in Richmond, was threatened with massive financial losses when COVID-19 reached the U.S. Advance payments were postponed or gone entirely as customers downsized or canceled large event orders. The losses totaled over $40,000, Sweet Fix owner Amanda Robinson said.

Robsinson said five employees were laid off. She said non-refundable deposits helped keep Sweet Fix in business. The bakery implemented a policy requiring a 50% deposit for each order up front to help maintain revenue while facing a decline in orders.

“Trying to run a business with one person was a nightmare,” Robinson said.

She worked 14-hour days and counseled couples whose wedding cakes she would have been designing.

“One of the challenges was trying to coordinate a date change with dozens of vendors who are also trying to coordinate date changes with dozens (if not hundreds) of their clients all eagerly seeking new dates,” Robinson said. “Some clients lost vendors who they were excited to work with as it was impossible to reschedule everyone on the same date.”

Robinson was able to bring some staff back in part-time roles. Without the typical flow of spring wedding orders, she began more curbside sales for birthdays and other events. As lockdown restrictions lifted, a steady flow of business—including weddings— returned to Sweet Fix.

“Oddly enough, the wedding inquiries are just as high as they’ve been,” Robinson said. “It’s hard for me because I know where we are still in the midst of this pandemic, so to think that people are just moving along as usual, like nothing’s going on, expecting 2021 to be absolutely normal,” Robinson said. She said she is concerned for a second coronavirus wave.

Whisk, in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, is still providing customers with cakes, cookies and various sugary treats. Owner Morgan Botwinick said there were minimal employee losses despite the initial lockdown, and the bakery stayed open with reduced hours and customers.

Botwinick believes Whisk operates by bringing customers positivity through food. She said it is “helpful for morale to be able to treat yourself, or treat someone else.”

“It brings a little bit of joy to their day,” Botwinick said.“You know, pastry is not something you have to eat, obviously, but it is—it’s a treat.”

Whisk also got a boost through online ordering, which Botwinick didn’t use before the pandemic. Now, it’s become a convenient way for bakeries like hers to more safely serve customers.

“I think the online ordering has really been the biggest new innovation that I see almost everyone doing,” Botwinick said.

Reinvention has helped bakeries stay open with menu changes, revised hours and adapted business plans. Sugar & Salt, in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, opened its storefront in February. Owner Sara Ayyash said a lack of staff and supplies posed a strong threat to the new business. Despite those obstacles, Ayyash added new products. She started selling at-home baking kits with help from her brother and husband.

“So, it was more of a, let’s try and think of new items with what we have to work with, and sell those,” Ayyash said.

One innovation came from a yeast shortage near the beginning of the pandemic. Ayyash replaced her menu’s donuts and cinnamon rolls with coffee cake and quiche—now Sugar & Salt staples.

Another adversary to the bakery business is that people are baking more at home during quarantine. Despite this, consumers have favored specific sweets that can’t be easily homemade. They appreciate “having the ability to just pick something up when they’re in need,” Ayyash said.

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Business

Richmond Region Tourism partners with VisitAble to offer disability awareness education to local hospitality community

A new partnership between Richmond Region Tourism and VisitAble is working to make the region more inclusive for visitors of all abilities.

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A new partnership between Richmond Region Tourism and VisitAble is working to make the region more inclusive for visitors of all abilities.

The region’s tourism marketer recently engaged VisitAble to provide free disability inclusion and awareness education programs to local businesses and organizations.

A startup based in Central Virginia, VisitAble works to improve accessibility and disability inclusion by engaging businesses, governments, and educational institutions in its Advocate+ Certification program. The process includes training 80% of staff on disability etiquette and inclusion, an accessibility test for public-facing locations, a mystery guest experience from an individual with a disability for staff to put their training intro practice, a report with feedback and advice from VisitAble and the mystery guest(s), and a website listing on VisitAble’s database of accessibility information to alleviate the uncertainty that may prevent customers and visitors from visiting.

After completing the certification process, hospitality partners will receive an Advocate+ Certification sticker for their door or window, a digital badge for use on their website, and recognition on Richmond Region Tourism’s website to broadcast the partner’s efforts and to further alleviate any uncertainty that potential tourists with disabilities may have.

“Our Advocate+ certification indicates an organization is actively working towards disability inclusion,” said VisitAble founder Joe Jamison. “Increased training, awareness, and transparency from the certification process helps organizations create a better experience for everyone. We’re thrilled to partner with the Richmond Region Tourism team to make a great impact on disability inclusion not only for tourists of the greater Richmond area, but also the greater Richmond community.”

“As we welcome new and returning travelers to the region every day, we’re constantly thinking about ways to improve the visitor experience while enhancing the quality of life for residents,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “We’re proud to offer these free education programs with VisitAble to hospitality partners to help improve accessibility and inclusion for everyone in the region.”

There are limited slots available for the initiative. Local hospitality-focused businesses and organizations interested in a free Advocate+ Certification from VisitAble can submit an application here.

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Business

Blue Bee Cider lists Scott’s Addition home for $3 million; future of business unclear

“I’m hoping to find a buyer who’ll love and appreciate it as much as I do,” owner Courtney Mailey said.

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From Richmond BizSense:

The future of a Scott’s Addition cidery is up in the air as it lists its prime real estate for sale.

Blue Bee Cider’s compound at 1320 Summit Ave. hit the market this week with an asking price of $3.2 million.

Owner Courtney Mailey said whether the cidery will continue operating there will depend on a buyer’s plans.

“I’m hoping to find a buyer who’ll love and appreciate it as much as I do,” Mailey said of the property. “We’re just trying to find the right match. Once the building finds the right owner, we’ll start to think about the cidery.” Continue reading here.

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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Business

MEDARVA Foundation opens interactive medical science learning space at Short Pump Town Center

The center, open through the end of August, will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

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The MEDARVA Foundation has opened Surgeon Immersion, an experiential center at Short Pump Town Center, during the month of August. Admission-free, the center will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

“We are excited to celebrate MEDARVA Healthcare’s 70th anniversary by bringing our mission directly to the community,” said Joanne Whiley, chair of MEDARVA Healthcare’s Board of Directors. “We were well known as the Richmond Eye and Ear Hospital for our first fifty years. This is a great opportunity to educate the community on the ways we have evolved since and how we provide service today.”

MEDARVA Healthcare is the last Richmond-based, independent, non-profit health system, operating MEDARVA Surgery Centers at Stony Point and West Creek, MEDARVA Imaging Center, MEDARVA Low Vision Center, and the MEDARVA Foundation.

“The MEDARVA Foundation has been quietly funding medical research at VCU Medical School and UVA Medical School, among others, as well as supporting other local nonprofits that provide direct care to the medically underserved,” explained Cheryl Jarvis, chair of the MEDARVA Foundation Board of Directors.  “But during the pandemic, we started to see the need to support younger scientific researchers as they first start out in middle and high school.  The level of work these students are performing is amazing, and when we started to think about how we could highlight them and inspire others, we developed the idea of a community space that would engage and educate.”

MEDARVA Foundation’s Surgeon Immersion will be open every day in August from Short Pump Town Center’s opening until 7:00 pm (6:00 pm on Sundays) and includes a state-of-the-art digital cadaver table, and simulated surgery kiosks, 2022 Science Fair winning projects, children vision screenings, and more.

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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