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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.

Capital News Service

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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.

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Business

New Ginter Park apartment community sells to local buyer for almost double assessed value

The Canopy at Ginter Park apartments, which sold for $83 million, was recently assessed by the City of Richmond at a value of $45 million.

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From Richmond BizSense:

In their second such deal in as many years, a local real estate firm has picked up a Tennessee-based builder’s latest apartment development in the Richmond market.

Bristol Development Group sold its 301-unit Canopy at Ginter Park apartments for $83.75 million to Capital Square, the Innsbrook-based firm that just over a year ago bought Bristol’s 2000 West Creek apartments in Goochland County.

The Canopy sale closed Dec. 30, with Colliers’ Mid-Atlantic Multifamily Advisory Group brokering the deal. The sale price amounts to $278,239 per door, and represents a nearly $29 million windfall for Bristol, which finished the complex last spring at a cost of $55 million.

The latest city assessment valued the 15-acre property, at Brook Road and Westwood Avenue in Richmond’s Northside, at $45.6 million.

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Veteran baker to open brick and mortar bakery operation in Lakeside

Up All Night Bakery, a new brick and mortar for 20-year baking veteran Jonathan Highfield, will take over the former Pulp RVA space at 5411 Lakeside Avenue.

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From Richmond BizSense:

Jonathan Highfield has kneaded dough for about 20 years, both in the employment of and instruction of others. This year, he’s baking a venture entirely of his own creation.

He recently signed a lease on 5411 Lakeside Ave., where he plans to open a production facility for his Up All Night Bakery by March.

Up All Night was launched as a part-time gig in late 2019, making croissants, breads, cookies and other baked goods that are sold at farmers markets and to a few wholesale customers around town.

Highfield currently bakes in the kitchen of the Early Bird Biscuit Co.’s Bellevue Avenue location during the business’s off-hours. He said he decided to move Up All Night elsewhere because he had outgrown the Early Bird space.

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Family of local freight and transportation company makes $2 million donation to children’s hospital construction project

The Children’s Hospital Foundation’s matching campaign effectively will double the gift to $4 million.

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A local freight and transportation provider has made a major gift towards the construction of the forthcoming Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU expansion. In addition to the company’s gift of $150,000, Estes family members committed $1.85 million to support the Wonder Tower, the new home for Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s inpatient, emergency, and trauma services.

The two donations from Estes Express Lines and the Estes family were matched by the Children’s Hospital Foundation, maximizing the total investment in the Wonder Tower to $4 million. As part of the capital campaign to raise $100 million, the foundation is matching the first $25 million in gifts from the community.

“The support of Estes Express Lines and the Estes family is extremely meaningful. We’re grateful they’ve added their voice and support to our mission to build a world-class pediatric hospital in Richmond,” said Lauren Moore, president and chief executive officer of Children’s Hospital Foundation. “They’re truly a values-focused company and family, and their gifts reflect the importance they place on protecting children and their childhoods.”

“We are a family-owned business that’s had the honor of working with thousands of Richmond-area families for nearly 90 years,” said Rob Estes, president and CEO of Estes Express Lines. “Children deserve the best possible medical care when they need it, and we’re proud to support Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, as a company, and as a family.”

As part of the donation, some areas of the Wonder Tower will be named in honor of Estes, including the hospital’s loading dock, a nod to their work as a freight carrier business. The gift includes additional recognition of the family’s generosity throughout the building.

Once complete in spring 2023, the Wonder Tower will bring world-class pediatric facilities to Central Virginia. Located in downtown Richmond, the 16-story tower will be home to CHoR’s Level 1 pediatric trauma center, emergency room, inpatient units, new operating rooms, increased imaging capacity, and family amenities — all in an environment created just for kids and their loved ones.

“The children’s tower is being built for and by our community thanks to generous friends like the Estes,” said Elias Neujahr, CEO of CHoR. “It will be a beacon of hope for kids and families across the Commonwealth while helping us attract and retain top talent so our children have access to be the best care, close to home.”

In 2021, Estes Express Lines will celebrate its 90th anniversary as CHoR finishes its centennial year. “Let’s all come together to support the Wonder Tower, a special place where all families and children can receive exceptional pediatric care, right here in Richmond,” said Estes.

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