Connect with us
[adrotate banner="51"]

Business

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

Published

on

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.

Comments

comments

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Business

IHOP, Michaels, CAVA, and &Pizza among new retailers now open at Willow Lawn

A number of new restaurants and retailers have recently opened their doors at Willow Lawn.

Avatar

Published

on

A number of new retailers and restaurants have recently opened their doors at Willow Lawn.

Pancake house IHOP opened March 5 in a 4,094 square-foot space between Alpha Comics and European Wax. 60 new positions were hired for the restaurant, which seats 150 customers inside and 32 on an outside patio.

The arts and crafts store Michaels opened at Willow Lawn on February 27. Michaels is in a 17,477 square-foot space near Gold’s Gym and Ross Dress for Less.

Other new additions at Willow Lawn include CAVA, which opened in January 2021, and &Pizza, which opened its first Richmond location at the shopping center in September 2020.

In addition to IHOP and Michaels, Willow Lawn features a variety of retail, dining, and services including Kroger, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Alpha Comics & Games, Lucky Road, and Pho 95 Hai Ky Mi Gia.

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Business

United Way kicks off annual free tax prep service

The local nonprofit will offer both in-person and virtual tax preparation services in 2021.

Avatar

Published

on

With an April 15 tax-filing deadline just 10 weeks away, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program officially began last week. The free tax preparation service is offered to area families with household incomes of less than $56,000.

In its 18th year of operation, United Way’s VITA program will utilize a combination of tax sites across Richmond, Goochland, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Charles City as well as online tax preparation services. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person tax sites will operate by appointment only, and spaces may be limited. Sites will follow social distancing guidelines and require masks, and hours of operation are subject to change. An up-to-date list of locations and hours is available at https://www.yourunitedway.org/tax/sites/w.

For online preparation services, United Way will utilize a new secure web portal that allows participants to upload tax information, speak to IRS certified tax preparers and receive help filing taxes online – all for free. Those using the service will need to upload photos of their ID cards and tax documents and answer questions about their tax situation. The service requires filers to have access to the internet and a camera through a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

“With tax season upon us and financial uncertainty due to the pandemic still a reality for many in the region, it is more important than ever for households to be able to plan for what they might owe or have coming back to them,” said James Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. “Our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is an impactful service that we provide every year. This year’s blend of in-person and virtual options will allow us to meet this challenging moment and help thousands of local families work toward financial stability.”

In 2020, local United Way volunteers helped secure $2.8 million in tax refunds for 2,790 households in the area. Families who took advantage of the service received a total of $790,000 in EITC funds from the IRS. The average household income for customers was $23,652.

Find more information at https://www.yourunitedway.org/tax/.

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Business

Richmond EDA approves grant to ChopChop to create rate reduction program

During its January 28, 2021 meeting, the Economic Development Authority of the City of Richmond approved awarding a $120,000 grant to local restaurant delivery company ChopChop.  The grant will allow the company to create the Richmond Rate Reduction Program. 

Avatar

Published

on

During its January 28, 2021 meeting, the Economic Development Authority of the City of Richmond approved awarding a $120,000 grant to local restaurant delivery company ChopChop.  The grant will allow the company to create the Richmond Rate Reduction Program.

The Richmond Rate Reduction Program reduces delivery fees charged to local restaurants from 20% to 7% for a three-month period.  The company will also add 75-100 new restaurants, breweries, and distilleries to its delivery platform and create 150 new jobs (3-5 permanent employees and 145-148 contracted delivery jobs) during the three-month period.  The long-term objective is for ChopChop to keep its delivery fee charged to restaurants at 7 percent.

“My team and I are very excited for this opportunity to not only expand our offerings, but also allow restaurants to retain more profit when they need it most,” said ChopChop Owner and Operator Chris Chandler. “A 13 percent rate reduction will make a significant difference, especially now that meal delivery is so prevalent.”

“Richmonders have been supporting our restaurant industry diligently by ordering takeout and delivery since March,” said Mayor Stoney. “The next time you order through ChopChop, more of your bill will go directly to the restaurants you love, supporting employees and management alike.”

ChopChop currently has 120 employees on staff, 98 percent of which are contracted drivers who work 5 to 40 hours per week.  The company currently serves approximately 65 percent of the City of Richmond. The growth from this program will allow the company to serve the entire city.

“When the Small Business Support Grant Programs Cooperation Agreement was authorized, our goal was to help restaurants save on delivery costs,” said EDA Chairman John Molster, “The grant to ChopChop meets that goal and goes above and beyond to provide jobs and expand delivery capacity.”

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Richmond Weather