March 2020 threw us all in a tailspin. The world shut down and we were all frantically grasping at everything we could to survive and keep our sanity.
For me, a mother of 2 young kids and a business owner, this was stressful to say the least. My husband is also a business owner. As my husband worked from home in our upstairs office, my business partner and I went into strategy mode to keep our bakery afloat. My daughter was in preschool, my son was in first grade. I didn’t have the option to work from home. It became Lord of the Flies in our house.
We, like everyone else, had no idea what was ahead of us. All we knew was that we still had bills to pay and so we immediately stopped paying ourselves in case the bottom fell out. We had to cancel all our in-person classes and parties. We missed out on huge holiday profits…Easter, Mother’s Day. Weddings were cancelled. Any big events that brought in money disappeared overnight.
Luckily, being in the food industry we fell under the “essential” category and were able to continue selling, as long as we did it pick-up only. This was good news. Once the initial shock wore off weeks later, people were bound and determined to support their local small businesses. Custom cake orders were coming in and I figured out a way to have virtual classes. We applied for as many grants as possible.
We managed to survive. We were able to have the public back in our shop 3 months later. But we had new regulations we had to follow, and they cost us money. Masks, gloves, barriers, signs, mass amounts of sanitizer, temperature checks. Our classes were 1/3 of the size they used to be because of social distancing and people were still very afraid. We went from having every weekend booked with parties to not having any for months.
Moreover, my son was expected to do school online when he was just learning to read. He had no computer skills. My daughter just didn’t have school. Her preschool class met once a week to read a book. She just hung out all day. When summer break hit, my business was back open full time. I was able to have some help with the kids and things were starting to look up.
Fall of 2020 was still a mess. The kids went back to school, but it was 4 half-days and they had opposite schedules. We had to go back and forth to their school 4 times a day. Then in November covid cases spiked and the kids were back home full time again. Our numbers at the holidays were not great. I’ve never had downtime at Thanksgiving and Christmas like this before.
As we continued the shitshow into 2021, we were doing well; people were over it and signing up for classes. We were preparing for Easter, hoping that people would be ready to celebrate holidays again. But we got hit with another struggle. My business partner’s husband got covid, then she did, then I did. We had to shut the shop down again and missed Easter for a second year.
I got hit hard with covid. I have never been so sick in my life. I was close to having to go to the hospital but am so grateful I didn’t. My husband got it too but barely had symptoms, luckily, as someone had to still take care of our kids. They were just about to go back to school in-person but had to stay home another 2 weeks in quarantine. I still have issues to this day from that virus.
Weeks later, when we were able to open the bakery back up, we started preparing for Mother’s Day week. We offered beautiful flower cupcakes that were always a huge hit. I was barely bounced back from covid. I was still struggling a lot; walking made me dizzy.
A few days before the holiday weekend, I received a phone call from our property manager. Shelby Township had approached the owner of the property and offered to buy it, and she agreed. The good news, he told me, was that we could live out the remainder of our lease! AND his wife is a realtor who could help us find a new location. No biggie…pack our shit and find a new building. We had one year left in our lease.
This didn’t only affect us. Behind our business, in the same building, was Sabrosa Sangria. Next door was a house that had two rental units. Next to the house was an office building that a chiropractor rented. The entire strip of land was being sold to the township. We were all out. They also approached the pub on the other side of us, but the owner said no.
We had a big decision to make. We didn’t tell anyone except our spouses because we really didn’t know what we were going to do. We talked with our sangria friends A LOT about it all. We were very close with the owners, and we were all put in the same position…find a new place, build out again, or close our doors. My partner and I had a lot to digest and talk over with our husbands.
The conclusion we came to was that neither of us were willing to start all over again. We weren’t willing to take money from our families or our retirement. We already put money into our current location and built out a kitchen. We agreed that we were willing to look for other locations that had minimal buildout requirements. It had to have a commercial kitchen already there. It had to have space for us to hold our classes.
For months we looked. For months we waited for answers from the property owner as to when the city would close on the property. Mid-summer we decided we had to pick a point-of-no-return date. Our lease was up at the end of April and moving, a possible small buildout, inspections, all took a lot of time. We decided that if we didn’t find a place by the end of September, we would need to close our doors.
By the end of the summer, we had told a few people close to us. They were outraged and sad, just like us. After not getting answers for so long, I decided to reach out to our township officials. They were essentially shutting down 2 small businesses, ones that were right in front of their offices, ones that they had popped into for photo ops. The local news was always in our shop interviewing us, interviewing my students during classes and camps. They should care, right?
I sent an email to every single member of the Shelby Township Board of Trustees, including the Supervisor. Out of seven, only one responded to me. There was no sorrow, no empathy, no support…it was simply to give me the township’s lawyer information so I could talk to him. Did I reach out to him? Damn straight. And honestly, he wasn’t very sympathetic either. After our second or third phone conversation, he warmed up a bit, but I really got nothing out of it.
At one point in early fall, a few Trustees were walking around the property. Workers came and spray painted all over the sidewalk. They spent half a day drilling outside our kitchen window. Not once…NOT ONCE…did any of them pop in to talk to us. City inspectors came and disrupted our work. At one point they sent over a volunteer of the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) to see if he could help us find a new spot (he was a realtor). That poor man got an earful from me, and I don’t regret a thing.
I was told that the city would close within 45 days, and we may or may not have the option to renew our lease. We would pay the township rent once ownership was transferred. It didn’t change the fact that we had no where to go after another lease was up. We would just be buying time to most likely just close. And so, we decided that Shelby Township was not going to get a damn cent from us. I gave a notice to our property managers that our last day in the building would be November 30th. They didn’t give us a hard time for breaking our lease early. They were wonderful.
We made the announcement to our friends and family. We then made the heartbreaking announcement to our loyal customers. On October 30th we had our last class and closed our doors to walk-ins. We started liquidating. Our sangria friends behind us did the same and were to be done at the end of December.
On November 30th, 2021, we left our keys and closed the shop.
I kept telling everyone I was fine. I kept telling myself I was fine. But I wasn’t. I was devastated and felt lost and even after months of locking the doors I was still dealing with the shutdown. The sadness took awhile to sink in and catch up to me.
I spent the next 5 months closing the admin part of the business down. I spent 3 months fighting with Comcast. I spent months getting everything ready for our final tax season. And when it was all finally done, when I could finally close our books, I dissolved the business I had put so many years of my life and soul into. And after that, I had no idea what to do.
The universe has a way of hurting us for the betterment of our future sometimes. My husband said I should take the summer off and relax; work out my next step in the fall. I can’t sit idle. I put all my energy and focus allotted for the bakery into my female entrepreneur community, Boss Evolution. This is my happy place. I’ve had big plans for this business for years but couldn’t devote a lot of time to it. Now I could.
I did spend a lot of time with my kids over the summer. We had great adventures, and I did force myself to work minimally.
In May, I opened an online home bakery, E. Louise. I have come full circle. The career that had been up front in my life for nearly a decade has now become my background business. I decided to put my heart and focus into Boss Evolution this fall and I’ve never been happier. I have freedom again to focus on what I want. I don’t have store hours that I’m locked into. If one of my kids is sick, I simply go pick them up without having to worry about the shop being covered.
I also teamed up with Canetha Amour-Porter, founder of Amour Women, and started a podcast. We focus on notable women who may not get the attention they deserve. Doing this project has been amazing and I couldn’t imagine a better person to do it with. It’s called The Queens of F-ing Everything…check it out.
My passion has shifted since starting BE; I love creating a support system and community for women in small business. When I had to close the bakery, they were my lifelines. They understood and helped me through. And so you see when someone slams a door in your face, you can turn around and open a different one. One that’s a little brighter inside. And sometimes you give them the finger through that closed door, and that’s okay too.
Thanks for joining me on this journey, friends. It definitely isn’t ending here! One thing I’ve learned in my decade of being an entrepreneur is that there really is no such thing as failure. There’s just learning opportunities. It’s alright to fall on your face every now and then…just make sure to pick yourself up, refocus, and look forward.
From this point forward you can expect weekly business advise, resources, and updates. If you’re interested in learning more about BE, feel free to explore my website and reach out to me!