Grain Artisan Baker Does Her Part Amidst ‘A New Normal’
COVID-19 shut down small businesses across the country. But what saved Lauren Sophia Anderson's Grain Artisan Bakery was her bread and butter — online preorder pickups. This fierce, farm-to-table baker dug into the new normal, for loyal #cakeandpastry fans and #EarthDay everyday. Welcome Magazine checked in.
“A hundred percent of the produce we’ve been buying for galettes and pot pies (and other pastries), we are sourcing directly from local farmers — we always do this, but right now it’s more important than ever.”
COVID-19 shut down a ton of small businesses across the country. But not Grain Artisan Bakery. Most of Lauren Sophia Anderson’s roaming farm-to-bakery operates through online orders and pickups. Despite a run on bakery products and farmers market/festival/boutique popup closings, she found a way to make this new normal work, for her loyal customers. Welcome Magazine checked in.
This interview took place on Sunday, April 19, 2020.
Before she even talked about her own business, Anderson wanted to acknowledge the many people in the frontlines during this crisis.
“I just wanted to start off this virtual interview saying thank you. Thank you to the healthcare workers. Thank you to the first responders. Thank you to the grocery store workers. Thank you to the essential workers. Thank you to the community — here and around the country — who have rallied to support and hold up their small businesses. Thank you.
These are unprecedented times. There is so much uncertainty. So much financial strain and struggle. But through it all, if you are nonessential, I hope you have been able to take this (involuntary) time off to pause, evaluate, look around you, and realize just how much of our lives is nonessential, and what is essential. I hope this crisis provides us with a new normal.
A new normal to support small businesses above large corporations. A new normal to buy produce and meat from your local farmers instead of chain grocers. A new normal to spend more time with your loved ones. A new normal to pull out puzzles and card games. A new normal to plant and nourish a garden. A new normal to sit and read a book for leisure. A new normal to drastically reduce our carbon footprint. A new normal.”
How have you adapted? We were luckily in a very unique position, in that we already have a solid, tried and tested pre-order routine system down from our holiday style pre-orders (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, etc.). We also already did “farmers markets holds,” where we allowed customers to “hold” items at markets or pick-ups via a Google form, that we then would fill and bill at the beginning of market. So we were kind of set up for success to launch weekly and twice-weekly pre-orders.
We pivoted from doing only market style items (think cake slices, cookies, brownies, etc) — and started offering bake-at-home items. Bake-at-home items meant longer shelf life (you could bake them when you want to eat them), you could have more for the fridge or freezer (you don’t have to wait a week to get more), you could involve the kiddos, and they’re fresh out of the oven! Who doesn’t want fresh, hot cinnamon rolls? We started with our bake-at-home cinnamon roll packs, and those have went over crazy well!
Six of our gluten-free vegan cinnamon rolls with baking instructions, and a tub of vegan cream cheese frosting. Then we added bake-at-home galettes — savory options to start, until this last week, where we were able to add rhubarb. Then we added bake-at-home cookie dough chubs and bake-at-home dry cake mixes. And then, the best item we’ve launched to date possibly, bake-at-home pot pies. Our signature flaky pie dough, filled with the perfect blend of hearty filling.
Our chicken & veggie pot pie is by far the best I’ve ever had, and we have customers returning to buy multiple! We just launched our beef & mushroom, which is loaded with local mushrooms from Sno-Valley Mushrooms. A hundred percent of the produce we’ve been buying for galettes and pot pies (and other pastries), we are sourcing directly from local farmers — we always do this, but right now, it’s more important than ever.
What’s the response been? Oh man, the response has been incredible. I am tearing up (again) thinking about the last five weeks. Has it been six weeks already? Man. Ya know, the first popup we had during this crisis was back at The Chic Boatique’s Snohomish location, March 14th.
We hadn’t jumped on the pre-order boat yet, and seeing as we could still do a physical popup at that point, we did holds like we would for the Snohomish Farmers Market, and brought enough to have extra for the customers in line who didn’t place a hold request. I knew I was in for a day and had something going when I opened up and printed 27 hold forms. But I was blown away when, as we were working as fast as we could to fill them, I asked the people in line who hadn’t placed a hold, and everyone’s hands went up.
Thirty-plus people (and growing) waiting in line, in addition to 27 holds. Tears started to roll, of gratitude, of relief, of humbleness, of strength, and I very quickly had to pull myself together and get these 40 or more people out of Jenn’s shop, haha. Ever since that day, we moved to pre-order only, always offering Bothell and Seattle pick-up spots, and Snohomish as a third when we can. We’ve had anywhere from 25-60 preorders for each round, and it has been incredible.
The first day, we did market-style pre-orders, in addition to bake-at-home items, (we hadn’t done cake slices in two or so weeks); we had 60-something pre-orders between the two styles. It was crazy! Even for Easter, with only one day of open pre-ordering (I wasn’t going to offer Easter pre-orders, but caved to my loyal and loving customers), and only one thing offered — those GF V cinnamon roll bake-at-home packs — we had over 30 packs ordered!
Now, this may seem incredible and like we are resuming our normal business numbers, but keep in mind we had over $4k in event cancellations in March alone, and to date, we have had 10 weddings reschedule for 2021 that are no longer part of our 2020 revenue, with more in the wings. You also have to keep in mind that our year-‘round farmers markets got shut down the second weekend of March, and ours still have yet to reopen, and even when they do, and when seasonal markets start, they will look very different.
So farmers markets — what’s the deal there? Ugh. That’s my current response! As many of our Grain Community know, Grain is heavily reliant on farmers markets; we’re a pretty seasonal business, 65 percent or more of our sales come during May-August. We are at Capitol Hill Farmers Market year-‘round, and seasonally we are always at Snohomish Farmers Market every year, and rotate our other markets — this year, Bellevue Farmers Market, Bothell Friday Farmers Market (our first year), and Magnolia Farmers Market.
When the COVID crisis hit, the state (Gov. Inslee) deemed farmers markets essential. That has never been in question. The health departments agreed, and set varying (per county), but cohesively very strict guidelines and protocols in place for markets. Stricter than any grocery store you’ve been in, that’s for sure.
The Seattle markets though — those have been a battle. Back in March, they closed temporarily, and they were going to reopen, but the Mayor of Seattle revoked. Then they were going to reopen again Easter weekend, and had actually communicated this to vendors and the public, because they got all of the okays, and had everything approved by the State, County, County Health Department, and City, and then the Seattle Mayor revoked a second time. After much fight from the market boards in the last five-seven days, the Seattle Mayor has finally allowed two of the four year-‘round markets to reopen — one managed by NFM and one managed by SFMA — the weekend of April 18 and 19 under a trial basis. And only 30 vendors are allowed at each. Capitol Hill, my year-‘round market, is not one of them. Ballard (run by SFMA) and University District (run by NFM) are the only two.
There are ridiculous standards in place (yes, some are needed, but farmers markets are being held to five times stricter standards than grocery stores, which is backwards; they’re safer/healthier than a grocery store). If these two markets get 100 percent markings this weekend by the health department, the other two year-‘round markets can reopen. Regardless of the Seattle farmers market issues, there is the issue that when Gov. Inslee deemed them essential, he put limits on which vendors were deemed essential, and even for my non-Seattle, seasonal markets that reopen in May and June, we will see a decrease of 30-40 percent of vendors until that restriction is limited.
Sarah Dylan Jensen, our market manager for Snohomish, Stanwood, and the new Lake Stevens farmers markets, has been instrumental in advocating for farmers market vendors, especially the floriculture vendors. She is giving a voice to so many of our fellow Snohomish vendors! [Snohomish Farmers Market‘s opening May 7 at Stocker Farms, a temporary location this year, with stringent new rules for social distancing and safety.]
We aren’t sure what to expect this season — we are concerned about sales, foot traffic, and people’s financial ability to spend money right now. We are rallying for our community though, and doing everything we can to promote the markets to make them successful. Again, we hope that farmers markets become the new norm in place of grocery store shopping. Support local, support small!
We heard you’re hiring. Is that true? Yes! Oh my gosh, yes! I, Lauren, am in a very odd situation this year, going into peak season. As many of our Grain Community know, I have a six-year-old kiddo, Kaiden. He normally attends a Montessori school close to our home, but with everyone else in the state, we are online learning through the remainder of the school year (through mid-June). The big caveat, no summer school. So, we are moving my schedule around and switching the team portion of the business model — and we are now looking to build a truly great, dependable, driven team.
We are hiring at least two farmers market staff, each market shift will be around seven-nine hours, and you must be 18+ with a valid driver’s license and insurance (shifts start and end in Seattle at the kitchen). We are also still accepting applications for one or two baking positions. Both market and baking positions start at $16/hr DOE, and include some fun freebies! Applications can be found here on our website under Careers. We need market staff fast (like the beginning of May), so please send any qualified, respectable, kind, funny, driven candidates you know our way!
Have you done anything fun for the business during the crisis? Any projects that have been sitting on the back burner? We finally launched our blog. It’s been a long, long time coming, and I have some really amazing topics we’re going to cover. We have several posts up already, but we’ll be posting more of this (and more!):
- interviews with local farmers, producers, and artisans
- reviews of meal delivery services
- Lauren’s favorite sustainable, eco-friendly products
- ins and outs of small business, focusing on food business, to educate the community
- voting with your dollar — supporting small
- blogging past and upcoming weddings
- recipes (both savory and sweet)
Do you have online gift cards or gift certificates? Yes! We finally launched online gift cards in March; I guess it takes a crisis like COVID for us to finally get around to it, haha.
Gift cards are a great way to support your favorite local businesses, especially with the scarcity of funding and grants for truly small, small businesses, because it helps us “keep the lights on” — that upfront money helps pay the overhead of the business — rent, insurance, utilities, CRM, accountant, bookkeeper, numerous software subscriptions, numerous licenses, etc., as well as pay payroll.
It’s easy enough on the business to use that gift card later, when we’re back in full business, because we can take the loss then. So if you can, support small businesses with gift cards! It’s also a great way to support them if you’re high-risk and don’t want to risk going out to pick up pre-order items. You can purchase a gift card for Grain here.
How can people support you? We’d prefer if our customers — new and old — supported us like they normally would: buy cake! Or pot pies, galettes, cookies, brownies, whatever your heart (or stomach) desires!
We are still taking custom orders (you may need to be a bit flexible due to ingredient shortages), still booking weddings (we’re doing tasting boxes to go and virtual phone consultations), and have a plethora of pre-orders! Farmers markets are also opening back up here shortly — but keep in mind, we will be pre-order only for 90 percent of our farmers markets sales! So please sign up for our email newsletter to get the pre-order links for the various markets every week (you can sign up by going to our website, and scrolling to the bottom of any page you’re on). But, if you want to support us further, gift cards and merchandise are available on our website. If you are unable to support Grain (or any of your favorite small businesses) financially, that is okay!
These are unprecedented times (at least in our generation), and we totally understand the bank account may be tight. There are things you can do to help us and other businesses that don’t require a penny, and help us out just as much as buying. Leave a five-star review if you haven’t left one in the last six months.
You can review Facebook here and Google (just google Grain Artisan Bakery, and leave a review). Pro tip: if businesses have both accounts, copy/paste your response on both platforms! Reviewing on both platforms makes double the impact.
If you’re on social media, engage! Liking is great, sharing is better, commenting is the best! Have a conversation! Sign up for email newsletters. Tell your friends and family. Refer business our/their way. Even sending a simple email, DM, or snail mail note expressing your support, appreciation, or encouragement will brighten that small business owner’s face for longer than you can imagine! We just need to feel the support of our (Grain) Community — and it doesn’t necessarily require your dollars.