Brent Hughes knows the smells, rhythms, and late-night mornings of a bakery.
But despite a childhood spinning in mixing bowls, starting his own bakery in the face of a pandemic has sparked uncertainty.
“The hardest part of owning your own business is looking at a crystal ball, and right now it’s snowing a blizzard in there. “
It comes as Waikato business leaders urge the public to continue supporting local businesses as the region readjusts to life below Alert Level 3.
MARK TAYLOR / STUFF
Gumdrops owner Donna Williams went through personal tragedy and the uncertainty of Covid-19 to start her business, which is dedicated to creating nostalgic kiwi desserts.
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It’s been eight months since Hughes and his wife Karen opened The Grumpy Baker on Victoria St in central Hamilton in January 2021.
The bakery, which offers traditional European breads, as well as kiwi slices and classic cookies, has already developed a popular following, especially for homemade donuts and pretzels.
But the period leading up to the opening meant 19-hour months a day, on top of full-time work, involving demolitions, spreadsheets, audit forms, and procurement equipment.
Cooking is exhausting, requiring starts at 2 a.m. and long hours in the evening.
“I wouldn’t if I didn’t like it, we’re passionate about what we do and hopefully make products people really love.”
Hughes comes from a family of bakers, his parents owned a bakery, and he still uses some of his grandfather’s recipes in store.
He grew up in a time that was cutthroat for small businesses – when bakeries and butcher shops were starting to be swallowed up by big supermarket players, he said.
He wants to see again a community filled with local specialty businesses, streets with their own cheese makers, fishmongers and sausage makers.
“People in Switzerland, Germany and France love their local bakeries. You will see them there two or three times a day. If it is in their village, they will have their breakfast and lunch and when they get home in the evening, they will stop again for dinner.
Despite the tough times, the reward comes from getting to know the names of repeat customers, their favorite cookies, and accepting their suggestions for a Kiev chicken pie.
“You give something back to the community, something a little different.
“And some of the products we use here bring back childhood memories, and that smell that you never lose.”
Gumdrops Desserts co-owner Donna Williams is also determined to deliver that sense of nostalgia.
Hearing a customer take a bite of bread and butter pudding and say, “ah, that’s exactly how my grandmother did it” is one of her favorite parts of her job.
Williams started his business in August 2020, after suffering a significant personal tragedy.
Her mother died of cancer in October 2019, then following the Covid-19 epidemic, she was fired from her job as a flight attendant. And in June 2020, her husband died of kidney failure – the night he signed the lease for his shop.
At the time, she wanted to “throw herself in her bed”.
“It was a very painful time, sometimes I painted the wall crying. But I had to get up and go on, and I did.
Now rows of colorful cheesecakes line the shelves and Williams has been able to hire up to 17 staff, up from 3.
She is in the process of moving on from her business and potentially opening another store in Hamilton.
Like The Grumpy Baker, Gumdrops is also a family business.
Williams’ business partners are her two grown children, including her daughter Stevie Tkachuk, who is in charge of the kitchen.
“Starting this business has definitely been an act of faith and an act of faith in myself.
Grumpy Baker and Gumdrops desserts have adjusted to alert level 3 sales. Staff at both stores are wearing masks, have set up online sales, and no customers will walk through the door as all orders are placed remotely.
Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Don Good said small family businesses were vulnerable to shocks from Covid-19.
About 95% of Waikato’s businesses were family-owned, Good said.
“Families tend to be very resilient, but small businesses will struggle, they have seen their costs rise and they will be reluctant to pass them on. “
The first three years were tough as business owners were still trying to grow their market and customer base and deal with established competitors.
While click and collect was a savior for some businesses, consumers still place a high value on face-to-face contact.
Good said Covid-19 has created “really big hurdles” for small businesses.
“Right now the best thing people can do is buy local, and that will only add a strain to Waikato’s economy.”
Hamilton Central Business Association chief executive Vanessa Williams said 54 new businesses opened in Hamilton’s central business district in the past year, from June 2020 to July 2021. This included 17 hotel companies. and 11 retail businesses, 14 in professional services, three creative businesses and nine in health. and beauty.
“I sincerely believe that it is these local businesses that help shape the community and the fabric of the city.
“It’s the personalization, that individuality that creates the flavor of our CBD. “
There has been an increase in support for businesses emerging from the 2020 Alert Level 4 lockdown, and Williams was urging people to increase it again.
“This is how we keep these businesses alive.