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Starting from scratch: How Unrefined Bakery has fared during the pandemic

This mom-daughter duo had to be fluid as local and statewide mandates changed around them.
Credit: Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson – Dallas Business Journal

DALLAS — Unrefined Bakery, which Taylor Nicholson runs with her mother, Anne Hoyt, has eight locations across North Texas including a production facility, which created a patchwork of mandates and proclamations that needed to be followed.

Nicholson spent an entire day in early May driving to all the locations and handing out masks to her nearly 80 employees.

“It’s a little bit madness,” Nicholson said. “The fact that they can roll up some sort of like proclamation mandate that with so little (time to prepare) … It’s been interesting rolling with the punches. You certainly can’t make plans.”

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Sales dropped about 40 percent across all stores in April, Nicholson said, despite having the normally busy Easter holiday. Although it is hard for the company to plan ahead, Unrefined Bakery was prepared for the stay-at-home orders and being deemed an essential business.

The company launched curbside pickup mid-March in order to pivot for what was to come. That entailed creating a specific ordering platform for retail locations and teaching the staff the process.

In addition to curbside pickup, the company offered delivery popups, posting to social media the location they would be in and allowing the bakery’s suburban customers to place orders without having to pay for shipping.

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“Each week, we’re going to five different towns in DFW where we don’t actually have a storefront,” Nicholson said. “And those have been very successful as well. It allows our products to reach people who don’t have quick access to our products and that have a barrier in terms of paying for shipping.”

Since their baked good are produced with those who have dietary restrictions in mind, items like their pizza doughs, bread, muffins and baking mixes are important when they can’t be found on grocery shelves.

Unrefined’s suburban locations have taken the hardest hits, Nicholson said.

“It seems like my suburb stores — my Rockwall stores, my Frisco stores, that are truly not in the heart of Dallas or Fort Worth where my other stores are — those have been the most greatly affected," she said. "I’ve seen the most dramatic decrease in those stores.”

The bakeries did receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan from Veritex Community Bank to cover some of the payroll expenses, but it came down to the wire. The approval for their loan came in at about 4:40 p.m. the day before the first round of funding ran out.

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Since the shelter-in-place has been eased by the governor, they haven’t changed their processes but sales have picked up slightly, according to Nicholson.

“It’s now no longer just attributed to Mother’s Day,” she said. “We had a good Mother’s Day weekend, for sure. A few stores even did as well as last year which has meant a lot in this current state. Generally, we would do much better than the previous year but the fact that we even did close to last year at some stores was positive.”

While Unrefined Bakery locations haven’t reopened at a 25 percent capacity, Nicholson said they may start considering allowing more people into their shops as restrictions are eased more.

“We might put out a table at each of our stores,” Nicholson said. “Our stores that have tables only have four to five tables. So the 25 percent (capacity limits), we felt like that was a little bit too close for comfort. At 50 percent, I think we feel comfortable to easily put out one table on our stores that have tables.”

While Nicholson said she’s happy that business is picking up, it’s still not business as usual.

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“The problem right now is that it’s really hard to run your business,” she said. “It’s so much more taxing on my staff. They’re working so much harder — in terms of customer experience, it’s just totally different. We’re having to get everything for all the customers rather than them helping themselves to the freezers because we’re trying to eliminate customers touching anything, which is great for safety. But the whole process is much more laborious and time intensive for my staff. And they’re working so much harder for less revenue.”

Note: This story is part of the Dallas Business Journal’s Small Business Big Mission project. Starting in March, the local business-to-business newspaper followed nearly a dozen small businesses to track the way they coped, pushed and pivoted during the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. For information about local, state and federal aid, visit the Business Journal’s Small Business Resource Guide.