Baker Dude struggles, rises to save his business in COVID Era

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Orran Booher thought that having to fighting for his baked goods business and cafe was behind him, but then 2020 came. A GoFundMe Hail Mary last year was a success, but the relief was short-lived amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s when the economic downturn for most businesses landed at Booher’s feet too, and his Baker Dude challenges arose anew.

“We were really beginning to make some head way with catering and such, and then the pandemic hit,” Booher told Project Q. “Now optimism became uncertainty. I began to reduce hours in the beginning of March to try to minimize the impact of reduced sales and then the citywide lockdown hit.”

Quarantine meant furloughs for the whole staff and a “fire sale” of the remaining baked goods and ingredients sitting in the store on the Beltline in Grant Park, Booher said. Some of that food even went to the staff for their own cupboards, and luckily, unemployment benefits kicked in fast for those employees.

At home, the future became uncertain for Booher, his husband Dave and their first-grade twins, he said.

“Although his office allowed him to work remotely, we still had to make sure that our twins were able to continue with remote learning and assignments,” he said. “We didn’t know how all this would work and what would be the fate of the bakery.”

As many LGBTQ business owners in Atlanta have shown in recent months, Booher wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Having started in 2015 as an e-commerce site for cupcakes in his home kitchen before opening his storefront, Baker Dude went back online in April with next-day pickups and deliveries.

“I would be the only one making all the orders, and so I decided that all orders would be for next day,” he said. “I launched Facebook ads and posted on social media that we were still open for online orders. The orders started trickling in, and then began flowing in for birthday cakes.”

About those Cakes

Being one of just a handful of bakeries to remain serving at first, one that delivered, and one that catered to special orders like vegan and gluten-free items, April revenues beat March.

“Cakes saved the day,” Booher said. “Folks far and wide, local and out-of-state discovered Baker Dude and fell in love with us and our cakes. By May, I had to begin bringing staff back to help as the one-man show was not sustainable.”

To keep the business going, Booher “applied for every kind of assistance we could get, from local and federal, and was able to land a few of them,” he remembered.

“Thankfully, Dave has a CPA background and is the one that handles our accounting, so we had all that information readily available,” he said. “I thought to myself how difficult it must be for other small businesses to apply that don’t have that support or access to someone that can help them prepare these applications…. The system needs to make funds more accessible for small businesses without them getting tangled up in all the red tape.”

The dining room remains closed at the retail location, but walk-in service for takeout resumed in June. First it was weekends only, but as orders increased, Baker Dude expanded walk-in takeout to seven days a week.

“We have tweaked our model to one that can be sustained in pandemic times,” Booher said. “We’ve removed all self-service items and everything is behind the counter now.”

‘Pivot to Survive’

Other changes include masks and gloves worn by staff throughout the food handling and packing process, hand sanitizing stations and “rules of engagement for our customers,” he added. Only one person or group at a time can be in the store.

To enhance social distancing protocols, online ordering remains, as well as third-party delivery app orders, and now, a Baker Dude mobile app that allows customers to order for in-store or curbside pickup.

“The changes we’ve made have been welcomed, and folks at the end of the day understand that we are doing our best to protect everyone and not merely inconvenience them,” Booher said. “Most patrons are just very happy that we have been able to weather the storm and stay open.”

“They offer words of encouragement and repeat business,” he added. “They even have refused discounts and donated to our weekly lunch box program that feeds frontline workers and have been our cheerleaders during this time.”

Times can still be tough, but learning to pivot as a business owner has not been without its lessons and blessings, according to Booher.

“Until we can live in a COVID-free world, we must learn new ways of doing business and be able to pivot to survive in these times,” he said. “For us, 2020 helped us to refocus our business and gain clarity on how we should proceed. We’ve set some goals and we need to see them through.”

Those goals include opening a second location in a food hall later this year, and Booher is about to launch his first retail product, Baker-Doodles. Delicious details to come.

Booher also offered a word directly to his LGBTQ customers and the broader community.

“To my LGBTQ family and the allies that support our community, thank you for your love and support,” he said. “It takes a village, and you’ve been a big fan from day one. We are forever grateful. Continue being a symbol of love, hope and happiness.”

Baker Dude is open for business at 1039 Grant Street SE, Ste B18. Order online at bakerdude.com, and look for them in your app store and on your favorite delivery service.

Photo courtesy Orran Booher

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