On March 22, Carolina Molea had to lay off her workers and shut the doors to her French-inspired vegan bakery in North Beach. Bills had been piling up as her revenue dropped significantly due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and she couldn't afford to keep going. Overwhelmed, she posted a message on Instagram that she was ceasing operations and didn't know when or whether she would be able to reopen.
"I couldn't stand the thought of staying home and away from the bakery," Molea says. "Baking is my life, and I had invested everything I had in the business."
The next day, Adam Grohs, a regular customer, called her with a potential solution.
"I saw her post, and it kind of weighed on me," says Grohs, an entrepreneur and e-commerce expert. "God forbid all our favorite local spots have to shut down, and we come out of this with chain restaurants and box retail. That's not the world I want to live in."
Keep Small Strong. The group of Individuals and global companies in the e-commerce and consulting landscape joined forces to design and implement digital storefronts and delivery systems to help businesses like Molea's stand on their feet.
"I was skeptical at first because many people were contacting me saying they wanted to help when actually they wanted to sell me something," Molea says. "We already had an online store in the works, but I had no idea how to start with delivery."
After a few days, RetailConnect, a solutions and consulting service, stepped in with a labeling and ship-from-store system for L'Artisane. Shopify helped set up the bakery's online retail presence.
Original recipes were tweaked to create shelf-stable products, but Molea assures that flavors weren't compromised. "Since they have no dairy, vegan products already have the advantage of naturally lasting longer," she says.
The Colombian baker said she never thought of national exposure as a viable alternative, but the delivery system is generating 50 percent more revenue than her original model. Molea has been able to bring back her eight former employees and hired two additional people to provide local delivery. L'Artisane is also benefitting from lower costs on UPS shipping rates and, for the past two weeks, has been open for pickup, with a menu of pastries including pain au chocolat ($5), cruffin ($5.25), and cakes ($7.75). Local customers can also take out beefless stew and potato-chickpea empanadas ($4.50 each) and savory croissant selections like grilled vegan cheddar cheese ($9.95) and Beyond Burger with vegan cheese and sriracha aioli ($14.75).
"I feel blessed that we could pivot and had people to support us like this," Molea says. "Regardless of what happens, we will keep the online delivery. I never thought the business could be this big, and we might have to expand to a larger location to keep up with the demand."
Grohs says that Keep Small Strong is on helping dozens more small shops set up an online presence. Small business owners can apply for assistance through the program's website, and customers can fill out an online referral form for businesses that are being forced out of their local communities during the health crisis.
"People should approach this with a mindset of how could I let favorite place disappear," he said. "We have the means to help them now and in the next chapter when businesses go back to their traditional footprint. We can offer free assistance in adjusting their model and embracing digital and e-commerce as part of their daily operations."
L'Artisane Bakery. 7423 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; lartisanebakery.com. Monday through Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.