ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The ink had barely dried on the LLC paperwork for Kindred Bread Co before Emily McLaughlin found her world -- and business -- turned upside down. McLaughlin officially opened her aspiring cottage bakery on Feb. 18, 2020, hoping to turn her lifelong passion for baking into a viable side gig. After all, she had a fall wedding to pay for.
Through word-of-mouth advertising and social media promotion, McLaughlin began raking in orders for 10-15 sourdough boules and bagels by the dozen per week.
Two weeks later, COVID-19, the pandemic sweeping the nation, was officially in the DMV, with the first positive cases reported in Maryland on March 6. McLaughlin, who works full-time for a sustainability non-profit, found herself working from home, with even more time to bake, as the spread of coronavirus sidelined nearly all office work across the region.
While the Alexandria-based business owner said she feels fortunate to have the stability of her full-time income, she's witnessing first-hand the devastating economic effects coronavirus is having on those who rely solely on small business profits, particularly those connected to the restaurant industry. Her fiancée, Ryan Pierce, founded a 1,000-square-foot indoor, hydroponic farm in 2016, called Fresh Impact Farms, selling boutique culinary herbs and edible flowers to some of D.C.'s top chefs. From nepitella to oxalis triangularis leaves and szechuan buttons, Pierce grew around 40 rare crops at a time for the white tablecloth restaurants of the city.
He was just beginning to hit his stride, even feeling confident enough in business growth to cut his first paycheck in February. And then D.C., Virginia and Maryland shuttered all non-essential businesses.
"Overnight, my entire business disappeared," Pierce said. "I went from having 40 restaurant customers and sizable sales, to zero restaurant customers and $0 in sales."
Pierce said he saw two options for himself: curl up in a ball and wonder why this had happened to him, or actively choose to fight and see an opportunity to refocus.
"I have employees that I want to take care of, and I wasn’t going to just walk away from them," Pierce said. "I made the decision to sell to consumers, which is a completely different market."
In addition to the edible succulents and bushels of wrinkle krinkle cress previously only made available to chefs, Pierce now sells 33 fresh products, ranging from $5 micro cilantro to a $20 farm sampler pack. He converted roughly 50% of his production space in North Arlington to grow new crops, such as leafy greens and lettuces.
Rather than allocating her bread bucks towards a wedding dress, McLaughlin is pouring the proceeds she brings in from Kindred Bread straight back into her fiancée's business.
"Watching him have to pivot in a matter of hours on a business that he’s been pouring his entire heart into for the last few years was devastating," McLaughlin said. "He's a very analytically-minded guy, and he essentially crammed a year-and-a-half of preparation into a few days."
McLaughlin said she's already seen her orders double in about 10 days, and believes Instagram cross-promotion between Fresh Impact Farms and Kindred Bread will be crucial to success for both operations. Pierce also started a GoFundMe page, with the goal of raising $25,000, to give the farm an additional six weeks of operation; it's currently raised a little more than $6,000.
"Bread to me was already about community and relationships, so to see people coming together like this, I hope it's something that sticks, regardless of if we're weathering a pandemic," McLaughlin said.
Currently, McLaughlin is taking orders for country levain boules ($6), roasted garlic boules ($7), chocolate chip boules ($7), plain, sesame and everything bagels ($16/dozen), sourdough dinner rolls ($12/dozen) and sourdough cookies ($10/dozen) through her website or Instagram.
Both businesses are offering no-contact deliveries to Arlington, Alexandria and D.C. on Tuesdays and Fairfax County on Thursdays, or customers can arrange no-contact pick-ups at the farm (in Arlington) or their home in Alexandria any day of the week.
"We look forward to growing for restaurants again, as they are our family," Pierce said. "But in the meantime, we'll gladly feed our neighbors."