JeannieBird Baking Company celebrated its sixth birthday on Black Friday last year and owner Bernie Vogel said the community’s support has kept the business alive and well in the aftermath of tragedy, and amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vogel co-owned the downtown Westminster bakery and cafe with his wife, Jeannie, who died in a car crash in February 2016. Prior to opening the brick-and-mortar shop at 42 W. Main St. in the fall of 2014, the Vogels sold pastries at the Westminster Farmers Market to build their brand.
Bernie Vogel said the bakery’s presence at the farmers market is still there and this summer will be the business’s 12th year at the market.
“We’re truly, truly grateful that this community is as kind and generous as it has been,” Vogel said. “Lord knows we’ve been through the wringer and there were a couple of times where it was a tough decision, but we decided to stay the course.
“There’s no place else on the planet that I’ll ever live. This is home.”
When the pandemic hit last March, Vogel closed the bakery at the end of the month to align with Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide guidelines. He adopted a carry-out and shelter-in-place model of service called “Operation Farmer’s Market,” similar to how he does business at the farmers market. Bakery staff package items in pastry boxes or plastic bags and line them up on the countertops for people to purchase.
“This model has been very, very successful for us,” Vogel said. “You take your products, you package them, put them on the table and people grab what they want, we ring them up and away they go … our customers have been very, very supportive and receptive, so we’re still doing that at this point.”
Vogel said he will continue to operate on a carry-out basis until it is safer for people to gather in close proximity. The dining area inside the cafe boasts community tables that seat anywhere from six to 12 people and Vogel said in-house dining isn’t possible just yet, but he intends to utilize outdoor dining space as the weather improves.
Breakfast sandwiches are one of JeannieBird’s largest selling items, Vogel said, but he removed them from the menu from May to November because food was not being prepared to order. His staff was limited and the bakery was only open two days a week.
The bakery is now open four days a week and the breakfast sandwiches have returned, but the menu is streamlined with limited options. The bakery’s hours of operation were shortened from 10 hours a day, five days a week to 20 hours a week, which caused a slight decrease in revenue and sales.
“I’m hoping that we can still see the greater good as we get more people vaccinated and that we are just patient enough to see the project to the end,” Vogel said. “As a bakery, we operate as a family and the young people that work for me are like family. We make decisions together and I’m not going to put anybody in a position that they don’t feel comfortable in.
“We’re going to move together as a family like we’ve done this whole pandemic.”
Jennifer Bertucco owns and operates Bertucco’s Bakery in Hampstead and said she limits the number of people permitted in the bakery to three at any given time. Production-wise, Bertucco’s lost a lot of wedding cake inventory because of the amount of people who postponed or canceled their weddings.
People who continued to order cakes scaled back their orders to feed smaller groups of people and Bertucco’s packaged individual desserts for people to meet those needs as well.
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“We also do a lot of work for restaurants so that was scaled back as well,” Bertucco said. “Once restaurants kind of changed up how they were doing things, they started to individually package desserts and that picked up a little bit for them, which in turn picked things up for us.
“It’s kind of a trickle down effect.”
Bertucco said she was able to retain her employees during the pandemic and has seen an uptick in business now that spring has arrived.
“It almost has that feeling in the air of people being excited about things hopefully getting better,” Bertucco said. “My numbers are increasing because parties are allowed to be a little bit bigger, so they’re able to get a little bit bigger of a cake.”
Bertucco’s will celebrate its fifth anniversary this August and, like JeannieBird Baking Company, maintaining that loyalty and trust from the community is enough to keep their businesses booming.
“It’s basically rebuilding trust in our neighbors, trust in humanity, and trust in the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Vogel said. “I just think it’s going to take time and I think the number of people that call and/or ask when they come in when we’re going to start seating people is a good indication.
“Once we reopen, I would expect that business to come right to the front door.”