Inside The Gingered Peach: Staying Afloat Amidst Shutdown

The Gingered Peach bakery, fondly referred to as "GP," is beloved by Lawrenceville students, parents, and faculty alike.

The Gingered Peach bakery, fondly referred to as "GP," is beloved by Lawrenceville students, parents, and faculty alike. Since its founding in 2011, the bakery has become an all-time favorite among members of the Lawrenceville community. From freshly baked almond croissants to warm blueberry scones, most Lawrentians have experienced the all-too-familiar excitement of indulging in a classic baked good from GP. Not to mention, the cozy ambiance and welcoming staff make the experience of visiting the bakery all the more enjoyable. Whether you need a quiet place to study, a pick-me-up during finals week, or something to satisfy your sweet tooth, you can count on GP to come to the rescue.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, though, many small businesses, including GP, have been forced to shut their doors. Owner Joanne Canady-Brown created five data-driven phases to prepare for percentage cuts in her business. She initially thought "the five-phase plan would realistically stretch three weeks" and provide her adequate time to institute operational changes. Unfortunately, the rapidly evolving global crisis blindsided her, leading to the business going from "phase one to phase five in a matter of two days."

First, local educational institutions such as Lawrenceville, Lawrenceville Elementary School, and Princeton University shut down. According to Canady-Brown, "The major contributing factor [to the escalation in phases] was the moment the schools closed. That was a huge signal that…COVID-19 was a really big health risk." The situation worsened when wholesalers also shut down, and Canady-Brown received notice of nine confirmed cases of coronavirus in Lawrenceville. With a heavy heart, Canady-Brown ultimately decided to suspend operations, believing that the health and safety of her employees was of utmost priority. In addition, she believed it was the logical decision to furlough her employees, since stimulus packages and unemployment assistance would serve as adequate compensation for the time being.

Canady-Brown emphasized that "people don't realize how low margin food service is." "You look at us and [think] a cup of coffee is three bucks and a latte is five dollars, [but] we only make 40 cents on that cup of coffee," she added. While the U.S. government has permitted takeout and delivery, GP has continued to experience financial struggles. Eventually, Canady-Brown had no choice but to use her savings to pay wholesalers, the electric bills, and her mortgage. While these payments covered GP's expenses until June, this outcome came at a heavy price. As Canady-Brown heartbreakingly recounts in an interview with Forbes Magazine, "The saddest part…is that for five years I've been saving for our expansion, and now I don't know how long that's going to be on hold."

While her expansion project, Marmalade, has been put off for the foreseeable future, Canady-Brown is now faced with a new challenge: continuing operations while adhering to social distancing guidelines. She needed to consider many variables when developing an effective plan of attack: "Do I bring my employees back? Do I bake by myself? Do I change our operations?" Although many questions remain unanswered, Canady-Brown hopes to continue operations in some capacity, either through curbside pickup, online ordering, or even pop-up bake sales. With that said, her main priority is maintaining the safety of her employees and the greater community.

"We're watching a lot of states surrounding us try to rush us back into business. Their intention is to get tax revenue up again and get people off of unemployment. I'm not putting my staff at risk because they want to save the economy…We have to make smart, socially thoughtful decisions," Canady-Brown said.

In the best case scenario, GP could potentially reopen this September, but at this point, she is still "playing second chair" to the virus's curve. While Canady-Brown is "in the mode of putting out fires everyday," she always asks the following question to herself: "How do I fix this one problem right now so that we can move forward?" This bite-sized approach has not only helped her navigate day-to-day business operations, but allowed her to remain calm in these times of uncertainty.

While Canady-Brown has found ways to keep GP afloat, owners of small eateries are disappointed by large corporations taking advantage of the government loan program, which, according to Canady-Brown, "was not meant for them in the first place." For example, the restaurant chain Ruth's Chris Steak House received a $20 million loan from the program, although they were later pressured to return these funds. Big businesses lobbied for a small change in employment qualifications, ultimately creating a "loophole for corporate brands." Canady-Brown believes that reverting back to the original qualifications would "make a world of a difference." While the government loan program is beginning to cater to small businesses, other organizations have been instrumental in advancing relief efforts. In fact, GP received a grant from the Beard Foundation's Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund allowing the bakery to begin rehiring efforts, increase its inventory, and work towards opening for good.

In addition to managing their own businesses, small owners in the food industry are simultaneously working to support their families and employees. From attending to the needs of her young children to providing for her staff, Canady-Brown has been juggling various responsibilities outside of GP. However, she is no stranger to hard work: "I did not get here with help. I got here because I wanted to get here."

With that said, Canady-Brown is "extremely humbled" by the Lawrenceville community's tremendous support: "They are showing that they want us to survive and make it to the other side. I am eternally grateful. I don't know how I will ever pay back that love." While Canady-Brown's plans for expansion are temporarily on hold, rest assured that when the time is right, the GP we know and love will return better than ever.

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