Culinary Crisis: Luna Bakery’s Bridget Thibeault searches for bright spots during a pandemic

This is part three of our Culinary Crisis series about the #EatForCLE campaign, in which we talk to local chef/owners and other food entrepreneurs about the impact of COVID-19 on the local dining industry.

 

Bridget Thibeault is chef and owner of Luna Bakery and Café, with locations in Cleveland Heights and Moreland Hills. “I’m kind of kicking myself because I really had no idea what we were going to be up against,” she says in Muse’s #EatForCLE video “All Consumed.At the same time, Thibeault holds out hope for her industry. “I have to think that we’re all going to come out of this stronger, we’re going to be smarter about our businesses.”

 

Bridget Thibeault, chef and owner of Luna Bakery and Café, with locations in Cleveland Heights and Moreland Hills.Here, Thibeault shares her current feelings on how COVD-19 is affecting the bar and restaurant industry—and how her business will survive.

 

I struggle with talking about how I’m feeling right now because I want to stay positive for my staff and community.

 

But there is going to be a high rate of failure in my industry. Most restaurant owners don’t know if they will make it through this pandemic—the average restaurant profits 5% to 9% in a good year, so the margins are extremely slim.

 

I understand and agree that health and safety are our top priority, but if restrictions remain on our industry it will be difficult for many of us to survive.

 

As an entrepreneur I have taken risks and persevered through many situations. As a leader I want to give my staff hope and guidance. But this pandemic and its implications are so much bigger than me and my mission.

 

I spent the last 10 years building my business and was just starting to think about new growth opportunities when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I analyze our costs throughout the year so we can pay our staff fair wages, give promotions, and look for ways to grow our company.

 

Then everything came to a crashing halt when Governor DeWine shut down bars and restaurants on March 15—a day we will all remember.

 

In those first few days I was angry and frustrated. The hardest decision I made was closing my newer shop in Moreland Hills three days later because I didn’t have the cash flow to keep it going (the Cleveland Heights location remains open for takeout and delivery).

 

If I drained my bank account how would we reopen? I put many of my staff on unemployment and worried about how they would manage financially. Many of them live paycheck to paycheck and many of them are still waiting on their unemployment checks.

 

The past few weeks have been very stressful. I feel a responsibility to keep my staff, customers, and family healthy, but I know that is nearly impossible. It’s been difficult to retain employees because many are worried about getting sick—even though we are taking every precaution recommended by the CDC.

 

“I have to think that we’re all going to come out of this stronger, we’re going to be smarter about our businesses” says Bridget Thibeault is chef and owner of Luna Bakery and Café.We are running with a tight crew and they are all exhausted, both physically and mentally. My mind hasn’t stopped racing (I’m working on that). Am I making the right decisions? Will my sales cover my costs? What documents do I need for all these loans and will I be one of the lucky ones who gets it?

 

There was so much confusion leading up to applying for the Paycheck Protection Program loan and I still don’t think it makes sense for our industry. Restaurants and bars should be able to use it once they can fully open and we should have longer than the eight weeks of protection to get our staff up to full capacity.

 

How can I ask my employees to come back to work when they are safe at home and can make just as much on unemployment? What happens when the loan runs out in eight weeks?

 

Thankfully, I have an amazing support system of other business owners in Cleveland Heights as well as an entrepreneur group, EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization), where I am able to connect with others and share information. We are truly all in this together—in a way I never thought we’d be.

 

On the brighter side, there have been so many moments of hope. I’m so proud of my small team that stayed on and helped me pivot to a much harder business model—wearing masks, social distancing, managing three takeout/delivery apps and running curbside pickups.

 

We have been fulfilling large orders for local hospitals and organizations and are now staffing up to prepare thousands of meals for the frontline workers at the Cleveland Clinic. We are thrilled to be able to help feed these local heroes. And it will help my business survive.

 

I don’t know what our community or my business will look like at the end of this pandemic, but I do know it will be changed.

 

And when it is safe, I know our loyal customers and friends will come back. We may have to wait until there is a vaccine, but we have every intention of being here.

 

We will strive every day to make reopening at full capacity happen and continue to evolve our business as needed. At Luna we do so much more than craft amazing food, drinks, and pastry. We create a sense of community within our cafes and I know people will be needing that connection more than ever.

 

The independent restaurants, bars and shops are the places that will bring us back together. I’m looking forward to that day. In the meantime, I’m leaning into those bright moments.

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