In the Business of Sweets and Kindness: A Pastry Shop Owner’s Reality During COVID-19
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve created an interview series to feature inspiring Latinx entrepreneurs whose stories of determination represent our community’s unwavering drive to seguir adelante.
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Published: May 1, 2020
I first met Osvaldo Jimenez during his participation in the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative — Education Scaling Program (SLEI-Ed), which offers a 6-week online executive education course designed to help Latinx-owned businesses scale.
Immediately, I was impressed by his story, grit and electric personality. Osvaldo has a contagious kindness and welcoming spirit that brings everyone to the table. As the founder of The Noble Folk, a pastry shop & ice cream bar in Healdsburg, CA, Osvaldo shares a deep love for baker’s confections and a dedication to his own community. Just this month, he decorated his car and drove by the Healdsburg Hospital to show support with “honk for health care workers” on the front lines of COVID-19. He also recently shipped 3,000 cookies as a test shipment for Noble Folk’s biggest fans and customers all over the Bay Area.
The resilient and entrepreneurial spirit runs deep for Osvaldo. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, to a family of agricultural laborers, Osvaldo witnessed what hard work was at a young age. His family immigrated to the USA when Osvaldo was a child and his father worked as a farm-worker before starting his own carpet cleaning company. Years later, Jimenez and his partner Sullberg convinced his parents to loan them $15,000 in seed money to get their first business, Moustache Baked Goods, running. It was there that everything began. After years in the baking business, they opened The Noble Folk in 2015, and the rest is history. Now, with several locations across Sonoma Wine Country they, along with everyone else, were looking at 2020 as their year of growth.
In light of the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals, nonprofits and businesses, I decided to catch up with Osvaldo to learn more about how he and his team were coping in this new business climate.
Interview: April 4, 2020
Melody: “How are you doing? How is business? How have you had to pivot?”
Osvaldo: “It was rough at first because we were scaling. We were looking at opening up a new location in Napa, starting an ice cream truck, and eventually hitting up four cities in Sonoma County. We were poised to scale this year. When we had to close our doors due to COVID-19, we spent a total of three days on the website to pivot from retail. We ended up launching a to-go/take-out and delivery service.
We also joined a recovery task force in the community because it was imperative for us to think about others and their businesses as well. We had to ask ourselves, ‘What does six months from now look like?’
Our focus is health, the safety of our community and customers and how we can best serve them in this new environment. Our first phase was establishing safety protocols for all of our employees and customers. Once that was established, along with our new website, we then asked ourselves, ‘How do we remain competitive locally, regionally, and more importantly, how do we pivot to capture business nationwide?’
Melody: “How are you ensuring safety for your employees/customers?”
Osvaldo: “First, we are following strict protocol guidelines from our county health officer. Secondly, I have to be at the frontlines for my customers, so we are not using other delivery means. We use our own drivers for quality control and to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
Melody: “Being a brick & mortar, how have you been able to transition to remote work?”
Osvaldo: “It has been hard. We had to lay-off 24 people. I had to be real with my 6 [remaining] employees and tell them that I am 100% committed to those in the room.”
Melody: “How have sales been affected?”
Osvaldo: “It has not been easy, but we are persevering. Our sales dropped by 45%, so we are adapting. Something new that we are trying is shipping nationwide. We will be testing this out with pies for the first time in April followed by ice cream in late May.”
Melody: “What resources have you relied on?”
Osvaldo: “We have relied on Health and Safety protocols from our county. Webinars provided by my network have been informative, like those hosted by SLEI. Being in touch with my banker on a daily basis for best prioritization of securing capital has been important. Whether it is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or the Small Business Association (SBA) disaster relief and lending programs, we are boots on the ground right now.”
Melody: “Is there anything you need help in? Any way that anyone reading this story can support you?”
Osvaldo: “What we all need right now is help in funding from the government. The needs for businesses are changing daily. What I am recognizing in my region is that many small businesses need new training on how to expand and access their consumer base. We know that there will be an end to all this some day, and we need to prepare for the recovery by working and sharing knowledge with each other. For example, in Sonoma County, many businesses, specifically restaurants, are navigating how to offer their menus for curbside, delivery, and online pre-orders for the first time. Many need help with digital marketing and establishing groups where we can continue to help one another.”
So the next time you need a tasty treat to pair with your morning coffee or as a delightful dessert option, consider ordering your pie or pint of ice cream from The Noble Folk. I personally would try the Peanut Butter Mousse Pie — an Oreo crust, with peanut butter mousse and fresh whipped cream. Yum!
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