Aaron Caddel four (4) weeks ago was in a sticky situation.
He’d been forced to close both the San Francisco and Los Angeles locations of his popular bakery, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. In a span of 72 hours, all 60 of his wholesale customers — about $3m worth of business — canceled their orders indefinitely.
“I had single mothers on staff begging me to keep their jobs,” he told The Hustle. “So I just had to turn to solution mode: How can I create an insurance policy against this economy?”
The 28-year-old noticed two things: 1) the quarantined masses were baking their own bread at home for the first time, and 2) ingredients were in short supply at the stores. Why not tap into his supply chain, sell an all-inclusive kit — yeast, flour, detailed instructions — and empower his customers to bake their own Mr. Holmes loaves?
He had no experience in e-commerce. But he did have a 4.2k sq.-ft. warehouse, a staff of skilled bakers, and 121,ooo Instagram followers. Could he pivot his business on a dime?
Aaron Caddel is one of many small business owners re-calibrating to serve a rapidly growing class of housebound bakers.
The rise in at-home bread-making
In the age of COVID-19, bread-baking — a 14,000-year-old craft — has experienced an upswing in popularity that many experts say is unprecedented.
The boom began around March 13th, when President Trump classified the virus as a national emergency. As states across the country announced stay-in-place orders, many Americans turned to baking as a way to relieve stress, pass long hours at home, and insure themselves against potential food shortages stoked by panic-buying.
Below are some of the reasons why entrepreneurs, families and individuals took up bread-baking during COVID-19.
- Comfort: “There’s something therapeutic about simplistic, repetitive tasks.”
- Stress relief: “I work in healthcare, and baking bread has been a nice distraction from all the madness.”
- Self-reliance: “We need to get back to our roots and learn how to do stuff instead of depending on others.”
- Unity: “It’s nice to ‘break bread’ with friends in a new socially distant way.”
- Low cost: “How can you beat 10 fresh hoagie buns for less than a buck?”
- Store avoidance: “There’s no way I’m going anywhere near a Trader Joe’s or KingFisher.”
- Boredom: “My graduate student son and his girlfriend moved in with us and we all needed a way to pass the time.”
For some respondents, like Michelle Cousins, baking bread provides a sense of empowerment in a time when many things are out of our hands.
“I can push, and pull, and take out my frustrations on this mess of flour and water and yeast,” she wrote. “Maybe it’s my need for control at a time when I feel I have very little over my own circumstances. It seems almost primal.”
For others, it is simply an excuse to buy new tools.
“I bought a dutch oven, mason jars, flour cloth towels, a proofing basket, a spatula, and bread razor,” says Mitchell Steere, a software developer from Michigan. “All in all, I have about $140 into supplies and equipment, so I figure I only need to bake another 69 loaves before I start seeing an ROI.”
According to data from Chicory, a tech company that helps websites like Delish and Betty Crocker monetize their recipes, articles on how to make sourdough starter saw a 1,258% spike between March 8th and April 4th.
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