Wendy and Letha Pugh at Bake Me Happy and owners of home health care agency Rivers Crossing weren't prepared for the chaos of this week. "I try to keep my own anxieties in check. But believe me, it's crossed my mind: How many people's rent do I think we can swing?”
Letha Pugh had a sense of what was coming when she saw the news start coming in from China, then Italy, then Washington state. A nurse by training and the owner of two businesses—Rivers Crossing Home Health and Bake Me Happy, both in Columbus—she started buying enough hand sanitizer, gloves and masks to make sure her employees, clients and customers would stay safe.
“I have to say, toilet paper was not on my radar,” she confessed Monday.
As prepared as Pugh was, though, she wasn’t quite ready for all that has hit Ohio in the last week. And now, like so many others, she and her wife, Wendy Miller Pugh, are confronting the uncertainty of when all of this will end and how they’ll keep things going until it does.
“Our employees are all looking for us to lead them,” Pugh said. “They’re looking to us to be reassuring when we’re not sure what’s happening. I try to keep my own anxieties in check. But believe me, it’s crossed my mind: How many people’s rent do I think we can swing?”
About 120 people get paychecks from Rivers Crossing and Bake Me Happy, a gluten-free bakery in Merion Village. The home-health business certainly has been touched by coronavirus precautions and preparations, but its very existence isn’t on the line the way it is for Bake Me Happy, which the couple started in 2013.
Ohio’s decision Sunday to shut down all but carryout and delivery service from restaurants—the bakery on Moler Street includes a sit-down coffee house—took away a good chunk of business. Its decision last week to shut down colleges and universities took away even more. Half of Bake Me Happy’s business is wholesale, and major customers such as Ohio State, Denison University and Mikey’s Late Night Slice have put orders on hold.
“I’m not disagreeing with them being out front,” she said of state officials. “The state response has been good. But when the governor had today’s press conference, I had butterflies in my stomach, like something was about to change again.”The Dispatch is publishing all coronavirus stories outside of its paywall as a public service. Read their latest reporting on this rapidly changing situation here.
Bake Me Happy has a loyal customer base. People drive to Merion Village from all parts of Columbus and beyond for Crème Clouds and Peanut Butter Burners and other treats. But the business hasn’t relied much on online ordering, delivery or other services suddenly in demand.
Pugh and Miller Pugh spent Monday, a day the café part of their business is closed anyway, laying out plans for the interim. They’re looking at selling frozen cookie “pucks” that people can buy and take home to bake. They’re looking at grab-and-go frozen versions of macaroni and cheese and other savory items on their menu.
A Facebook post Sunday asked customers to buy gift cards online. They keep revenue coming in now for the business and can be used by customers when life returns to normal.
“From a business standpoint, we need to kind of pivot,” Pugh said. “It sometimes takes two or three months. Now you’re doing it in 24 hours.”
Bob Vitale is a freelance writer.Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.