Fresh made Japanese cake in Las Vegas

Running a Business During a Pandemic

Let’s start with the obvious: The past few months have been very difficult due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Having just opened our new location two months prior and just starting to get our feet under us, when we heard the Governor’s press conference on March 17, we were scared. Having to pull our staff aside and tell them that there was no set schedule for the foreseeable future was one of the worst feelings of my life. We had to remember it was for health and safety – both theirs and ours. All of the confusion and worrying in the next few days was very difficult to handle. A million different thoughts ran through our heads: What are we going to do? What about the staff? What about their bills and families? How are we going to pay the bills for this new space? What about all the food we have in storage? Needless to say, a lot of worrying happened.

For the first few days after Governor Sisolak’s orders, Misuzu and I tried to fill as many of our existing cake orders and sell as much as we could to use up our food supply, so that items didn’t go to waste. It was just the two of us with a little early morning help from one of our long time staff. We tried to do as much as we could: answering phones, building cakes, finishing pastries and running orders out to customer’s cars. All of this was very taxing. We tried to do as much as we could for our customers until the next official orders came in: a full shutdown. It broke our hearts to have to call our customers and cancel their orders.

And then two weeks of silence.

Although we couldn’t open our doors to the public (per the order) and we felt it was best for our own health and safety to completely halt business as usual. We still came to the shop every day. Cleaning, maintaining equipment, getting rid of ingredients, trying to help our staff get items they couldn’t find at their local grocery stores and trying to plan for how we would get through this time. Luckily, we have some very loyal, regular customers and friends that wanted to support us. They asked about gift cards for future purchases and told us how much they missed our cakes. We knew we had to keep going so we started to develop a plan for re-opening. We built a whole new online ordering system for our cafe menu and for whole cake pre-orders in under a week. Everything needed to be ordered ahead of time. We had to change to a “new normal” like not having cakes available for daily purchase, offering curbside pickup and cake delivery.

Smiles happening all day even through the masks

As we began putting our plan in place, a few problems arose. The first was staffing. We couldn’t bring back everyone with their regular hours. Some chose not to come back right away to make sure their own families were healthy and safe, both in Las Vegas and abroad. With the very limited business we had at that time, we tried our best to give each employee as many hours as we could to make sure they had money to help pay their bills. We rotated their schedules: a couple in the morning and a couple in the afternoon, as much as possible. The second problem that came up was product availability. One of our main dairy suppliers completely shut down. This was a major roadblock for a business that relies heavily on cream. Some vendors decided to open only two days a week, others closed entirely. Suddenly, those simple ingredients – flour, sugar, cream and eggs – became increasingly difficult to find. We had to call around and search for ingredients. Luckily, we found some new vendors that really helped us out along the way. A direct result of this limited product availability was that prices went up for many of the ingredients we use on a regular basis. Unfortunately, we had to remove some items from the menu, as they would be too costly to try and produce. Even though our food supply costs went up, we decided not to raise our prices at that time because we knew a lot of people were hurting financially. Being in Las Vegas with the casinos closed and massive layoffs, we wanted them to still be able to celebrate their anniversaries and birthdays or simply enjoy some cake.

In May, the Governor’s phases for reopening began. Things were starting to open back up and we were able to open to the public. We had to follow certain guidelines such as social distancing (for both staff and customers), limited seating, increased cleaning and sanitizing of the entire cafe, hand sanitizer for the staff and customers and mask requirements for them as well. Our business had to shift again: this time to primarily takeout. Thankfully, this was something we were used to at our old location.

The first year is always difficult for a new business or a new location, in our case, but having to deal with the effects of an unforeseen global pandemic was not something we ever thought would happen. Many businesses have closed. Some temporarily, some permanently. We are grateful that even though we are struggling through this, we know that this will make us stronger when all of this has passed. We want to make sure that everyone can celebrate their special occasions with great cake for years to come.

Stay safe and healthy…and eat some cake!

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