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Business and Economy

A Brunswick Cafe Is Selling Recipes To Support Employees

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Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe
Shepherd says it took more than a month to get set up to serve customers curbside

Restaurants were some of the first businesses closed due to COVID-19, and the timing couldn't have been worse for Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe in Brunswick. The cafe was in the middle of a building project and trying to move to a new location when the town issued its stay-at-home order.

Owner-Operator Becky Shepherd says it took more than a month to get set up to serve customers curbside, and that almost all of her 60 full time workers have been furloughed without benefits.

But the cafe has survived and Shepherd has been able to help employees through an initiative that to many professional cooks might be unthinkable: selling her recipes to the public.

Ed note: interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Shepherd: We are asked constantly for recipes, and we've never given them out because, of course, they're the backbone of our business. And almost all of them are ones that I've developed myself over the years and perfected. Everything had happened so fast, that we just kind of felt like we disappeared. We were trying to figure out how we could give back to the community, as well as how we could stay connected to our community. And so we devised this plan to sell some of our recipes.

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Credit Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe
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Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe
"Our most requested recipe is our sour cream coffee cake"

Mitchell: So why take such a step and sell a unique formula for something that your customers would normally buy?

Obviously, we still have to pay all of our bills and keep up with everything on our end. But one of the things that we weren't able to do is we had offered to continue paying our employee health insurance, so we pay 60 percent of our employee health insurance. And we had told the employees that we were making a commitment to continue that. And so we tried to figure out how to do that. And so with the recipes, we made it a $25 fee to sign up for the subscription. So you would get 17 recipes over a 12 day period. It was $25 for a subscription or $20 for a guest subscription if you wanted to sign somebody else up. So, we just decided to launch it and see how it went.

So how has it been going?

It's been pretty wild. When we first announced it, we honestly didn't know if we'd get two people or 200 people. We ended up at the end of our 12 days with 364 subscriptions.

Have you been able to actually fund the cost of that health insurance, which was part of your goal?

We were able to partially fund our health insurance, so we decided to do a second round of subscriptions, and we went from a little over 350 subscriptions for the first one to well over 500 for the second one. And we are starting a third round, and we've almost doubled what we did in our second round. So the answer is yes. We were not able to the first time. But with the rerelease, we have been able to fund two months of health insurance for our staff.

Was there any anxiety attached to releasing what presumably are important recipes to you and kind of making those public?

It was huge. Yes. We spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted to release and what we didn't. And finally, we just decided that we were going to go for it. And we did our most requested recipes. So our most requested recipe is our sour cream coffee cake. We released that, you know, we wanted people to find value in what we were doing, and that a coffee cake does not make the bakery what it is. We had a woman write us, and she showed us a picture of the hot cross bun she'd made and just said, you know, "I wake up so excited every morning to see your recipes." But she's like, "I'm having a blast. But I promise," she said, "I'll be the first person on your doorstep when you reopen." And so it was, um, it was really heartwarming.