A New Orleans Pastry Chef On the Shutdown: 'We Need a Miracle'
Patricia-Ann Donohue on how the Maple Street Patisserie is trying to survive in the pandemic.
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So I own a small retail bakery in New Orleans, Maple Street Patisserie. Our anniversary was just April 22; we’ve been here ten years. Initially, we started doing wholesale out of that small space. And it was just one, maybe two accounts, but it grew from there. My partner in life [Ziggy Cichowski] and in the business is a master baker from Poland—not just a master baker but a master pastry chef, too. He apprenticed all over Europe and fled communist Poland to come to the U.S. We had about 185 accounts in the city of New Orleans, all the breakfast pastries, dessert pastries, cakes and artisan breads for hotels and restaurants. We are the only European bakery left in New Orleans. There are French and Vietnamese bakeries, other kinds of bakeries, but there’s not another European bakery in New Orleans. We make pastries and bread for the House of Blues, Hotel Monteleone, the Fillmore, and the Hyatts. If you’re a big name in the city, I have your account.
Right now, we have lost all but five percent of our accounts. We have no business. My retail bakery is in the Uptown area, and right now the neighbors are trying to keep us alive. They’re telling us, “We want to see you stay, you’re part of our community. We want you to be here.” I have applied for PPP and I got PPP, but it doesn’t work for restaurants. I understand the government is trying to help. But restaurants are a whole other animal. New Orleans rents and utilities are extremely expensive. We learned our lesson during Katrina. When we got back into the city, we had a bill from the water board for three months when we weren’t here. They turned the water off for so many people. We don’t want that to happen again.
The other thing you’ve got to understand is in New Orleans, our dead season is July, August, and September. We all scramble to make enough money before that dead season. You have to make your revenue before that, and it’s lean as it is. It’s one thing if you’re a restaurant, but I’m also a purveyor bringing you a product. Now, restaurants who buy my pastries and my bread aren’t open, so they’re not buying the product. Who knows whether or not they’re going to have anyone coming in. We have no cruises coming out of New Orleans. We have no conventions. The hotels aren’t going to be full. I don’t see how this is going to work. We need a miracle.
This has never happened before. It was one day we were open and the next day we weren’t. One day we had revenue, the next day we had nothing. We work seven days a week. We work 16 hours a day. Our whole lives are this bakery. We are so incredibly proud of what we do. Every single thing we make is by hand; we have four show cases in our retail bakery alone. We’re doing frangipane tarts, croissants, Doberge cakes, tomato tarts, quiches, and lemon meringue pies. And this is every single day. Chefs would call between 6 and 10 at night, and they place their order for the next day. The trucks go at 5 a.m. Ziggy is up at 1 a.m., baking everything, and we don’t know if it’ll be 50 croissants or 500 croissants. This is our whole lives, and our employees’ lives. This is how they take care of their children, pay their utilities, and stop their car from being repossessed. It's really scary.
The grant I received from Southern Smoke was a beacon of hope. I was so scared, I was on the internet day and night, researching whatever I could find out about grants and loans. Southern Smoke was the very first one who emailed and said, "We will help you." It stopped my breath for a minute, I had to read it over and over again. I used the money to paid the mortgage payment on my building loan.