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Longtime Vashon bakery strives for a profitable path in a tough economy
Bob’s Bakery, a staple of Island life since 1986, hit lean times earlier this year, and after making some cost-cutting measures and devising a program to entice new customers, owners Paul and Jill Beytebiere hope the hardest of the times are behind them.
Like many Island business owners, the Beytebieres rely on the summer months to build up their coffers to make it through the quiet winter months, but when two refrigerators broke last summer, the Beytebieres’ cushion went for replacements and repairs, leaving the small business with little buffer.
January and February are always difficult at the small bakery in the heart of town, they said, but this year, business did not pick up, as it usually does in March and April. Only last week, Jill said, have they noticed an increase in sales.
“I think we just made it through a really tough spell,” Jill said.
By mid-April, the couple, had to make significant changes to meet their financial obligations, they said, and trimmed 80 staff hours each week, including deciding to close on Sundays until June.
“We had no more bottom left to scrape,” she said.
Bob’s typically employs about 14 people, Jill said, almost all of whom work part time, and now a few are “on hold,” waiting until the spring increase in customers has fully taken root.
They stressed they did not lay any people off in making the belt-tightening measures, but many people’s hours have shifted.
“It has been hard on everybody,” Jill said.
Both Jill and Paul attribute the difficult spring at the bakery largely to the season’s cold, wet days and the still lagging economy. In a move they hope will benefit Islanders and their business, they have decided to start selling 10-pound bags of organic produce on a subscription basis for $1.70 per pound. This would bring more people into the shop, they said, and would also help advertise the fact they sell more than baked goods, including lunch and dinner items, such as soup, chili, a variety of sandwiches and breads made daily with organic flour.
One of the challenges that comes with running a fully stocked bakery in a community with a small population, Jill said, is that they need to make “a little of this and a little of that,” which demands a lot of ingredients and labor.
“It’s like putting on a show everyday,” she said.
The Beytebieres bought the bakery in August of 2007 from Bob Long, who had run it for 21 years. The business has brought in more money each year they have owned it, Jill said, in part because they have added days to their schedule and extended the hours. They had hoped increased revenue from these steps would allow Paul, who does a lot of the shop’s baking, to work less. At times, he has been able to do so, but now he is working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week on top of his work as a high school soccer coach. Jill worries about the toll that takes on him.
“I haven’t made this much money since eighth grade,” Paul said with a laugh. “I was self-employed then too.”
Acknowledging the strain of recent months, Paul said his hope is for the bakery to be profitable enough for him to contribute more to the community.
“I want to be able to give more,” he said. “I want to be at that point.”
He would like to be able to donate the proceeds from one day a month to a local cause, he said, and from another day a month to a global cause.
“That’s what I have always wanted to do,” he said.
Ackowledging the difficulty that comes with owning a small business on an often-quiet Island, Paul noted his three passions — kids, soccer and baking — are the same as they were when the couple bought the bakery.
“Every night I say ‘I love baking’ at least once,” he said, noting that sometimes after 13 hours on his feet those feelings wane a bit.
With the uptick in sales last week, the new measures in place and warmer weather starting to appear, Jill said she is feeling optimistic.
“We plan to stay open as long as we can,” she said.
“I think it’s important to have a neighborhood bakery. I really do,” he said. “You’ve got to have Bob’s.”