Flowers & Bread refresh: Classes and community, but no cafe
Clintonville’s Flowers & Bread is closing its popular cafe—but expanding workshops in floral arranging and bread baking under a new name: the Flowers & Bread Society.
The cafe is small and the coffee bar, where employees worked, was only 200 square feet, says Sarah Lagrotteria, who together with Tricia Wheeler owns the business. The small space is a big challenge in the age of Covid-19. “We don’t have the ability within that space to keep people far enough apart to be safe,” Lagrotteria says.
She and Wheeler plan to revamp the interior, making the floral and baking studios airier, roomier spaces where people can take workshops together while being physically distant. “We’re still working through the details,” Wheeler says. They know the old practice of sharing tools such as floral shears, mixing spoons and ingredients will be replaced by each station having its own items.
Both Lagrotteria and Wheeler, who also owns the Seasoned Farmhouse cooking school just a few blocks south of Flowers & Bread on North High Street, believe these changes will help keep the business strong in the age of Covid-19.
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While the decision to close the cafe is recent, Lagrotteria and Wheeler had already been exploring ideas around the future of Flowers & Bread. Some of these conversations were sparked by a 2019 fellowship awarded to Lagrotteria from the Tory Burch Foundation. The fellowship brought 50 female small business owners to the foundation headquarters in New Jersey for a week of intensive workshops around running small businesses. “At Tory Burch, they kept asking us to focus on what makes this business specific to us—so remaining true to what excites us,” Lagrotteria says. This prompted conversations between Lagrotteria and Wheeler about how teaching was at the heart of their business and about how they enjoy connecting with customers and watching people’s skills develop.
Both say closing the cafe, which built a passionate following, was a difficult decision—and not only because it accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the business’ revenue. The cafe, with its way of making time-honored traditions feel fresh and stylish and its first-quality bread, housemade butters and jams and curated selection of local goodies, brought in neighbors and numerous regulars. “So in terms of that spirit, of creating a community feel, it was one of the most important things we’ve done,” Wheeler says.
They added “society” to the name as they plan to keep this vision of their business alive. “We wanted to stay a community,” she says.
One way they hope to keep their cafe community intact is by offering what they call a village basket. “All the details aren’t flushed out yet,” Lagrotteria says, but in general it will be offered once a week or every other week for pickup or delivery. Items in the basket could include cafe favorites like sourdough bread or lemon lavender scones, as well as items from local farms, like eggs, honey or strawberries.
While the cafe brought in a sizable chunk of revenue, it was also the costliest side of the business, and closing it means letting go of the staff. “That was certainly the hardest thing,” Lagrotteria says. Between the bakery and cafe, there were 16 to 18 part-time employees.
Going forward, “It’ll probably just be Tricia and I and one main employee,” she says. About four or five workshop instructors employed on a contract basis will remain as well. Along with holding workshops, Flowers & Bread Society will continue hosting private events and leading food and flowers-oriented trips to England’s Cotswolds, a rural area of Medieval villages and country gardens.
Flowers & Bread did receive some money from the federal stimulus disaster program, Lagrotteria says. They own the building and are paid up on bills, Wheeler adds.
When the space reopens, a date for which has not been set, Lagrotteria will bring new inspiration to her floral arranging workshops. Through her Tory Burch fellowship, she attended Tallulah Rose Flower School in Cumbria, England, which she discovered on Instagram and chose because of the school’s focus on education, not flash.
Both Lagrotteria and Wheeler trained as chefs at New York’s International Culinary Center. For Lagrotteria, when it came to florals, the more she did it, the more she wanted to keep learning. “It just seemed like there had to be little techniques and formal things that I didn’t know, and I wanted to get good at them and share them with students,” she says.
She attended a two-week session in Cumbria last February. “It was extraordinary,” she says, and even included two days on the business aspects of working with flowers.
Her biggest take-away? “It was surprising to me, but I love color, and I don’t think I’ve always understood that about myself.” What does this mean for the flower workshops? “I think we’re going to see more play with interesting palettes and unexpected color combinations.”
Between April and October, Flowers & Bread Society buys 85 percent to 90 percent of the flowers it uses—in workshops, for events, and for the bouquets it arranges and sells— locally from farms including Sunny Meadows and Bluegreen Gardens. Lagrotteria and Wheeler love the foxglove and mauve-toned phlox from Old Slate Farm in Mount Vernon, and the lilies of the valley and peonies from White Walnut Farm in Westerville. Last year they started buying from Mohican Flower Farm, too, which is starting to grow roses to sell, a challenge in Ohio.
Customers are aware of the growing season and like supporting local businesses, Lagrotteria says. “I’ll post something on Instagram and say, ‘Gorgeous tulips in from Sunny Meadows today,’ or ‘Anemones are in, they’ll be beautiful for this many weeks,’ and people respond to that sense of seasonality.”
Flowers & Bread Society plans to stay closed for the foreseeable future. “We need a better idea of what’s going on, and I don’t think we know right now,” Lagrotteria says. “We’re going to err on the side of caution.”
However, they plan to start delivering their village baskets in a few months, and sales of cut flower bouquets may return then as well.
Amy Braunschweiger is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.