BRUNSWICK, Maine — Like other businesses in Brunswick and many communities, Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe closed its doors March 24 after the town council declared a civil state of emergency and enacted a shelter-in-place order in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19.
Since the arrival of COVID-19 in Maine, owner Becky Shepherd had struggled to keep dozens of workers employed.
"Essentially for about two weeks we pivoted and pivoted and we thought we were doing so well and then Brunswick put a stay-in-place order overnight ... and that was the last day," Shepherd said.
Just like that, more than 60 full-time employees were laid off.
Shepherd said she had no choice, but she was determined to continue the business's share -- 60 percent -- of those employees' health insurance coverage.
So, working with her son, she devised a plan that she hoped would pay for the insurance and keep her legions of customers connected to the bakery.
The Wild Oats recipe subscription program, Shepherd says, has been more popular than she could have hoped. Between 300 and 400 people subscribed to the first round of recipes, and that almost covered the cost of the first month of insurance, she said Thursday. Recipes for the second subscription period begin Monday.
For $25, subscribers receive 17 secret Wild Oats recipes over 12 days, ranging from bakery items to deli salads, baked goods, soups and bread.
"Spoiler alert," Shepherd said. "Probably the most-requested recipe we have at the bakery is our Sour Cream Coffee Cake, and that is in the package."
Also included are cooking tips, instructions for adaption recipes to be gluten-free or vegan, the history of each recipe, and a video Q&A with Shepherd.
Shepherd said she's thrilled to be able to continue to cover the insurance, and with a second subscription period beginning Monday and third on May 4, she hopes to be able to pay for it again.
But the program has also allowed the her to stay connected to the customers in ways Shepherd never imagined.
"We've had so many people write us back and send us pictures of the things that they were making," she said. "And a lot of people would ask questions aned we'd answer them individually ... One woman sent us a bunch of pictures of things she had made and then she wrote, 'I promise I'm going to be the first one on your doorstep when you're back.'"
Social Distancing Video
Amid the chaos of the pandemic, Wild Oats was already undergoing changes as Shepherd prepares to move to a new, much larger space at Brunswick Landing.
Construction continues on the building, even as the current location sits dormant. Shepherd said she still hopes to open in the new space by the end of this year.
For years, Shepherd said, people have suggested she write a cookbook, but she was never interested.
But sharing her prized recipes through the subscription program is something entirely different.
"I just didn’t have the passion for a cookbook," she said. "And this has like given me that passion because it’s just been so much more interactive and personal … it’s been really incredible."
To subscribe to the recipe program, visit wildoatsbakery.com.
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus
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