May 10, 2020
I figured it was high time to let ya know what’s going on with the Bitch. In short, I have decided to close two of my locations: Pioneer Square and White Center. The other two, BB Caffe Lieto at Pike Place Market and BB Belltown will open sometime in early June for takeout, delivery and extremely limited outdoor dining. If you want to learn more about my decision, settle in for the long version below.
Back in early March, I noticed sales slowing down instead of ramping up like they usually do right before Comicon, St Patty’s Day and all the cool Spring stuff that heads off “Cruise Ship Season” bringing the millions of tourists and 85% of our customer base to Seattle. I wasn’t too concerned at first because it was just a thousand down in sales here and there and I figured it would pick up when this crazy virus passed. Then we got the warning from the Guv about handwashing and such, and I read an article about Tom Douglas closing all his restaurants temporarily…Cruise Ships had been canceled… uh-oh, this was serious.
I spent all night crunching numbers and realized we had to close. Immediately. We had a cushion in the bank for current payroll and a few months of rents, utilities, contracts, taxes etc., but if I didn’t close right away, there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to make full payroll if sales dropped any further; better to let the staff collect unemployment benefits than not get a paycheck in two weeks (my payroll/benefits cost was almost 60% of expenses, “normal” is 30%-35%, more about that later). So, I put 58 employees on standby Thursday, March 12, walking from store to store in shock to break the news to my unassuming, loyal, hardworking, amazing bitches.
I spent the rest of the month drinking, thinking, sleeping and crying on the couch in my pj’s. It was not a fun vacation. My mind was constantly racing. My hair was falling out. I didn’t want to shower or get dressed; my life was over. One day I was in denial, the next fear, the next deep despair.
How could I have let everyone down like this? How could I, the owner of a successful $4.8 million a year company with four locations not be able to take care of my staff for a few months while we are closed. Why did I just buy a condo, thinking that after 8 years in business, it was a smart thing to do? What a mistake! How was I going to pay my mortgage without unemployment and no income? What was I going to do with all that food in the shops that would expire? What about the vehicle I leased to help me get back and forth from the White Center shop? How was I going to pay for our storage rooms and our office downtown let alone the shops? When will we reopen? I need to cancel things immediately! Move things! Rearrange things! Sell things! Where do I start? I was in a tailspin.
Finally, I was able to sit at my desk and crunch numbers again. But where do you start when you have no idea what the future holds? Well, you start with what you know: your Fixed Costs. Fixed Costs, same (or almost the same) every month no matter what. You have no control over them: Salaries, Benefits, Rents, Insurance, Utilities, Linen Contracts, Pest Control. Then you take a wild guess at the best-case scenario you could have in the next year and then a wild guess at the worst-case scenario and make a decision.
Let’s talk about sales and figuring out best-case scenario. With no downtown office workers, no cruise ships, no big events like baseball, football, soccer, conventions, concerts or festivals, no tours and people afraid to fly, especially to Seattle, that’s pretty much 85% of Biscuit Bitch’s downtown customer base not coming to Seattle this year. The best-case scenario is that some of the downtown workers return and downtown dwellers come out to eat so we get back our regular local customers that comprise about 15% of our sales. That’s BEST-CASE SCENARIO until next year: that 15% of our customers will return.
Would all Downtown shops still get some of that business? Probably. And Variable Costs like payroll, food and supplies would go down. But those Fixed Costs are still there and need to be paid monthly. To manage four locations, provide benefits, employ 58 staff members and produce and sell upwards of 1,500 biscuits and 50+ gallons of gravy a day, you need a production facility, an office and a staff. You need an Operations Manager, HR Manager, Distribution Manager, Quality Control Manager, Bookkeeper, Maintenance Tech and salaried Shop Managers. To sell even 500 biscuits a day (more than best-case scenario), having all that overhead is just not sustainable. I had to close shops. So, how did I decide which shops to close? It wasn’t easy.
At this point, it helps to backtrack a bit to talk about the history of Biscuit Bitch and how it grew. I never set out planning to have multiple locations. When the idea first came to me in 2010, I asked my friend who owned a coffee shop (Caffe Lieto) underneath my apartment if I could do a pop-up late-night breakfast using her shop on the weekends. That didn’t take off. In fact, in a year and a half I lost so much money I was about to throw in the towel and accept a permanent job in the accessory department at The Rack after working as a holiday temp. But then the owner of the shop asked me if I would like to “take it off her hands” to do my concept during the day. She wanted out and was willing to finance me to buy it from her.
I almost didn’t do it. I didn’t want to be one of those shitty employers I always had when I worked minimum wage jobs in restaurants, convenience stores and auto parts stores most of my adult life. It was 2011, the recession was not over, and Seattle didn’t have much of a tourist scene yet. The coffee shop was barely getting by and weekends were the worst. Some days sales were less than $150 a day for the coffee shop. What if I failed? On the other hand, I always had a dream of owning a fun café. I had moved here from Florida just a year prior and the culture shock I experienced made me miss Southern hospitality. The Seattle freeze hit me when I visited cafes, bars and coffee shops downtown. I felt out of place. I thought, is there a chance I could bring a little of that sunshine and fun here? A place where a newcomer wouldn’t feel the Seattle freeze? A place where employees were honored, respected and compensated accordingly for their hard work? What did I have to lose? It was either try it, or work at The Rack for $10.00/hr. Little did I know, her offer to sell to me was my first lucky break.
I became owner of Caffe Lieto in January 2012 and we were plugging along. Daytime customers were not really into the Biscuits and Gravy so I had sandwiches, Chicken and Dumplings, Chili, that kind of stuff. I got by barely. I was still doing late-night Biscuits and Gravy on the weekends too. Then in May, The Travel Channel called to ask if we would be a contestant on a new show about late-night food around the country called “Feed the Beast”. Long story short, we won the Seattle episode. From then on, Biscuit Bitch became a destination for tourists from around the world. The recession was over and the cruise ships were docking. It was my second lucky break!
By the end of 2014, it became clear our one little café near the market was not going to be able to handle the ever-expanding lines of tourists snaking around the block. Customers were complaining about the lack of seating and the long wait times. I listened to them, heeded the Yelp reviews and found a small café for sale six blocks away that became Biscuit Bitch Belltown. We opened in 2015 and after a few months, sales were through the roof! I hired an Operations Manager because it was all I could do to handle the HR and books with the help of my daughter. The small summer profit sharing checks the staff used to receive became two weeks’ pay and more, Christmas bonuses grew, I started taking my staff on all expenses paid vacations to Florida over the holidays because we could afford to close down for two weeks with paid vacation for everyone. Staff chose their favorite charities and we made big donations and participated in fundraisers. It was a dream come true; an actual Cinderella story.
As the Belltown shop sustained the big crowds too, we couldn’t handle all the food production in the two little spaces, so I started looking for a production facility. The space I found for a bakery in Pioneer Square also had a storefront. One year after Belltown opened, Biscuit Bitch Pioneer Square was open. I hired an HR Manager, we rented an office downtown, we hired a GM, we hired a Distribution Director, a part-time bookkeeper, and a full time Facilities Manager. We implemented a superior health insurance plan and were able to pay for 75% of premiums. Within months, the shop was poppin’! Within a year, sales were as high as the Belltown shop. By 2018, we were doing so well, we started a matching retirement plan. If I ever had to take out a loan to start up the new locations, it was paid off in no time. The cash was flowing, and it felt good to share it with the people responsible for making it flow: my staff. It was all I ever wanted. Sometimes I had to pinch myself it was so surreal.
As we started to outgrow the production facility at the Pioneer Square shop in 2018, I started looking for something bigger. I found the White Center shop for sale. Even though it didn’t work out as a new bakery, there was something challenging about moving out of downtown. Would my concept work in a neighborhood without tourists? I needed a project, and the White Center community was warm and welcoming. Plus, wouldn’t it be great to offer some jobs with great benefits to a community other than downtown? In September 2019 we opened White Center. It was harder than expected. Luckily, our other shops generated enough revenue to get it through the rough winter and it had just started to generate a profit in early March when everything came to a standstill.
So, I made a decision to go back in time: to close White Center, Pioneer Square and our HQ office, to permanently lay off the management team we needed as we grew but won’t need as we are smaller, and to take 49 other amazing bitches off standby. This was the most excruciatingly painful thing I’ve ever had to do. Not only am I letting most everyone go, I’m breaking up a tight-knit family. Staff who have grown together, helped each other through life events, were accepting and welcoming when adding new members, who created a culture where differences and originality were celebrated! This is a heartbreak for me that may never mend.
Biscuit Bitch will have ten employees when we reopen. I offered jobs to those who have been with the company the longest, some as many as eight years, and they all accepted. I am so lucky and grateful to them for standing by me to build this back up. They will keep their salaries and their benefits, and we will all be working in teams of three to bring you takeout and delivery from the two remaining shops. We will not open our doors for customers to enter the shops yet because the shops are too small and I want us to be safe, but sometime in early June you will probably see one of us in there making biscuits and gravy just like the old days.
As you can see, I’m not the best writer, and I have a hard time expressing myself. But I want to let you know, Seattle and Seattle visitors, how humbled and grateful I am that you took this Florida girl in, were open and accepting to my concept, and allowed me to realize all my dreams. I’m a born again in Seattle Bitch… and bitches will be back!
Thanks for reading, if you got this far. 😉
All my love,
Kimmie Spice, President
Biscuit Bitch, Inc.