Editor's note: This is one in our series of interviews with Indianapolis small business owners navigating the pandemic business environment.
Cindy Helmling is the owner of Cornerstone Bakery Company, a wholesale bread company. With restaurants either shutting down or operating within pandemic capacity restrictions, she spoke with WFYI's Terri Dee and says the empty grocery store bread shelves shifted her thinking on ways to expand her customer base.
Terri Dee: Can you describe the highest and the lowest points during the past several months that have affected your business?
Cindy Helmling: The lowest point was definitely when the mayor announced that restaurants were going to close. And I mean, we all knew that was coming up. But that meant I had to immediately lay my staff off. And we've never had a layoff at Cornerstone bread. We've never had anything close to a layoff.
TD: And the discussions that you're having with other individuals in the restaurant industry, what are their thoughts? How's the morale? Are they saying that they're going to see they feel like they're going to see the light at the end of the tunnel relatively soon?
CH: No, I don't think anybody thinks that right now. It's going to be a while it's going to be 10 or 11 months before everyone is vaccinated and things are back to normal. And a lot of these restaurants can't survive that long. They're just struggling. I mean, you're talking about restaurants that are supposed to go through the winter at 25% capacity. And that's not sustainable.
TD: What moment circumstance or lesson since the pandemic began, will you bring into 2021 and implement in your business operations really early, when people were out of bread completely when all the grocery stores were out the bread is one of my employees. And I got together and we had a pop up sale to help people in the industry.
So we had, we just like blasted on Facebook and tried to get in touch with a few media stations. This was on a Sunday, and things were kind of close up downtown, but we put a sign out and had the Facebook ads, and people came in and bought I think it was three loaves for $20. And we donated that money to people in this serving community. And it just kind of woke me up today, our company needs to do a little more of that we need to be a little more generous. We have an urban farm we've donate donate to like the leftover bread and then also to some food pantries over the years.
So what we're doing now is we're trying to apply that lesson of generosity going forward. And we are in the process of creating this thing we call the bread box, which is a box. It's an old newspaper stand. And we're going to put bread out there so that people who really need to can just get it for themselves. We're gonna put that out by our sidewalk.
TD: I would like to thank you for taking time to speak with me today.
CH: Thank you for giving all the small businesses an opportunity that you've given to people to get to know them better and get to know their owners better and yeah, we really appreciate it.