SEATTLE - COVID-19 has been a seemingly never ending nightmare for small businesses, with many struggling to stay afloat and some having to close down permanently. But one local business owner says she’s found a way to make her business thrive.
Back in March, the lively and colorful neighborhood of Ballard was faced with a predicament that only be described as unprecedented.
“We boarded up our doors…it was a really scary time,” says Natalie Bleifuss.
Such was the case for her business, Pie Bar, a spot well-known for serving craft cocktails and sweet and savory pies.
“In the very beginning we did have to lay off pretty much everybody and for management, staff salary was cut in half,” says Devon Robbins, director of operations for Pie Bar.
With the inside closed, revenue was down 40%. Things looked bleak. But Bleifuss says she wasn’t about to let her small business be wiped out.
“I’d say that COVID gave me the (chance) to innovate and just stop," Bleifuss says.
She says closing their doors gave her the time to rethink her business model.
“I think the key is distribution and diversifying,” says Bleifuss.
Distribution and diversifying, meaning changing and adding the way to they get out their product. Diving into a full take out model, and a food truck. But perhaps the most signifcant change is in the staff.
“Everybody got cross trained. So I learned to be a baker, I had my lead bartender become bar manager, I had a server become marketing director,” says Robbins.
He says every staff member can now essentially do every job in the restaurant, making it easier to expand business.
By utilizing the staff in a new way, they were able to rehire all the staff who wanted to come back that’d been laid off. So now, Bleifuss has plans to do something most people would consider crazy.
“Why not give people more pie? It’s comfort food!” she says.
Comfort food may be needed now more than ever. So later this month, she’s opening up a second location in Phinney Ridge that’s takeout only. And it’s all thanks to her new business model. Sales are up 30%.
Bleifuss says for the first time in the eight years of owning her small business, it is finally profitable. When her second location opens later this month, she anticipates sales will quadruple.
"I feel like I’m really lucky," she says.
She recognizes it’s extremely rare to have a burst of success now, when most small businesses being crushed. Her best advice is when things look dire, do everything you can to adapt.
“Don’t give up, innovate, pivot, stay simple and keep going-full speed ahead," she says.