WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses have struggled to make ends meet -- particularly Black-owned businesses – but that’s not the case for the women who own Worthy Cakes, a bakery and supplies store in Winter Garden.
According to research from the University of California at Santa Cruz, 17% of white-owned businesses had already closed their doors for good by mid-April of last year, just weeks after the pandemic began.
In that same time frame, 41% of Black-owned businesses had gone under.
Up until the beginning of last year, business had been booming for Worthy Cakes, which was located in Ocoee at the time. In fact, business was so good that owner Asha Worthy-Robinson, who works alongside her mom, Grace Worthy, and her sister, Annette Worthy, was looking to expand.
Then, the pandemic hit.
“We just got a cascade or a wave of canceling weddings, canceling parties, canceling events, just … cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel,” Worthy-Robinson said.
Not only were they not selling as many cakes, they also weren’t selling many supplies at the time because other bakers who usually buy those items from them had no need for them since the events they rely on for business were also being canceled.
The women also relied heavily on partnerships they had with Wahlburgers, a burger chain that was forced to close its doors, Tijuana Flats, a restaurant chain that also had to adjust to the way it does business due to COVID-19 and farmers markets, which were also forced to close for months.
The sharp decline in sales almost put their search for a new spot on hold, until they were in the Winter Garden area paying a bill and saw a “for lease” sign in a plaza.
Times were hard but the trio knew the space would be a good fit for their business.
“Even in the midst of that, we were like, ‘OK, I know ... we’re asking a lot right here,’ do we take this leap of faith?” Worthy-Robinson said.
And they did. Hoping business would bounce back soon, Worthy-Robinson and her family pulled together their savings and signed the lease.
Business didn’t immediately take back off once they relocated. In fact, the women say there have been many slow days.
“There are times when we turn that ‘open’ sign on that we don’t know if people are gonna come in,” Worthy-Robinson said.
But with the help of some CARES Act money, the Paycheck Protection Program and the community, Worthy-Robinson says it’s been a risk worth taking.
“We cannot thank them enough, we honestly can’t. Because if it’s not for them, I think we would’ve really suffered throughout the pandemic,” she said. “Our doors would’ve been closed.”
Worthy-Robinson does the baking and decorating, Annette Worthy is in charge of all things customization and their mom, Grace Worthy, takes care of everything in between, even their social media.
But for the mother-daughter trio, Worthy Cakes is more than just a way to make a living.
“We kinda see it sometimes as a ministry because we know the customers that come in here and we see it when they just need somewhere to escape,” Annette Worthy said.
Grace Worthy said spending time at the bakery can even be therapeutic for them and their customers.
“Who (could have) a bad attitude at a bakery? I mean … you might be the meanest person but when you walk in the bakery, we don’t see that,” Grace Worthy joked.
She said they work hard to make the store an environment everyone enjoys and feels safe in.
“Yes, we’re Black, you can see that right at the beginning, we’re a Black-owned business. I don’t know if they know that but we service everybody. We serve everybody and everybody’s welcome,” Grace Worthy said.
That’s also why they serve something sweet for everyone, including those with special dietary restrictions. Their menu caters to those who are on keto, sugar-free, gluten-free and even vegan diets, which is another reason they believe the community has continued to support their business.
And they say it’s because of that support from so many that they’ve been one of the lucky few Black-owned businesses to keep their doors open during the pandemic.
“They come in Black, white … the gay community. Everybody, thank you, thank you, thank you. You didn’t have to -- some of them purposely said, ‘Hey, we’re here to support Black business,’” Grace Worthy said. “Thank you, we appreciate it.”
They also credit the reopening of farmers markets, rescheduled events and their new location for the recent spike in business.