An employee of Max's Artisan Breads prepares sourdough rounds at the Fresno manufacturing facility. Photo contributed

published on May 29, 2020 - 3:59 PM
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As restaurants begin to reopen again for dine-in, sales have begun to trickle back to their suppliers — and it couldn’t have come early enough for some.

In August, Max’s Artisan Breads will celebrate 20 years of baking and delivering bread to grocery stores and restaurants.

The restaurant business made up 80% of the business for the bakery, said Scott Stanley, president of Max’s.

Once COVID-19 hit and restaurants had to close their doors to dine-in guests, it didn’t take long for that effect to ripple through to suppliers.

Max’s suffered more than $100,000 in canceled orders in March.

Sales in April dropped by 80%. A few contracts with hospitals and restaurants relying on to-go kept them going, but not enough to keep Stanley from needing to lay off workers. They went from 10 shifts throughout the week to only one. By March 27, they had laid off 62 people from their peak of 98 workers.

Stanley and his management team spent those weeks in shelter-in-place trying to get an idea what actions they might need to take.

“You had to read everyday trying to figure out between the news of what’s real and trying to get good information,” he said.

Stanley and his team tried to do their own research. They do local deliveries from Visalia to Merced. They reached out to their clients to get a feel of where they were and how they were faring.

They noticed that even though some clients had a strong to-go presence and were doing well, ordering had slowed. Businesses were letting their inventories diminish.

During the downtime, they did take advantage of limited staff. They repainted the inside and outside of the bakery in west Fresno. They also had the floors resurfaced.

“But at some point we need to get back to work,” Stanley said.

Like so many other business owners, Stanley had to find ways to cut back. Instead of garbage pickups six days a week, they changed to only one day a week.

By mid-May, the customers began to come back. In mid-May, Max’s got a flurry of orders to fulfill. After being 80% down in April, Stanley predicts he’ll finish May being only 40% down from normal.

They are now back up to 82 employees. It was a challenge getting some people back who were getting unemployment, he said, but only one or two chose not to come back.

Before COVID-19, restaurant sales were hitting record highs, said Stanley.

But even as restaurants come back, the impact from COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders has already been felt. With restaurants announcing their closing, Stanley said he’d be comfortable with getting back to 20% of where he’d normally be.

“We’d be foolish to think that we’re going to get right back to where we were,” he said.

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