Blondery’s Auzerais Bellamy '12 on Managing Her Business During COVID

Auzerais Bellamy '12 worked on perfecting her signature blondie recipe for 10 years prior to establishing Blondery, her Brooklyn-based bakery, in 2016. But the onset of the COVID pandemic has pushed her to grow in ways she never would have anticipated — on multiple fronts.

Ingredients became scarce. Public transportation became an iffy prospect. At the same time, the stress and uncertainty of lockdown began spiking everyone’s cravings for sweets. Then the murder of George Floyd — and the subsequent nationwide wave of #BlackLivesMatter protests — created a groundswell of support for minority-owned businesses, including Bellamy’s. Suddenly, meeting the demand for her product got a whole lot more difficult. At the same time, she was juggling the usual growing pains of a small business: Expanding her social media reach. Securing product pop-ups. Searching for a more permanent kitchen space. And so on.

Bellamy shares some of the key entrepreneurial lessons she has learned from the chaotic early months of lockdown:

1) Diversify your suppliers, whether it’s packaging or essential ingredients. And know how much inventory you have on hand at all times.

Right around Valentine’s Day — a huge holiday for Blondery — Bellamy started having difficulty sourcing flour, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda, all of which are absolutely essential ingredients for her product line.

Baker Auzerais Bellamy '12 in her kitchen.

“It was something that totally shocked me — going through the stores and seeing that there’s no flour and there won’t be any for weeks,” she explains. As a workaround, she emailed her main flour manufacturer, King Arthur, to ask about availability in the 5 boroughs. With a list of potential stores in hand, “I would literally take my canvas bag and get as much brown sugar as possible. Same with gluten-free all-purpose flour. I was on foot, because I didn’t want to get on the train. It sounds so dramatic, but it’s true: I was walking miles a day to find brown sugar and flour.”

“It totally shocked me — going through the stores and seeing that there’s no flour and won’t be any for weeks.”

There were other spikes in her business, too, primarily through word-of-mouth and via Instagram. Netflix placed an order to supply 150 blondie boxes as Emmy Awards gifts. And there was the aforementioned boost from #BlackLivesMatter. (Bellamy also participated in Bakers Against Racism; a portion of the proceeds from her Brooklyn Blackout blondies went to the Equal Justice Initiative.)

“My Shopify notifications would pop up every minute. I had to restock my website every few hours and I didn’t know why at first. But I reached out to a few of my peers who also happen to be black and they were experiencing the same thing. I decided then to meet the demand because we all were not sure if it was just a trend. ”

With orders spiking and supply becoming elusive, Bellamy realized she needed to take a hard look at how she was going to keep her business restocked moving forward. “Have multiple people you can get supplies from, because one isn’t going to cut it. Make an inventory sheet before you get poppin’, because once you get poppin’, it’s going to be chaotic (as it was for me).”

As a solution, she started keeping inventory sheets with pars on them. “Basically, a ‘par’ is a number you never want to dip below,” she explains. “For some reason, my packaging goes out of stock at random points in the year. So I know, for me, I wouldn’t be comfortable having less than 500 boxes on hand.”

2) Invest in reliable transportation.

With the subway out, Bellamy found herself walking (a lot!), but also taking car shares when she needed to haul, say, 50-pound bags of flour or drop off shipments at FedEx. In a one-month period, she was shocked to find she’d spent roughly $700 on ZipCars or Uber. “I told my parents, and they said, ‘You realize that’s more than a car though, right?’” Bellamy quickly realized that a car was going to be a necessity. “You can’t test-drive cars right now because of the pandemic, so my dad found me a car that I was familar with. It was the biggest purchase I've ever made but I am zipping all around the city now, it was worth it!”

3) Keep your lines of credit OPEN.

“Obviously keeping some credit lines open is a goal for most people but I saw how important that is when you are growing so rapidly. I wasn’t expecting this influx of business, but luckily I took the steps to establish credit lines beforehand. ”

A sample box of blondies from Blondery.

4) Pay for good help.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network,” she explains. “But pay them – don’t take advantage of their time.”

Bellamy is adamant about supporting her community when she needs help. Sometimes that means enlisting friends. But as she grows her business, she is looking at getting better systems in place and potentially hiring full- or part-time assistance.

She also signed up for Acadium, a service that matches entrepreneur-mentors with apprentices who will tackle specific marketing projects as part of their training. For a small business owner like Bellamy, it’s a win-win proposition: “I love Acadium because you can have them do anything from scheduling your social media posts, email marketing campaigns, or inputting orders into Shopify. Also, the apprentices are very eager to learn and they bring fresh eyes to my project.”

“Whenever I put my authentic self out into the world, I’m always met with a lot of support. Always.”

5. Get ready for what’s next.

COVID-19 has made life deeply unpredictable, and that makes planning for growth difficult. But Bellamy is looking to build on Blondery’s success. Right now, her primary focus is finding a more permanent kitchen space where she doesn’t have to pay by the hour. (She’s even scouting for space in Rhode Island, potentially; she would love to be back in Providence or Pawtucket.) She’s looking to expand her product line. (The most recent addition is her incredible 11-layer cake, which she demonstrated for Eater.) And she is partnering with Bloomingdale’s, where she has done pop-ups in the past, to sell her blondies. (That will probably be a holiday promotion later in the year.)

Through it all, she’s stayed focused on creating a brand that is true to herself. “Most of the people who follow me [on Instagram] follow me because maybe they see themselves in me or they admire what I’m trying to do,” she notes. “Whenever I put my authentic self out into the world, I’m always met with a lot of support. Always.”

Follow Blondery on Instagram.