GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Every business person has their pandemic story. For David Vander Meer, owner of Van’s Pastry Shoppe, you might think his pandemic experience went well, considering his bakery was considered an essential business and was allowed to remain open.
But a crucial part of his business disappeared despite Van’s essential status.
“I got about 30 restaurants that we deliver to consistently around town,” Vander Meer explains. “Some of your favorite restaurants might be having our Van’s English muffin bread, or white and wheat, and stuff like that.”
Suddenly, Van’s went from making 250 to 500 loaves of bread a day to sell to restaurants to making just 50 loaves several times a week to sell over the counter. So, while retail customers still stopped by to pick up pastries, a big part of Vander Meer’s business was gone.
“I'm still at reduced staff,” he notes, now 11 months after the pandemic began. “And I'm still under 50 percent of my payroll of what I was.”
“We’ve got to get those restaurants open,” he states. “Bread is key to a lot of those breakfast places that we deliver to, and sandwiches and everything else.”
Vander Meer is doing what he can: "There's Payroll Protection Program out there and different things like that, but we didn't do it the first round. I hate loans,” he says. “Now this second round, I've applied for it; just doing what we can day by day.”
But, as with most of the businesses we have talked to, Vander Meer points to the positive: community support. “People have been reaching out knowing that we're open, have been coming in, and really been nice to us.”
Van’s Pastry Shoppe is maintaining its position as the oldest bakery in Grand Rapids, since it opened in 1942. Vander Meer is a fourth-generation owner, having taken over in 2019.
“I started delivering when I was 16,” he recalls. “When I was in high school, I would come to work before school, making Danish dough, and then I would head off to school.”
“In the last couple of years, turned out that God's really led us into taking over the bakery and continuing it on."
“Support of the community is huge,” he says. “At Van’s Pastry, you can buy your bread, and you can go right next door to one of our little places and get milk, meats, cheeses, all within 50 feet from each other. It takes a little bit extra time to come and visit us, I'm the local guy. I just gave out gift certificates to a local nonprofit for a fundraiser they're doing.”
“You don't see a lot of the big companies that are giving to the little local nonprofits.”