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Season’s Greetings! The last time we covered small business was in May 2020. What’s happening now?
A report by Yelp found 163,735 businesses listed on Yelp that were open in April 2020 had closed by September. That averages out to more than 800 closures per day. Politicians, pundits and the press are using the number of 800 closures a day as a benchmark and a rallying cry, but in actuality the number might be much higher. Not every small business is listed on Yelp. And since when is Yelp the arbiter of accurate information?
The damage to small businesses across America due to the Covid-19 Pandemic is not yet fully known.
Other data from the University of California Santa Cruz indicates that the number of small business closures could be much higher than 800 a day. The university's data show nearly 317,000 businesses closed between February and September—that’s closer to 1,500 closures a day. As of this month, government sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Small Business Administration do not have current business closure data available—to date for 2020. And it will take more time and research to gather year-end totals for 2020. In fact, the damage to small businesses might take years to accurately report the complete impact of the pandemic.
With this said, it is important to keep in mind an important factor: Pre-pandemic, small business has been on the decline since 2008. As a point of reference, in 2008 53% of the US economy was produced by small business. A new report issued by the Small Business Administration (SBA) in January 2019 (pre-pandemic) shows that small businesses accounted for 44 percent of U.S. economic activity.
It’s clear that for over 12 years, small business has not been getting the necessary financial, regulatory and political support to thrive as a sector.
Historically, going all the way back to 1974, the three main issues negatively impacting small business were healthcare, taxes and regulatory issues. Nearly fifty years later, these same three issues that negatively impact small businesses have actually grown worse—a reality that needs to be examined during 2021 and the years ahead. It is also important to consider that the largest chunk of Trump’s tax cuts went to large corporations and the top 1%, throwing small businesses under the bus. Trump claimed his tax cuts were meant to expand and generate business activity, but large corporations used the money to buy back stocks and intentionally leveraged themselves to increase their debt. Today corporate debt is at an all-time high.
Government isn’t doing what small businesses need, not only to start up, but also to thrive and prosper. The Trump administration’s Paycheck Protection Program that was designed for small businesses has allowed large companies to be the first in line to receive the funds, thus draining resources. The resources made available by government, foundations and NGOs were inadequate prior to the global disaster of a pandemic. Today, they do not have the resources to struggle with a tsunami of unprecedented and unimaginable need.
Yet there is a light at the end of the tunnel. New businesses are often born at exactly the right time. General Motors, Burger King, CNN, Uber and Airbnb were all founded during economic downturns. One pundit, Dane Strangler, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington D.C., told the BBC “that the difficult economic backdrop makes them both tougher and more nimble for years to come.”
This is not entirely true. Businesses like Uber and Airbnb, restaurants, bars and small retailers can be tough as nails and will still be devastated by the pandemic. Small businesses who startup in times of extreme adversity, though, are both opportunistic and lucky. They spot a need in the marketplace and are able to fill it. Often, they are just in the right place at the right time.
Small Business has always been, is, and always will be, the backbone of America. In the coming year, we expect many new small businesses to come out of the gate. And we will be here, cheering them on. We are committed to telling the stories of small businesses who are pressing on in the face of great adversity. In this issue of the Connector, we zero in on the local effects of a global pandemic by profiling a young business—the Rila Bakery and Café located in the suburban city of Lynnwood. The challenges facing this young business are emblematic of what is happening to small businesses across America.
Happy Holidays! Take care and stay safe! -Patricia Vaccarino
PR FOR PEOPLE®
Chief Content Creator:
Published by PR for People®
Design and Layout:
William Lulow, Josue Mora, Ilya Moshenskiy, Patricia Vaccarino,
and a special thanks to
Rila Bakery and Café.
Lynn Berger, Gregg Bertram, Dave Bresler, Peter Corning Ph.D, Rongqing Dai Ph.D,
Bernadette Erasmus, John de Graaf, JoAnne Dyer, Anna Faktorovich, Ph.D.,
Ron Flavin, Michael Fliegelman, Randy Friedberg, Esq.,
Manny Frishberg, Linda Jay Geldens , Henri P. Gaboriau, MD,
Sally Haver, Alison Harris, Roger Hillman, Lorraine Howell, David L. Laing, Linda Jay, Nick J. Licata,
William Lulow, Dean Landsman, Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Joe Puggelli, Annie Searle, Steve Sears, Hall Stuart-Lovell,
Jordan Riefe, William Thomas, Patricia Vaccarino, and Serena Wadhwa
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
Telling the stories of the pandemic
by Patricia Vaccarino
The Rila Bakery and Café opened five years ago in a mini-strip-mall in Lynnwood. This particular mini-mall housing the Rila Bakery and Café is indistinguishable from many others sprawling in suburbs across America. Some stores in the mall are big-brand chains like Subway and Little Caesars Pizza. Other businesses are small enough to be deemed Mom and Pop, offering one-of-a-kind products and services. The Rila Bakery and Café is flanked on both sides by a One Stop Market and Good Karma Tattoo.
What caught my attention about Rila is their heavenly approach to making croissants. I do not usually pursue pastries, but since the pandemic hit, I’m always on the verge of trying something new. You might be too.
Admittedly I’m out of control with Obsessive-Compulsive behavior, spraying hand sanitizer everywhere I go, and at the same time, if today ends up being one my last days on earth, I’m willing to die for a good croissant. Allow me to share my latest discovery: It’s impossible that a delectable treat could be so feather light that it seems to be remarkably free from calories. Rila’s croissants are delicate morsels composed of equal parts of sweetness and light.
Rila pronounced (Reeluh) means relaxed in Japanese. Co-owners and husband and wife Sam Loh and Irin ((pronounced Ireen) Loh are not Japanese. This young couple is originally from Taiwan. Both came to the U.S. as teenagers. Having grown up in Taiwan, they learned English as a second language after moving to the U.S.
The journey to establish the Rila Bakery and Café took time.
So did assimilation into the Northwest culture. For as long as Sam could remember, he knew one day he would be moving to America. Sam’s parents had applied for immigration to the U.S. even before Sam was born. Many years later Sam’s family was finally given the greenlight to come to America. But it did not work out for everyone. Sam recounts how his parents soon grew homesick for their lives in Taiwan and returned to their homeland. They missed the food, a convenient way of life, and the ease of travel. Everything they needed in Taiwan was located within walking distance. Sam’s parents missed their cultural heritage and the sense of community that does not come easily in the Pacific Northwest.
Hovering geographically in the midst of the massive People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Philippines, Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. For a nation relatively small in size, Taiwan is home to one of the tallest buildings in the world. The Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2010, until its height was eclipsed by nine other tall buildings, including the Burj Khalifa of Dubai, the Shanghai Tower of Shanghai and One World Trade Center in New York City, all of which have sprouted in the past ten years.
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is home to the National Palace Museum, one of the largest museums in the world, holding over 696,000 Chinese artifacts. The museum was built to house its collection, which was evacuated from mainland China in 1949, to prevent these artifacts from being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Famous for its Taiwanese cuisine, eclectic night markets and a vibrant music and performing arts culture, it is easy to see how Taiwan inspires entrepreneurs to have big dreams. Even after Sam’s parents returned to Taiwan, Sam and his sister Alice stayed in America. He preferred the weather in the Northwest over the intense heat and humidity of Taiwan. He also knew it was his destiny to launch his own business.
Sam and Irin met while working in the Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), famed for its Shanghai-style soup dumplings & noodles. During the course of Sam and Irin working together, they began dating, fell in love and were married six years ago. More than romance blossomed at Din Tai Fung. They spoke to each other often while they worked. Many conversations led to their dream business. Sam said, “We knew some day we would love to have a bakery and café, a place with coffee, tea, pastries, where people could stop, sit, enjoy and relax—that was the idea.” A sweet dream.
Scrimping and saving, taking out a second mortgage on their home and borrowing from friends and family is what it took to bootstrap the Rila Bakery and Cafe. Five years ago, they found their current site in the mini-mall on Lynnwood’s busy thoroughfare of 196th Street Southwest. They took great care to renovate the interior in a classic blend of stark retro lines, complemented with the texture of warm wood and Tuscan yellow palette of color to create an environment that offers comfort.
Their dream for the future began to come true. Pastry and coffee shops abound in the Northwest, but in order to be exceptional, it was Sam and Irin’s goal to make their cakes and croissants a cut above the rest. Their passion to learn how to bake pastry and to make croissants, scones, muffins, cookie and rolls was a self-taught pursuit. They experimented with many recipes and it was through trial and error that they originated their own perfect batches. What emerged is a delicious variation on tempting baked goods, a true French and Asian fusion, a variation on classic pastry themes.
Welcome to the world of sweet baked goods!
Made of flour, fat, rising agents and flavorings, it’s Rila’s original combination and adjusted measurement of the ingredients that makes the difference. Pastry conceived from the classic French template is touched with an Asian lightness, auguring well for a whole panoply of Rila’s signature recipes that are less sweet, lighter, fluffier and more delicate than traditional fare. Sam describes their expertise in pastry as
self-taught, but it is “Irin who is the heart and soul of the bakery,” he said.
Rila’s baked goods are made fresh every day and everything is baked on site. The view into the kitchen is seen from the front counter, where tempting trays full of scones, croissants and muffins are pulled from the oven. Sam speaks of his pastry, particularly his croissants, as the result of a labor of love that takes two to three days to make.
Visions of sugarplums dancing in your head?
Try the Croissant with crème and fresh fruit.
Croissants come in many shades of temptation from savory to sweet. Strawberry, twice-baked pistachio, almond, pains au chocolat, ham and swiss.
If you’re feeling extraordinarily dull, you can settle for a plain croissant.
Rila’s Dirty Bun is a chocolate croissant topped with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with cocoa powder.
The Snow lemon croissant begs you to pucker your lips to take a distinctly sweet and sour bite.
Churro is the stuff made of cinnamon bon bon dreams
Boba Milk Tea Croissant. Butter croissant filled and overflowed with house made milk tea cream, finished off with brown sugar boba.
Smoked salmon croissant with cream cheese, red onion, garlic, and everything seed on top. It's like a bagel but in our classic croissant. Don't miss it, it will change your life.
The Seasonal Thanksgiving Croissant is packed with roasted turkey, cranberry jam, harvarti cheese, and wrapped in Irin's herb-laden croissant dough.
Then the Pandemic hit.
Now it greatly matters if a baker can deliver baked goods not only for wholesale distribution but also to retail grocery outlets. Sam and Irin personally deliver to a limited number of coffee shops, but it might not be enough to sustain the business in the long run. They’ve had to contend with the awful prospect of “No more customers.” This past March, under governor’s orders, Rila, like so many other eateries, was forced to shut completely, reopening a month later, but now operating under the new social distance guidelines that was at cross purposes with the concept of a café, where people linger over a great croissant and relax while they savor the sweetness of life, and dream.
Rila’s new dream
The shift changed from waiting for customers to going directly to the customers—
to meet them where they are—at home or work. Sam and Irin are now offering exceptional concierge service, delivering cakes and pastries to homes and offices. Sam said, “We used to wait for customers to come in the front door into our warm and comforting bakery. Now we have to go directly to our customers.”
Pandemic Hours Thursday to Sunday 9am to 2pm
Customers can order baked goods online on Rila’s Facebook page. Customers can also email [email protected] or call in orders at 425 967 6094. Rila does not have an automated online ordering platform, almost as if that bit of technology intrudes on the one of a kind, handcrafted pastry. Not having an automated platform can deter customers, so can the limited hours of operation. Since the pandemic, Rila has relied heavily on online booking and delivery. Sam notes, “We always require 48-hours-notice.” Having to give 48-hours-notice, Rila’s limited hours of operation, and the lack of a robust online ordering system, can impair the success and longevity of the business. One note of caution: Before you head to Rila, call or check their Facebook page to make sure they are open.
The true hallmark of an entrepreneur is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, no matter how dire or threatening that those changes might be to the survival of a young business. Sam and Irin have already staked a claim in the innovation that comes from the fusion of many sources: from cuisine, cultural traditions and business resources. Making more changes is what they will need to do to survive. Sam would like to open a second Rila Bakery and Café someday in a different location. Dreams do come true.
Rila Bakery and Café
7600 196th Street Southwest #500
Lynnwood, WA 98038
425 967 6094
Email: [email protected]
Do any of these catch your fancy?
Blueberry muffins, pumpkin cream cheese muffins
Scones: strawberry cream, blueberry, chives and cheddar
Banana walnut loaf, classy coffee cake, snickerdoodle, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies
Chiffon Cakes can be yours truly! From the left: Passion Fruit Mango, Earl Grey Lavender, Matcha Green Tea, Black Sesame Totoro.
Get More for Less?
Handcrafted, one of a kind, committed to supreme freshness is an artisanal approach to pastry-making that can fetch higher prices. Customers are always willing to pay more for quality. Interestingly, Rila’s prices are ten to twenty-five percent lower than the nearest pastries at outlets like Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market. Being committed to a bespoke method of pastry-making makes it difficult for Sam and Irin to deliver their baked goods for wholesale distribution. Not that it mattered. A small business can live long and prosper so long as people are willing to come for Rila’s finely handcrafted limited batches on a first-come, first-served basis.
Barista Diego Villarroel
Irin and Sam Loh