Want to buy a bakery? Lucy’s Sweet Surrender’s run coming to an end
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio – Even if the scores of cookie jars lining the shelves in Lucy’s Sweet Surrender were overflowing with cash, Michael Feigenbaum probably would still have to close his bakery.
Feigenbaum has owned the business for 26 years. He moved it from the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood to its current location on Chagrin Boulevard just west of Warrensville Center Road a decade ago. It’s located in the former Chandler & Rudd space, a 145-year-old specialty grocer that had been in the spot since 1960.
But the end of the bakery, as he sees it, is coming soon. It’s not coronavirus, it’s not poor financing or mounting debt, it’s not issues over a lease.
It’s Feigenbaum’s inability to find someone who wants to take over.
“My number-one goal was to find people like I was 25 years ago who want to own a bakery,” he said. “Instead of starting from scratch, they can start with a substantial amount of money coming in the door, a huge reputation, income streams from online shipping, delivery around Cleveland, the farmers markets and the store.
“If they were eventually buying me out completely, yes, they would own everything – the recipes, the methods, the name, the website – all of what I own I would give them.”
It would be a deal, he said, because a new owner wouldn’t have to invest $300,000 to $500,000 to start such a business from scratch. They could apprentice to learn Lucy’s style as they transitioned into running the place.
But that idea is proving elusive because no matter how hard Feigenbaum looks, prospective bakers-business owners aren’t rushing in.
Last week, he posted an emotional Facebook plea born out of frustration with not being able to find a future buyer.
“I decided to write that thing as a Hail Mary,” he said.
He remains on the lookout for potential buyers. He has scoured culinary schools. He traveled to a pastry school’s job fair in Chicago.
“They wouldn’t move to Cleveland,” he said. “I got nothing out of it. I spent two days there. I have been aggressively looking behind the scenes.”
Envisioning the end started last Christmas for Feigenbaum. He could barely keep up with holiday demand.
Feigenbaum, 66, has a back worn by the countless hunches that come with kneading, rolling, cutting, shaping. But he kept plodding on.
“My wife and I had a heart-to-heart about ‘What are we going to do now?’ ” he said. They figured they could handle the slower winter, January through March, on their own, then gear up with some help for Easter and Passover.
“Somehow we’ll pull it off,” he said, “so we’ll have a booming holiday season and then I’ll call the liquidator.”
Then coronavirus hit. Liquidators backed off from any potential sale.
“We stayed open,” he said, despite about $8,000 worth of Easter and Passover orders being canceled.
Then something interesting happened. Lucy’s neighborhood, once you get off Chagrin Boulevard, is heavily residential. When Feigenbaum moved into the spot he thought the residents would find him. For whatever reason, they didn’t, he said. But when the stay-at-home order hit, the residents suddenly found his place as a brief respite, a quick stop on a walk to get out of the house.
That stream of business, albeit limited, along with a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, and the hire of two college students who were home, helped the business “eek along.”
Now the pair of students are leaving. He’s weathered two major recessions, 9/11 and the pandemic. He’s had a steady, neighborhood business. He delivers to farmers markets and has crafted desserts for restaurants. But what he doesn’t have is a farm system of prospective bakers, a pool of talent to choose from, someone to run the business that he admits “is a lot of hard work, and you’re inheriting a heritage and a legacy.”
“It’s always been good but not great. It’s never been bad where I go ‘I’ve got to go out of business because I don’t make enough money,’ ” he said.
The bottom line, he said, is that he has “come to the conclusion that I’m not willing to keep going anymore. We’re facing a Rosh Hashanah season in September where we have to make 800 or 1,000 loaves of bread in three days with no help. And I’m not going to do it.”
Physically, the demand of baking for 40 years has taken its toll for the Shaker Heights High School graduate who grew up on Lytle Road a block from the bakery.
Fruit Danishes, chocolate-chip cookies, glazed doughnuts and other goodies fill the counter in Lucy’s, which covers about 3,000 of the more than 5,000 square feet in the building. Dozens of freshly baked loaves cool in the kitchen. The cookie-jar collection shapes the décor. But unless Feigenbaum finds someone by mid-August, he is ready to put everything up for sale, from the oven to the utensils.
“There could be a last-minute Hail Mary answer,” he said, “and I’m ready to do it.”
But for now, as Feigenbaum says, “I’m fighting an uphill battle.”
Source: Marc Bona, cleveland.com