How this Oakland cupcake business survived the pandemic

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Eurydice Manning inside James and the Giant Cupcake’s Jack London Square flagship store. Credit: Amir Aziz

Founded in 2008, at the height of the gourmet cupcake trend, Oakland’s mini dessert chain James and the Giant Cupcake has maintained its popularity even after the individual snack boom ended. It was only during the pandemic that founder Eurydice Manning began to rethink her business, which recently celebrated 10 years in the game.

“The biggest lesson for me has been to stay trained, to stay close to your craft,” Manning said.

In the 10 years since the opening of James’ original location at 6326 San Pablo Ave., Manning has expanded to two more locations: one at 341 17th St. at the Howden Building in the center. -City of Oakland, and another in Jack London Square (465 2nd St.), a flagship location that opened in August 2019.

Before the pandemic, Manning had a general manager who managed major parties, a team of bakers spread across the three sites, and several front-of-house employees. Then, when the Bay Area closed in March 2020, Manning and his CEO and friend Caleigh Schrey went their separate ways and Manning was forced to lay off the rest of his staff. It was a difficult transition.

“I couldn’t remember how to bake a cake,” Manning said. “I had to train. It was hard. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

With stores closed to the public, Manning had to find a new business model to stay afloat. Manning relied on the moral and financial support of her fiancé during this turbulent time, calling him “my saving grace.”

Some creations of James and the Giant Cupcake. Credit: Amir Aziz

“I had to teach him to do everything,” Manning said. “He was on the phone taking orders and delivering packages to customers at the door. ”

Manning returned to the kitchen and came up with the idea of ​​delivering cupcake kits for families to build at home. “We weren’t business owners,” she said of her two-person operation. “We were survivalists. ”

For Manning, the hurdles of the pandemic taught him that small business owners weren’t prepared for such a catastrophic event.

“There was no advice for small businesses. It was every man for himself, ”she said. “It was the scariest point I have ever faced. I’m not talking about ‘I don’t have enough money for a month.’ It was, “Is the world stopping? Can I stay in business? “

Aside from owning a business, Manning is also a mother, which means working in her business while her young daughter was in online school.

“I would take her to the store at four in the morning and she would sleep on the couch while I was in the back cooking,” she said. “When school started, I was zooming and gliding. I can’t tell you how crazy it was.

During the height of the pandemic, Manning was baking cupcakes in the restaurant kitchen while his daughter slept on the store sofa. Credit: Amir Aziz

Eventually, Manning applied for a loan from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program (P3P) and was successful in receiving the funds early on. However, she also had to negotiate with her three different owners.

“It’s a whole different ball game against the owners,” she said. “Some people care, others don’t care and wanted their rent. “

Before getting a second P3 loan, Manning lived on money from his personal savings, retirement funds, and even his fiancé’s personal funds. “Everyone was trying to survive,” she said. During the pandemic, Manning said she lost about $ 300,000 in profits.

The uncertainty in 2020 has left her wondering if she should keep all three locations open. Manning even considered closing the original location on San Pablo Avenue, she said. “But then I thought, you can’t deny the customers, this place was the mothership.”

These days all three James and the Giant Cupcake locations are working, but it still doesn’t have the same number of employees it did before the pandemic.

“I haven’t seen an economic recovery yet. So how are you going to predict your income as a business, ”she asked. “Winter isn’t here yet and we don’t know what’s going to happen then.”

Manning and James Irving, one of the store’s bakers. Credit: Amir Aziz

On top of that, they are worried about the debt she incurred during the pandemic. PPP loans are only canceled by the government if the funds are used to pay staff, so she will have to repay a significant portion of what she borrowed.

“The money is being used for sustainability, it’s not just going to be used to hire the same staff as before and pretend there isn’t a pandemic yet,” she said. “I try to be a conscious business owner. ”

As a black female business owner, Manning is no stranger to challenges. In his mind, the pandemic is an opportunity for other young entrepreneurs entering the business world to prepare for any obstacles they might face.

“Stick to your vision,” she advised. “Understand finances, because unless you are a rich person and never have to wonder where the money will come from… you will want to understand what it will take” to run a business, he said. she declared.

Manning hopes the loyal following who supported her when she launched James and the Giant Cupcake ten years ago will continue to rally with her as she determines what lies ahead for the business.

“You spend 10 years building your life and then you have to start over,” she said. “Where do we go when we don’t know what a healthy business looks like in America? Everything takes on a predictability on the world that we simply don’t know anymore. ”

“Stay true to your vision” Eurydice Manning tells entrepreneurs. Credit: Amir Aziz


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