How local businesses are adjusting to COVID-19: Fannie’s, STUFF, Queen Sweets, Thou Mayest, Caleb’s

Annie Bolin

U-News is supporting Kansas City’s local business scene with a weekly column featuring businesses and their responses to COVID-19.

This week: Fannie’s West African Cuisine, a store named STUFF, Queen Sweets & Mediterranean Grill, Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters and Caleb’s Breakfast & Lunch.

Fannie’s West African Cuisine
Since Fannie Gibson opened Fannie’s West African Cuisine two years ago, customers have flocked to its location on Troost for traditional African dishes.

Gibson, who is from Liberia, opened Fannie’s after she amassed a large social media following by posting pictures of her recipes.

Before Kansas City’s stay-at-home order, Fannie’s took over 10 reservations a day, Gibson said. Now they’re relying on delivery and carry-out orders to stay afloat.

“I feel like I’m all over the place,” Gibson said of running her restaurant on her own while her employees are at home to avoid getting sick.

Gibson is grateful for her customers’ loyalty as she navigates the financial impact of a restaurant with no dine-in service and limited staff.

“I have orders back-to-back,” Gibson said. “People actually want me to ship food out of state, so there’s still a lot of business, but it’s a struggle when I don’t have help.”

Queen Sweets & Mediterranean Grill
Originally a Jordanian bakery, Mohamed and Kay Bataineh quickly transformed Queen Sweets & Mediterranean Grill into a full-service Middle Eastern restaurant after they opened the neighborhood favorite two years ago.

As a family business, Queen Sweets has only four employees, with Kay as head chef, co-owner Mohamed Bataineh said. Kay’s baklava brought the restaurant fame, and now her chicken shawarma is their most popular dish.

Like many other small business owners adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, Bataineh is grateful for his loyal customer base, who he said comes to Queen Sweets specifically for Middle Eastern cuisine.

Determined to support his employees, Bataineh hasn’t made any layoffs.

“It’s hard on them, so we kept them on,” he said of his employees. “Whatever money we are making, we split it with them.”

Bataineh is hopeful that COVID-19 won’t cause any lasting financial difficulties for Queen Sweets, located in the Northland, especially as he and his wife plan to open a second location in Lenexa.

“Hopefully we’ll stay afloat,” Bataineh said. “Right now we’re paying our bills and paying our employees because they’re the ones making any money for us. It will come around.”

Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters
Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters is a place for the people with a mission to roast fresh coffee and create a welcoming environment. Now, just one employee at a time runs Thou Mayest while the shop offers carry out coffee orders.

“It seems like in our industry, the environment is the biggest thing that people are looking for, an environment where they can hang out and connect with people,” said Retail Operations Manager Austin Averill. “All of a sudden, it’s all about spacing out and safety first above everything else.”

Thou Mayest also sells ground and whole bean coffee online, now offered at quantities up to five pounds.

“Our online sales right now are that of Christmas,” Averill said. Thou Mayest’s wholesale operation is flourishing, too, he said, since many smaller coffee shops have lost their wholesalers.

Even more rewarding is the response from customers. The shop’s location in the Crossroads is central to many in the medical community, who Averill said are “extremely grateful” that Thou Mayest is still providing caffeine.

The shop is also distributing masks made by sewKC, which is housed next door to Thou Mayest in the coworking space Collective Ex.

“It’s been a really different, stressful experience,” Averill said. “But it’s not too hard to recognize the things that are benefitting our business and making us better people and a more well-rounded company.”

Caleb’s Breakfast & Lunch
Rebecca Huntsman opened Caleb’s Breakfast & Lunch to honor her son’s love for food and cooking shows. The restaurant, located in South Kansas City’s Red Bridge Shopping Center, quickly became a neighborhood favorite.

Now, with Caleb’s closed to dine-in services, Huntsman is still seeking to serve the neighborhood that welcomed her business so warmly in late 2018.

After their initial closure, Caleb’s offered free pancake breakfasts for kids for about three weeks, placing teddy bears in their windows as an extra treat. Now, Huntsman said, they’re offering free curbside snacks for kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m., along with free curbside coffee every day from 7 to 9 a.m.

Huntsman is grateful for her dedicated customers as they continue placing orders, adding, “Every day they thank us for being open.”

Her staff, just as dedicated, hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.

“All things considered, we’re doing well,” Huntsman said. “Everybody’s just trying to pitch in and help out and do whatever we can to keep our doors open.”

In addition to delivery and curbside pick-up, customers can purchase gift cards to be used when Caleb’s reopens for dine-in services.

a store named STUFF
Sisters Casey and Sloane Simmons opened a store named STUFF in the 1990s to make art accessible and support their community.

At their Brookside store, the sisters sell work by local and international artists and makers alike. Now, they’re focused on online sales and “virtual happy hours” on Facebook, where customers can post comments to buy items, co-owner Casey Simmons said.

“Our customers love every bit of it,” Simmons said, grateful for her customers’ support.

While STUFF customers love connecting with them, the Simmons sisters are still unable to reach a large portion of their customers through social media. Simmons said that, as a “brick and mortar store,” STUFF sales have been significantly impacted.

“Our goal right now is what we call ‘hangin’ in and hangin’ on’ until we get to the other side and reopen our store,” Simmons said.

Before Kansas City’s stay-at-home order, Simmons and her sister laid off all of their employees, leaving the store to just the two of them. Simmons called it a “tough decision,” but one that paid off. STUFF employees filed for unemployment early and received their benefits within a couple of days “before everything got backlogged,” Simmons said.

STUFF is exclusively direct shipping all online orders of select products on their website and offering personal shopping over the phone.

To support small businesses like STUFF, Simmons encouraged consumers to buy locally, even if it’s less convenient. Customers can support STUFF by buying gift certificates, which Simmons said is one of the best ways to support small businesses.

“Small businesses really need people right now,” Simmons said. “We don’t want to have Kansas City’s landscape change completely because of this.”

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