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Dayton small-business owners in conversation with each other, sharing their experiences, hopes and fears about running a small business during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bouncing Back: Ella Bella Homemade and Savorista Coffee

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Alli Mullikin Photography / Courtesy off Kait Brown
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Mandy Grosko of Ella Bella Handmade and Kait Brown of Savorista Coffee

Owning and operating a small business is a juggling act in the best of times. During the pandemic that challenge is even more complex. In this edition of Bouncing Back, two small business owners reflect on their new reality.

Mandy Grosko’s company, Ella Bella Homemade makes small batch gluten-free flour and baking mixes. Kait Brown’s Savorista Coffee makes small-batch decaf and half-caf coffees. As the women grew their businesses, a friendship was born, and now they say the pandemic has reminded them that it’s important to connect beyond the bottom line.

Transcript (lightly edited for length and clarity):

Kait Brown: I think the last time I saw you in person was in late February 2020, right before COVID-19 started, and we were right next to each other at a restaurant-focused trade show.

Mandy Grosko: Yes.

Kait Brown: And then COVID-19 hit. And, well, that changed a lot of things for me, at least in terms of those plans.

Mandy Grosko: It sure did. I've always been able to adapt to change, but the constant rate of change has been very difficult to deal with, especially with three kids in two different schools and then their extracurricular activities. I'll be happy when we have our new normal, whatever that may be.

Kait Brown: I'm really glad that you shared a bit about what else is going on in your life. I think when we talk about what's the impact of covid on small businesses or small business owners, people often only take the lens from a business perspective. And in reality, small business owners have all of the other things going on in their lives that that everyone else does. In my case, my father had cancer and passed away this summer. And so there's not just like our business behind the scenes, there's our personal lives behind the scenes. I have a husband, Daniel. We actually got engaged when we were on our decaf quest, traveling around the world and now we are married. And so I'm so glad that you kind of like added a very big human element into our conversation.

Mandy Grosko: Yeah, it's very important to me. I try and take a holistic approach to things because it's not just a piece for any of us. You need to see all of it. There's been a lot of deep work that business owners have had to do this past year in evaluating what worked in 2019, 2020, how is that going to propel me into 2021, and really contemplating those things, getting that plan in place. And that's those things that the customers don't get to see.

Kait Brown: Yeah. Oh, my gosh. There are so many things behind the scenes that your customers or my customers don't get to see. You know, when you're talking about caffeine and health, people often reveal things to you that they probably don't, maybe some of their friends don't know. But even more so now, whether it's things like customers sharing, job losses or, customer service emails expand into a broader conversation as, you know, we're all just looking for real moments of connection in this. I believe in what we're doing and I think there is a really strong need for it. So I never really had a period of like, hey, there's a lot of uncertainty in the world. Should I stop?

Mandy Grosko: I haven't thought to stop working on Ella Bella because of the pandemic. It's the outside factors, the being married, having three kids, I also have a full-time job and just life in general. So, having all that stuff and having a small business is very difficult and it's always a juggling act for me. I mean, I never thought I'd be here, but my daughter's the one who started me on the track. So the pandemic has made it more difficult but it's not because I don't believe in my product. It's definitely there. Other people love it, too. So that's what keeps me going. That's what makes me go to the kitchen after work and on the weekends and just keep doing it. But also for me, you know, getting to the commercial kitchen and blending the flour and packaging, it's been a meditative experience. It's a release for me to be able to go there and just let everything else go. It's therapeutic. The chocolate chips smell so good and I use organic sugars and when I pour the sugar out it's just like velvet. And even though I've been using the sugar for eight years, I still love it. I still love how it looks when I pour it out. And it makes me smile. I love it.

Bouncing Back was produced by Jess Mador, at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO, in collaboration with Audrey Ingram at Launch Dayton, a network supporting entrepreneurs across the Dayton region.