Rising Above

Sweet Alfas Bake Shop in Elizabeth, beats the coronavirus with cookbooks

I sit at my kitchen table and bite into a warm, buttery almond croissant. The layers of savory dough paired with the sweet, nutty filling epitomize culinary perfection. The coffee shop where I work orders these delicacies daily, and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love. However, a time not too long ago I was sure I had eaten my last.

Luckily, Missy and Luigi Casaretto are determined to ensure that is not the case. The couple owns Sweet Alfas Bake Shop, the business responsible for the almond croissants. It is no secret that COVID-19 has taken its toll on small businesses around the world, and Sweet Alfas was not immune to the virus’s effects. 

Sweet Alfas is nestled in Elizabeth, a small Colorado town that bears the slogan “A Rural Surprise.” In the town of about 1,500, Missy and Luigi noticed a drop in business almost immediately after talk of the coronavirus began to make its way to Colorado. 

“People were trying to support us, it just wasn’t enough,” Missy said. “I hate to be so morbid, but I thought we were done,” Luigi followed. 

The couple saw business slow down as early as February. In hindsight, the decline was an eerie kind of foreshadowing. Wholesale accounts with other struggling businesses began to suffer, and the downward ripple affect of the economy knocked them down like a domino.

“Wholesale keeps our doors open, absolutely. Once those accounts started to close, it really affected our ability to project income,” Luigi said. “We got pretty good at predicting our daily rhythm, what we should buy, and what our peak business times were. All of that went out the window.”

Surprisingly, when we sat down to chat, the couple was a picture of calm. Bearing flour-stained aprons and big smiles, they discussed their story in between baking bread and putting a batch of cinnamon rolls in the oven. 

Sweet Alfas began when the couple whipped up dozens of alfajores, a Peruvian sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche, to raise money for their daughter’s dance event. The alfas were a huge success. From there, Missy created an online cookie shop that eventually turned into their brick and mortar business in 2017. 

What started with a single cookie turned into a full menu of pastries and lunch items. A season of inspiration, innovation, and trial & error began, and it hasn’t stopped since. The couple is completely self-taught. Now they want to teach the masses how to create their own gourmet goods.

“We initially thought we would have to close for good. Nobody would buy a business right now, especially a restaurant,” Luigi said. “We decided to create a cookbook to pay off the money we still owed.”

The original plan was to budget out a goal of how much money would be needed in order to pay all of their debts. But then, inspiration hit.

“We asked ourselves, what if we make a goal to see how much we’d need to open back up?” Missy said.

That goal happened to be $20,000. With fingers crossed, they launched an online crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo on April 13th. By the end of the month, they had $22,000 raised. 

Supporters have the option to purchase different packages that include the cookbook, merchandise, or a master class with the staff. The goal is to have the cookbook in people’s hands by July. Breads, muffins, sweet rolls, cookies, scones, tarts, cheesecakes, pies, croissants, empanadas, as well as content from their lunch menu, are among some of the recipes that will be available in the book.

Sweet Alfas has the means to remain open and make some long-awaited improvements. They have hopes to hire a larger team, install a fryer to make doughnuts, update the decor and branding, and, perhaps the biggest change: open up for dinner.

Since they opened, Missy and Luigi have felt like they are suffering from an identity crisis. They began their journey as a bakery, but when they started to serve lunch people called them out.

“This one customer looked at our menu and tell us we weren’t a bake shop!” Missy remembered. “We were so butt-hurt,” Luigi laughed.

Like people, it takes time for businesses to develop their identity. Missy and Luigi have since learned what items Sweet Alfas is known for. Now it is simply a matter of expanding in a focused direction. In the process of rebranding and reinventing, they will change from Sweet Alfas Bake Shop to Sweet Alfas Kitchen.

Like Missy and Luigi, several small businesses applied for the government SBA loans and did not receive funding. There have been several complaints about the small business money from the Paycheck Protection Program, created for companies with less than 500 employees, being given away to larger franchises. Missy and Luigi aren’t bitter, but they knew they couldn’t wait around during such unpredictable times.

“There’s no guarantee,” Missy said. “So, do you keep stressing, staring at your phone, and obsess over whether or not the SBA processed your stuff? Or, do you do what my husband does and figure out what you can do?”

Adversity builds and reveals character. Through the trials and hardships of the pandemic, we all have the choice to rebuild, reinvent, and come out stronger and sweeter than ever. 

You can read more, purchase the cookbook, and “meet” Missy and Luigi Casaretto at this website: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sweet-alfas-cookbook#/

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