A letter from Whitney and Jessica Keatman of The Sparrow Bakery:
With heavy hearts we must announce the permanent closure of The Sparrow Bakery at our Scott Street location. While we remain open at our NWX location, our last day of operations at 50 SE Scott Street will be Monday, September 6, Labor Day. As most of you know, Scott Street is our original location, and we have been operational at this address for 15 years to the month. If you would like to know more about the lead up to this decision please read on below.
Hiring and retaining workers, henceforth referred to as “labor,” has been a challenge for us at the bakery even before the pandemic era. Since Bend recovered from the recession, labor has been in relatively short supply in this town — I know that most if not all of my service industry friends would agree. The pandemic has turned an annual labor struggle into a true crisis for our company. We work hard to be good employers, often placing our employees’ needs above the demands of our customers, but at this unprecedented moment in time we feel we have exhausted our resources, and ourselves, and we must consolidate our company.
We have been understaffed at Scott Street since early January, when we lost a few staff members to school or other career opportunities. We have searched for new workers relentlessly this year: In years past, I have interviewed and hired between 30-40 employees annually. This past year alone I have made 117 job offers, and of those who accepted, the average retention has been less than 120 days. It’s hard to sleep at night (literally) contemplating what you are doing wrong as an employer, what more you could do, not to mention feeling exhausted with the coordination and pressure of constant hiring, teaching and attempting to maintain job satisfaction. The truth is, as most of you know, this labor anomaly is not limited to our company.
Regardless of our huge efforts and far-reaching innovations at Scott Street to try like hell to “make it work” with whom and what we have, we have simply hit a wall — after Labor Day weekend, we will have six adult employees left at Scott street — we need over 20 to be fully staffed. This group of people does not deserve to be asked to shoulder the load of a critically understaffed operation — above all else this is the single-most compelling reason behind our decision. All FT staff members at this location will be offered positions elsewhere in our company, hopefully helping to strengthen our labor situation in our remaining facilities.
Although we must close Scott Street, I would like to make it clear that The Sparrow Bakery company is not at risk of further reductions to business and we do plan to maintain our NWX retail location and wholesale business at full or increased capacity — Bend you’re stuck with Sparrow Bakery for many, many years to come!
Some of you know us well, and some of you we have never met. I am Whitney Keatman and I own this bakery with my wife, Jessica Keatman. We have owned and operated this business since it’s conception. We have young children at home. The stress of the pandemic for an employer does not end with the labor crisis: We have also been charged with keeping our staff of 130 healthy and safe, a role we were never given training for. The weight of this responsibility alone is a weight I have physically worn since middle March of 2020 — every day I worry about the safety of my staff and their workplace. My wife struggles with supply chain issues and inflation of COGS daily. Boundaries between ownership and staff are blurred as our staff needs a greater level of support and understanding than ever before. Our family is concerned about us and our children have shown signs of stress they have likely absorbed from their parents. We recognize how upsetting our decision will be for some community members, and certainly for our neighbor businesses at The Old Iron Works, and our hearts are heaviest for those who will be affected by this closure. For our family this decision must be made to help us out of a cycle of stress and chaos, and unfortunately it has to be made on short notice to the community.
Thank you so much for your commitment to our bakery all these years: I worked in this bakery for the first eight years, nearly every day. We have had HUGE business at this tiny bakery, long lines down the sidewalk, sold out time and time again. We watched the Fourth of July fireworks on the roof, we hosted over 500 community members at our ten-year anniversary party, we hosted bands, movie nights and art openings. I taught myself how to be a pastry chef here, how to be a manager and how to be a leader. We were plagued by the shortcomings of a 100+-year-old building, the recession, constant break-ins and of course the pandemic. We taught hundreds of people to cook, bake and pour lattes and SO MANY of those people are still the closest of friends today. We probably made just over a million ocean rolls out of this facility alone — wholly cow, what a number. So much love, life, sweat and tears.
I hope that you can all understand the complexity of this decision. Jess and I didn’t make it lightly, and we spent months trying out every possible option to avoid it. We know you will find a similarly excellent level of compassionate service and excellence of products at our NWX location — despite the allegiance some of you may have to our “OG” bakery, the NWX location has built its own community and heart over the past seven years and I feel confident you will enjoy your experience with us at NWX every bit as much as you have enjoyed our sweet Scott Street over the years.