Overtime: How Shelly-Anne Storer Started, Closed And Relaunched A Business During The Pandemic
Shelly-Anne Storer’s first job after moving to New Hampshire was at an assisted living facility in Concord, and though she spent long hours cooking and serving food to residents, there were parts she enjoyed.
“I loved finding out what their favorite things were, so I knew exactly what to bring to their table,” she says. Storer remembers one resident from the South asked her for a traditional hummingbird cake. Storer baked it and says she’ll never forget the gratitude of the resident. The resident told Storer it brought her back to her childhood.
But the cake brought Storer back too. She had the recipe from her old catering business back in Trinidad. Storer’s owned a business since her 20s. But she started small. In Trinidad, she and her brothers started putting fliers for her banana bread in mailboxes. Once she built up her finances, she expanded into the catering business. Within three years she says she had a slew of clients. Celebrities, she recalls, ate her baked goods.
But everything fell apart during one night in 2014. Two men robbed her at gunpoint in her home.
“I was lucky. I came out alive,” she says. “They pretty much were on a mission to take everything,”
The robbery left her rattled. Storer moved to New Hampshire on the advice of a godfather in Nashua. At 40, she lives in Manchester and she's looking for a new storefront for her bakery while she raises two young children, Jack, 5, and Scarlett, 3.
After she came to New Hampshire, Storer didn’t restart her business right away. She took that job at the assisted living center, but she says it was hard to develop relationships with older residents who passed.
She moved on. She wasn't ready to try starting a business again until the bakery she was working at closed after the pandemic hit.
“When I told everybody about my plan, everybody looked at me like I was crazy, like I'm going to open my own bakery,” she remembers.
But launching the business was difficult, and it wasn’t just because of the pandemic. It was the location. Storer started renting a Manchester storefront and got the keys in October 2020.
While she was preparing the space, she heard something strange in the basement. She ran downstairs. Water was pouring out of the bottom of the water heater.
Storer says the building needed thousands of dollars worth of unexpected repair — just to get it up to code. She had to use part of a loan she’d allocated for inventory and supplies on construction instead.
After all that work, Wild Orchid opened months behind schedule in December. But customers quickly started coming for the donuts. It was immediately popular.
“I was trying to pump out as many donuts as I could every morning,” she says. After they opened at nine, they often closed by 11 because they were completely sold out. Storer was pleased.
But the situation got ugly after a dispute with the landlord over money for the repairs. The police and courts got involved.
Storer had to close the business and leave the building. It felt like what happened in Trinidad, all over again. Her family was also in debt due to the business closure.
“I always said in my life I would never let a man stop me from succeeding...I would rather go down dying, trying to fend for myself than to have them take advantage of me. And here it was, happening again,” Storer says.
But she’s not giving up, in part because of her children. She’s a mother of four. Her two oldest live with their father, her ex-husband, overseas.
During the summer, Storer's tried to find fun, affordable activities to do with Jack and Scarlett, like going out for ice cream, or bringing them to Livingston Park. Her husband, Adam, is a teacher. He’s home for the summer, and while Storer’s parenting duties are far from on pause, she’s grateful he can take care of the kids while she hunts for a new location.
She has a promising lead with a business owner in Wilton who's interested in sharing a space. She’s one of many people managing New Hampshire’s tough real estate market right now, and it takes up a lot of time.
“It's 24/7 because things go so quickly. So to find a spot that's a good price and everything, there's somebody else doing the same thing.”
Storer has also been doing some crowdsourcing through Mainvest to raise funds and make up for lost capital. And, she’s taking on customers again. She just lined up a share in a commercial kitchen at a nearby mall.
“August is already booked...I’m just working on weddings.” Some of which, she laughs, are big. One event has about 200 people coming.
She's ready for it. Last weekend, Storer got her dairy license renewed, so she can actually start filling those orders.
Shelly-Anne Storer is one of six women NHPR will follow as part of Overtime. And we want you to add your voice. How are you managing the needs of caregiving and work during the pandemic? What is changing for you as the pandemic fades? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.