Overtime: The rebirth of Manchester's Wild Orchid Bakery
Shelly-Anne Storer never gets to her Manchester bakery later than 4:00 am. The morning I meet her, she’s cranking out pies. Later, she’ll be cooking a huge pot of chicken curry and a hearty corn soup.
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But she’s not alone. Her brother Josh Serrao is on donut duty, the treats Wild Orchid Bakery is growing famous for.
He’s helped his sister ever since they were kids in Trinidad. At 16, Serrao remembers working with Storer when she opened her bakery and catering business.
“That's really where my inspiration and drive came from,” he said.
But this isn’t the first time Storer has tried to open Wild Orchid. It's taken a long time for her to get here.
She tried to open last fall, but the space was a nightmare. The roof leaked and the pipes flooded. A dispute with the landlord over money and repairs blew up, and the police and courts got involved.
That experience left her rattled, frustrated and thousands of dollars in debt. And while she was trying to restart her business, Storer still had to juggle the high cost of child care and parenting during a pandemic.
It was hard for Storer to get a traditional loan to reopen Wild Orchid due to her debt, so she raised money through a platform called Mainvest. It’s like crowdfunding, but people get a return on their investment.
Eventually, she raised $20,000. Mainvest took a $3,000 cut. The remaining $17,000 was just enough for the first few months of rent and a laundry list of repairs, everything from new paint to fixing the lighting.
When she looked for a new space, she examined potential locations with extra scrutiny.
She had her current space on Elm Street inspected before signing the lease. She also developed a relationship with the landlord, ensuring he was someone she could envision working with far into the future.
At the end of the summer, when the two signed the lease, she described the process as collaborative. She remembers he told her “If you do well, I do well.”
By early November, Storer felt ready for a soft launch.
“It's only three of us,” Storer said. “When we sell out, we literally have to restock everything.”
A working mom, her children still dominate her schedule. At 7:00 am, her husband Adam heads to work and drops the kids off at the bakery. At 8:00, she drives her son Jack to school, and leaves again to pick him up in the afternoon.
Child care for her youngest, four-year-old Scarlett, is unaffordable, so Scarlett is often at the bakery with her mom.
“Half of my time is for them. And then the other half is trying to get work done” Storer said.
Still, she’s optimistic about her business’ future. Weekends have been busy, custom cake orders have been steady, and she’s got a sizable lunch crowd. On this chilly day, her corn soup with a warm roll is the perfect comfort food.
Sean Williams, a flight attendant in Manchester just for the day, was in line for lunch. "What caught my attention was the Trini flag,” Williams, who is Caribbean, explained.
While Storer loves introducing people to Trinidadian food who’ve never had it before, she said Wild Orchid is also for people like Williams.
“This is for other islanders and other Trini’s who miss home like me,” she said. “A peanut punch, a choc nut, a sorrel soda, those are the things we know and love.”
And just a month later, Storer moved on from her soft launch. She brought live Trinidadian music to her bakery on December 5 to celebrate her grand opening.
Surrounded by friends, family and locals who invested in the business on Mainvest, she cut the ribbon for Wild Orchid.
But this time last year, Storer was cutting the ribbon at her old location. Just months later, it closed.
“It's a weird feeling,” Storer admitted, but she’s decided to embrace it. She marked the day as a “fresh start, a rebirth.”
Shelly-Anne Storer is one of six women NHPR is following as part of our series 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 during this phase of the pandemic? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.