Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Culture at Crosstown: A Fresh Perspective at Lucy J’s Bakery

By Julia James
Journalism student
hottytoddynews@gmail.com

Lucy Burgess outside the bakery. (Photo by Julia James)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series dedicated to the Crosstown Concourse, located in the Crosstown neighborhood of Memphis, where Memphians of all backgrounds come together to eat, dine, go to school, shop and more.

Sitting on the shared porch outside the bakery’s storefront, 11-year-old Lucy Burgess looks at her name on the bakery’s front door. “It’s weird [to have a bakery named after you],” she says. “People won’t expect the name to be after a sixth-grader,” she adds with a giggle. 

Lucy J’s Bakery is definitely a family affair. Owners Tracy and Josh Burgess, who named the business after their first two children Lucy and Jacob, have grown their love of baking into a non-profit social entrepreneurship business that partners with the Dorothy Day House family shelter to provide jobs and skills training for the shelter’s residents. 

“[We first started baking] at a time when Josh and I didn’t really like each other — we had two small kids, so schedules were tough and life was a little bit difficult, Tracy said. “So we baked to have time together.”

Josh had a restaurant background and is the master chef behind the bakery, with Tracy taking on the role of decorator. For six years, they made special event cakes out of their dining room before the bakery became anything more serious. 

Lucy J’s was conceived specifically to be in partnership with the Dorothy Day House. Tracy and Josh started volunteering at the Dorothy Day House in 2012 when their kids were small, and they were raising them to be service-minded. Shortly into their time there, Executive Director Sister Maureen Griner approached them about hosting a weekly dessert and prayer service. 

“There’s a quote by Dorothy Day that ‘If you put a pot of soup and a pot of coffee on the stove, God will take care of the rest,’” Tracy said. “That was the mentality behind that weekly prayer service for us.”

“We knew that we wanted some kind of a business where we could get people employed quickly, but could never come up with an idea that we could follow through on,” Griner said. “Our purposes have been very intertwined, and it just seems it was meant to be that they would be a supporting agency for us.”

Lucy J’s has employed nine residents of Dorothy Day houses since the bakery opened in February 2018. Their top-selling items have been croissant pockets and cinnamon rolls, but they have a diverse menu of bread, cookies, pies, and specialty cakes.

It was Griner who connected the Burgesses with Sean Massey, the retail leasing agent of Crosstown. Massey was interested in bringing a bakery into Crosstown and helped the Burgesses find a financial backer. After a series of meetings with various potential investors, one pointed out to the Burgesses that this business plan sounded more like a non-profit than a for-profit, which allowed them to restructure certain elements of their plan and find financial support. 

Tracy said that being in the building allowed them to take baking a lot more seriously, growing their menu and capacity. Loaded For Bear was doing a lot of the logos for other businesses in the building, and helped Lucy J’s update and streamline their logo.

“Even when we first started talking about being in this space before [Crosstown] officially opened, this was one of the ‘it’ buildings to be in,” Tracy said.

The display case at Lucy J’s Bakery. (Photo by Julia James)

Crosstown is a very open, bright, and spacious building, balancing renovated style with a modern pop. The same can be said of Lucy J’s. The interior design is mostly white and light wood, with an orange accent wall. The bakery feels clean and open, while simultaneously communicating a small-business feel in the hand-written signs in the pastry case. 

“Being in this building is wonderful because you have this built-in audience. It’s also a challenge because when the building is busy, it’s really busy,” Tracy said. The bustle of Crosstown has meant that Lucy J’s sometimes struggles to attract individual patrons who were not already in the building. 

The pandemic completely closed Lucy J’s for 2 months in the spring. Being able to secure a booth at the farmer’s market and find a new audience for the business has helped keep Lucy J’s afloat during the challenges of COVID. 

“The Downtown Farmer’s Market has really been a blessing during the pandemic, but it often becomes a family affair on Friday nights to finish up the bread and package it, wrap it, and label it.” 

Each week, Lucy J’s is selling around 150 loaves of seven types of bread at the Downtown Farmer’s Market and has expanded to also bring cinnamon rolls and croissant pockets. They’ve developed a very dedicated clientele at the farmer’s market, and Lucy J’s will be starting a subscription bread service to continue to cater to that demand after the market ends at the end of October. 

“We had no clue if we would open back up or not [after the initial shutdown], and sometimes we’re still not sure that we’re going to survive this,” Tracy said. 

Josh elaborated that a lot of the bakery’s sales were based on foot traffic, which has seen a dramatic decrease as many of the offices upstairs remain closed. He also referenced Crosstown’s attempts to bring some of this foot traffic back with their “Spread Out!” campaign, advertising how much square footage the building has. 

“The building as a whole is looking at ‘How do we rebuild? How do we support every business in this building, and do it as safely as possible?’’ Tracy said. 

Tracy said that one of the elements of the bakery she is most proud of is seeing their employees learn, grow, and develop community.

Vanessa Cannon preparing croissant pockets in the kitchen at Lucy J’s Bakery. (Photo by Julia James)

Vanessa Cannon, who has been working at Lucy J’s for 10 months, has become a local fixture in the building, with regular customers coming by and asking about her on her off days. 

“I like seeing customers,” Cannon said. “They’ll be laughing and joking with me, leave big tips, and I love it.” 

During the pandemic, Cannon has been moved to the back of the house to help with the baking. She said that baking things with croissant dough is hard work, but she likes it and appreciates that the Burgesses are forgiving if anything goes wrong. 

“I see us as a family…I’m not going anywhere because I love them and they love me,” Cannon said. 

One of the most essential elements of the bakery to the Burgesses is their commitment to paying their employees a living wage. 

“It was because of our work with the Dorothy Day House that really proved to us that [$15 an hour] was the new baseline,” Tracy said.  Tennessee’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour

After having run the business for two years, they’ve come to realize that $15 an hour is barely enough to make ends meet without government assistance, not truly a living wage. In the future, the Burgesses see raising awareness around this issue and supporting businesses that pay at least $15 an hour as one of their key goals, and vital for strengthening the community. 

“There’s a sense of community in this space and we got to be a part of it,” Tracy said.  “That’s what I wanted this space to be from the very beginning, and I can’t wait for the day when we can get back to people coming into the shop regularly, sitting down and enjoying time with us, having a cup of coffee. I can’t wait to get back to that.”