These are strange times we’re living in, no doubt, and if we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 outbreak, its the power of community and pulling together. But then, a sense of community has always been important to life in Western New York.
At Sweet Pea Bakery in the Village of Hamburg, owner Audrey Zybala recently credited the four-plus years of her bakery’s success to her team, her community and her loyal customers. Speaking to me recently over the phone, she explained that she had just made the heartbreaking decision to lay off her staff so they could apply for unemployment benefits.
“We all had a decent cry yesterday,” she laughed bittersweetly. “I honestly think so much of it was just because… we really love what we do. We love the people we do it with and for. These girls are my family.
“I very much hesitate to ever say, work for me. Cause they don’t work for me; they work with me. We’re in there together, grinding it out every single day.”
Sweet Pea opened in November 2015 and quickly became a Hamburg hit. The bakery became well-known for its vegan and gluten-free offerings, which can be found at the Lexington Co-Op and other local stores. Importantly, Zybala said, Sweet Pea isn’t exclusively vegan and gluten-free.
As many bakeries and cafés do, Sweet Pea quickly became a morning spot for local seniors looking to get together over coffee and sweets. This growing community of regulars eventually started turning to the bakery when they wanted to celebrate family events.
“I’ve now done engagement, wedding, gender reveal, baby shower and first birthday cakes – all for one family,” she said. “That’s awesome! Over four years, I’ve gotten to be a part of all their special events. It shows how these village families are so supportive of us.”
Sweet Pea is part of a new wave of businesses, which includes The Grange and Alchemy, that have been flourishing in the sleepy Southtowns village. With change comes conflict, and, you may have heard, there was a bit of a dust-up over the mural painted on the side of Alchemy.
Zybala said she saw the conflict, which roiled social media, like a family squabble – one that flares up and then fades away.
“Family loves each other,” she said. “Family comes together and supports each other, but family has fights, right? Family has disagreements. Yet, we’re all working toward the same common goal: a successful small business.”
“We aren’t going to have common ground all the time, but then let’s seek it. Let’s see how we can come together. I’ll give a little. You give a little and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle.”
Opening a brick-and-mortar bakery in Hamburg also led to Zybala becoming a regular part of a popular pop-up dinner known as The Plating Society, a creative outlet for local chef Darian Bryan. The two shared a building when Bryan was running the kitchen at Prima Café and hit it off over a love of food. Eight pop-up events have been held so far and the size of the event continues to grow, with the most recent event being the biggest one yet.
“Some guests at the last event are people who have been to almost every pop-up at this point because it’s something they look forward to,” Zybala said, “and some of them are brand new people who have never done it. And, you can tell who they are because they are kind of timid and have a deer-in-the-headlights look about them, like ‘What’s happening!?’
“It’s just been enlightening to see that people don’t really need a brick-and-mortar all the time. There’s like this really romantic idea that you get this new location that you’ve never been to and you get to try something new.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away brick-and-mortar dining, we are all adapting and trying new things. We’re all leaning on each other and embracing our sense of community, the same sense of community that has lifted up Audrey Zybala, who took a leap of faith when she opened her thriving bakery.
1 Buffalo Street (Staub Square), Hamburg, New York 14075
Temporary Pick-up Hours (Order Call-In Beginning 8:30 a.m.): Monday to Friday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., Sunday CLOSED