At the end of the work day on Sunday, January 9, the staff at Lost Bread Cafe received a call from the director of operations at FCM Hospitality, the restaurant group that owns the cafe outpost of baker Alex Bois’ namesake bread bakery: The cafe would be closing, effective immediately.
“When you just end something like that, with no respect to the people who work there,” said one staff member, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution. “It definitely says something about the way you do business.”
The entire staff was suddenly out of a job. A day later, they created a GoFundMe to cover their rent and bills while they all looked for new employment. “A year of hard work was suddenly amounting to nothing,” the GoFundMe read. It was “a crushing blow,” especially since the business had opened in the height of the coronavirus pandemic. “The truth is, we all feared this day would come, we just had no idea it would be this abrupt.”
The cafe at 2218 Walnut Street was a full-service extension of Lost Bread’s pop-up bakery and farmers market stands, known for its wholegrain sourdough loaves, granolas, and pretzel shortbreads. It had been the result of a partnership between founder Bois and Avram Hornik at FCM Hospitality, who had been in business together for five years. “When we went into business together, we wanted to take an artisanal bakery and see if we could scale it up, to see if we could deliver the quality at a lower price point by using tools of mass production,” Hornik told Eater Philly over the phone. “The idea was to achieve this white whale of quality and quantity at the same time.”
Supply chain problems and the impact of COVID-19 put a stress on the cafe, but one staff member said it was obvious from very early on that there were issues between Hornik and Bois — a growth-minded business partner and an artisan baker who focuses on local, sustainable grains and ingredients, respectively. “It was never going to really work at a scale that we were locked into,” Bois said on the same call with Hornik. “It was very ambitious-slash-stupid.”
The partnership officially over, Bois will go back to baking and selling bread on Sundays out of his Kensington location at 1313 N. Howard Street, at farmers markets in Philly and New York, and grocery stores around the city. The Howard Street space will become its own cafe — run by Bois alone — in the spring.
For the now-former staff, the most confusing thing was that the shop was closed without any notice. “Even if we had been given two weeks,” to get everything organized, the former staff member said, that would have been better. “Sell through what you have! You have a ton of local, sustainably-farmed products that are probably going to go to waste now. That’s very sad to watch.”
Hornik said the entire staff was offered positions at the same pay rate at FCM’s other businesses, which include Rosy’s Taco Bar down the street, Lola’s Garden, The Dolphin Tavern, and more. “We want them to stay,” Hornik said. “We have openings for them.”
But the fact of the matter is that the staff at Lost Bread Cafe aren’t servers or bartenders — they’re all baristas, bakers, and cafe managers, according to one staff member. “All of us have specialities that don’t really fit into their other businesses,” they said. “Even our line cooks, they’re bagel bakers. They boil and bake bagels. They worked so hard. The amount of work ethic they have is insane.”
Numerous other businesses have since reached out to offer the workers jobs. “Everyone is hiring right now. Everyone is offering their support,” the former staff member said. “It’s been somewhat of blessing.”