It’s no mystery to Lisa Boorman why business at her family’s donut shop has been booming these past few months.
“We cook happy food,” she says.
When COVID-19 broke out earlier this year, Red Door, the three-location cafe and donut shop Lisa runs with her family, changed dramatically. Red Door Café, the flagship location in downtown Moses Lake, Washington, known for its homemade soups and sandwiches and fresh coffee, was hit hardest. As downtown workers retreated to home offices and restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms, foot traffic disappeared. And as customers began socially distancing, they stopped placing catering orders. Overall business dropped by roughly 75%.
Red Door’s second location, housed inside a local medical clinic, has also taken a hit and is basically just operating at enough capacity to serve the clinic’s staff. “We’re there more now just to support the medical staff over there so they can get their coffees, they can get their food without having to leave,” Lisa says. “So, we really don’t even look at that as an income source right now. We are just grateful for every day that it can actually pay the employees and the food cost, but that’s worth it to us because that’s a strong partnership we have with the clinic and it’s important for us to support them.”
Fortunately, Red Door Donuts, a drive-thru donut and coffee shop the family opened last November, has been thriving. “Right away people wanted donuts,” Lisa says. “They wanted donuts to bring to family, to friends, to coworkers. People brought them to the hospitals and to the police and to the fireman. So, this was a way for people to say, ‘Hey, thank you,’ with our donuts.”
When Red Door Donuts first opened, Lisa says she wasn’t sure how people would respond, but the business model turned out to be perfect for a global pandemic. “People loved the idea,” she says. “They didn’t have to get out of the car. They put their kids in the car that they were homeschooling, they would all go through the drive-thru and get their hot chocolates, get their donuts, and go do their homeschool.” Demand for their donuts has been so high that the shop has started taking preorders in order to ensure everyone can get what they want.
The reality of running a business during COVID-19 is daunting, but Lisa says she and her family are trying to focus on what they can control rather than succumb to uncertainty. “Everything kind of flip flopped, so we had to sit down and say, ‘Okay, what is working? What is not working, what do we need to stop doing now that’s just a waste of money and what do we need to do to keep things going?’”
One way they’ve adapted is by adding an online-ordering system for the café though Gravity. “Matt Miyata from Gravity’s Hawaii office connected with us and had us going up and running in 48 hours, which totally turned around the whole café for us,” Lisa says. “We were able to advertise it. People went on it, they loved it, that we could run the food through curbside. All they did was call. We ran it out, everything was ready for them. The feedback was amazing. Everybody loved it. It was user friendly. The pictures looked great. And so even when people call now, we’re like, ‘Did you know we have an online ordering system?’ And they love that idea.” Thanks to the new system, the café has been able to regain about 10% of its original business.
This is not the first time the Boormans have adapted their business to fit changing needs. When Lisa originally decided to go into business with her mom, Jan, and daughter-in-law back in 2011, they started as a consignment store. The three women would scout for treasures at local estate sales, restore them, and then sell them out of a modest 2,000-square-foot storefront in downtown Moses Lake. At the time, Lisa had small children at home and didn’t want to be in the store full time, so they were only open three days a week. However, the store was so busy that it would sell out quickly, and the three women had to spend the rest of the week searching for new inventory. After a while, they decided to run the shop full time.
The store was so popular that they quickly outgrew their space and moved to an 8,000-square-foot location nearby. Eventually they moved a third time so they could add a small cafe, thinking customers would enjoy the opportunity to buy a cup of coffee, lunch, or a cinnamon roll while they perused the store. Before long, the cafe became so popular that they decided to focus on it full time. They shuttered the retail store and expanded the cafe into what it is today.
The business has always been a family affair. Previously, Lisa’s parents owned and operated a restaurant and hotel in Coldfoot, Alaska, and Red Door’s earliest employees were Lisa’s family members. In addition to helping Lisa hunt for antiques, her mom, Jan, marketed the store and restaurant by writing witty posts on Facebook. Lisa’s daughter, Alex, now 22, grew up in the store. Alex has Down syndrome, so Lisa started the business in part to ensure Alex would always have a place to work. Today, Alex is an integral part of the Red Door community.
“Alex does a lot of the baking now,” Lisa says. “She helps us make the food. She runs the back of the kitchen with all the dishes and makes sure everything’s organized. And she wraps the breads, and so she’s a huge part of Red Door original then, and now Red Door Café. The whole community knows her and loves her. And she’s just a real bright spot into what we started.”
Around the time the consignment shop first opened, Lisa and her husband, Rick, adopted three small children, all of whom have grown up working in the family business. “They’ve been raised in the store,” Lisa says. “They are now nine, ten, and eleven, and the store is second nature. They come in, they help, they all have their jobs they do, and so it’s been kind of fun, too, that when we say it’s a family operation, it really is a family-run operation.” Lisa’s older son also helps out and takes special pride in decorating the donuts with fun, thematic designs like hearts for Valentine’s Day or flowers for Mother’s Day.
Even Red Door’s six non-blood-related employees feel like family—something the Boormans considered once the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020. “Probably our biggest goal was to make sure all of our staffing would stay, so we just worked really hard to make sure that we kept all of our employees,” Lisa says. That was the most important thing to us is that they all represent a family and they all represent a big part of their income coming into their family. We are blessed to have an amazing team and amazing customers. And we wanted to make sure that they knew that they had a job.”
Even though most restaurants have been forced to lay off workers due to plummeting sales, Red Door has been able to keep its staff on full time and is even looking to hire a couple of additional employees. Lisa says they’ve been able to do that by focusing on what’s working, ignoring what’s not, and turning to partners for assistance.
One of those partners is Gravity, which, in many ways has been part of the Red Door family since day one. Lisa’s son Cody works in Gravity’s finance department, so when Lisa was looking for a credit card processor, she immediately looked to them. Since then, Lisa says, Gravity has proved to be much more than just a credit card processor.
“They have been there from the beginning,” Lisa says. “When you start up a new business, it can be difficult, and you can have troubles with your internet and the printer not working on your terminal. We have Gravity on speed dial, and we have certain people that know us at customer service that can fix a problem immediately because they know exactly what’s going on.”
Red Door was also able to take advantage of Gravity Capital on two separate occasions when they needed financing to help them grow. Using the program, Red Door was able to pay back their loan through a portion of their credit card processing, which Lisa says helped lessen the financial burden of taking on debt. “Without those terms, we wouldn’t have been able to grow as fast as we did without their help,” Lisa says. “And it was so easy. They came and said, ‘Hey, tell us what you need,’ so we were able to say, ‘Hey, this is what we need. This is what it’s for. Can you help us out?’ And they did. And it was fast, and it was efficient, and we were able to just pay that off immediately.”
Looking toward the future, Lisa is trying to remain cautious while simultaneously not being afraid to try something new. “It’s so important to find out what is our community needing,” she says. “What can you give them that’s maybe missing? People want to support small business right now, so find out ways that make them feel comfortable to be able to support you in a way they feel safe. Everybody’s going to be different, so find out what your customer base needs and what they’re looking for and what they need from you.”
Red Door Café is located at 202 West Third Avenue, Moses Lake, Washington, and online at www.mlreddoorcafe.com/
By Brooke Carey, Lead Storyteller
Photos courtesy of Lisa Boorman