PI business owners find ways to stay innovative, maintain positivity during pandemic
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Kelly Mathes was ready to open a dine-in cafe as the newest addition to her bakery and specialty cake business, Confectionately Yours, just before the state issued orders for the pandemic-related lockdown in March.
But despite the setback, Mathes has been as busy as ever with orders for cakes, cupcakes, cookies, scones and the many other sweet treats she bakes at Confectionately Yours, located in the same space as her Kitchen & Bath Shop on 2 Reach Road.
“COVID has been both a blessing and a curse. I haven’t really used the cafe space much, but I’ve been extremely busy with the bakery,” Mathes said, while taking a break from cooking on Friday, Jan. 8.
Mathes is also an interior designer and she and her parents — Susan and Dave Czosnek — opened the Kitchen & Bath Shop in 2008. An avid baker, Mathes started Confectionately Yours in 2012, not long after her sister-in-law asked her to bake a cake for a baby shower.
“I loved doing it so much. I realized that cakes are an art form, one that gives me the freedom to be artistic and create things that bring people joy,” Mathes said.
Though Mathes initially baked specialty cakes and cupcakes at her small home kitchen, she saw her business grow so much that she converted the upstairs level of the Kitchen & Bath Shop into a kitchen. She later opened an in-person bakery, which she has since reopened to the public after months of relying on curbside pickups.
The cafe can seat at least 12 people but Mathes has limited the space for only small gatherings as a precaution. In the future, the cafe will have daily hours and be available for birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and other special occasions.
In 2020, Mathes found herself unable to open the new cafe the way she had originally planned, but the blessing part of that year was seeing Confectionately Yours increase its revenue from 2019. She credits that success with regular customers at the Presque Isle Farmers Market and Confectionately Yours bakery, and is looking forward to even more new business ventures in 2021.
“We plan to renovate the upstairs kitchen into a commercial kitchen so we can hire a full-time chef,” Mathes said. “We’ll be excited to finally open the cafe. It’s been a dream of mine to open a small restaurant.”
For Mathes, spreading the joy that comes from homemade treats is a family tradition. Some of her earliest memories are of her baking alongside her mother and maternal grandmother, Dorothy Holmes.
“She [Holmes] made amazing date-filled cookies. She always had a jar on her counter filled with homemade cookies,” Mathes said. “With the cafe, we want to provide a comfortable environment for people to come in and socialize. It’s all about family and friends and just unplugging for a while.”
Throughout the pandemic Stephanie McKeen, a licensed massage therapist, yoga and fitness instructor and owner of Vitality+ in Presque Isle, has found her own ways to deal with business setbacks and give clients a much-needed dose of stress relief.
McKeen opened her wellness center House of Health in Caribou less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When the state lockdown went into place in March and extended into April, she could no longer offer massages and classes.
After months of still not being able to open due to state restrictions for businesses and gatherings, McKeen closed House of Health. She has now rebranded her business as Vitality+, located at 425 Main St. in Presque Isle and 3 Center St. in Caribou, and offers therapeutic massages by appointment and yoga and fitness classes via Zoom.
Although the pandemic brought about unexpected changes in 2020, McKeen is beginning the new year with a fresh perspective on life and is encouraging others to do the same. Through Vitality+ she is offering an eight-week online program called Return to Me that offers lessons, advice and tasks focused on the weekly themes of nutrition, contribution, self-care, creativity, movement, purpose, sleep and career.
“We meet on Sundays in order to become focused and prepared for the week. I follow everyone on Facebook throughout the week and post new information for us to work on,” McKeen said. “It can be something like changing the set-up of your bedroom to sleep better. So many of us go to bed with a phone in our hands, but that takes away from effective sleep.”
Since relaunching her business, McKeen has found herself interacting with 25 to 30 clients every week, around the same number as before the pandemic began. She has found that more people than ever are turning to yoga and physical fitness to reduce stress that has come about because of the pandemic. Even with the online class format, people have responded well to her classes.
“The yoga and fitness classes have really blossomed,” McKeen said. “I can’t even tell you how many people have said, ‘It feels so nice just to see people again.’ It has been the stress relief people need right now.”
In the early months of the pandemic, McKeen dealt with a time when she was far more stressed about the future and its uncertainty. She felt heartbroken when hearing from therapeutic massage clients who, without their in-person appointments, turned to medications or found themselves in serious pain.
As a business owner, she hopes that another state lockdown does not become reality.
But those difficult months have taught her how to embrace challenges and setbacks as opportunities, McKeen said. She is more committed than ever before to reaching out to folks feeling isolated and helping them make their own health and well-being a priority.
“This pandemic has really challenged me to embrace the opportunities I have. I figured I could either take the victim mentality or the victor mentality and I chose not to be a victim,” McKeen said. “My passion is helping people feel better and I plan to keep doing that as long as there’s a way.”