Alumni in Action: Kindred connections

Emily McLaughlin ’12 felt the power of community and the Elon alumni network when she launched her new business, Kindred Bread Co., right before COVID-19 took hold of the nation.

Alumni in ActionIn February 2020, Emily McLaughlin ’12 became a new business owner when she opened her own bakery, Kindred Bread Co., from her home in Arlington, Virginia. Days after, as COVID-19 spread through the nation, she found herself transitioning the business from a fun way to earn extra income to an essential source of support for her fiancé’s own small business, Fresh Impact Farms. Fellow alumna Laura Wainman ’10 first wrote up the story here in March 2020. Below, McLaughlin gives an update on her journey since then and shares how the Elon alumni network has supported her along the way.

Q: What inspired you to start Kindred Bread Co.?

I’ve been baking as a hobby nearly my entire life. Back in February, I decided to start a little side hustle to monetize my passion of sourdough bread baking (She also holds a full-time position at Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center). My company, Kindred Bread Co., is a licensed cottage bakery, which means I can bake out of my home kitchen and sell directly to consumers in the area. Right now I offer four types of loaves, four kinds of bagels, and sourdough chocolate chip cookies. I do weekend deliveries or utilize my fiancé, Ryan’s, business (Fresh Impact Farms) delivery service to transport the bread to consumers.

Q:  How have the businesses been doing since your story was first published in March?

A: It feels like that article was written a lifetime ago! Before that article was published, I was making a maximum of 10 to 15 loaves of bread and maybe 1 to 3 dozen bagels a week, but only for a small cohort of friends and acquaintances. Since that article was published I doubled, or some weeks tripled, production. I’ve since learned to manage my business better and now only take orders for a maximum of 20 to 30 loaves, 6 to 10 dozen bagels, and 5 to 6 dozen cookies in any given week. Now most of them get delivered through Fresh Impact Farms CSA subscription model during the week so my weekends aren’t as chaotic anymore. I went from buying 12-pound bags of flour at BJ’s to having to find a commercial distribution center so I could get 300 pounds of flour at once! On the Fresh Impact Farms side, those first couple months were intense survival mode, but we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel from adding a CSA and having the restaurants in our area begin to reopen. Even on the days the light seems dim, it’s there!

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day life and your work?

A: I can’t think of a single aspect of my life COVID-19 hasn’t impacted! Aside from totally re-planning our October wedding to make it COVID-19 restrictions compliant and 1/10th of the original size, I now work exclusively from home and don’t envision going back to working five days a week in an office until well into 2021. I would like to keep working at least partly from home since I love the opportunities it has provided. While I am incredibly thankful to still have my full-time job, as a household of two small business owners, the first month after COVID hit were some of the most intense days I’ve ever experienced. My fiancé’s business used to sell exclusively to restaurants and went from their best month of sales in February to $0 in restaurant revenue after March 13. Suddenly my bread business, that was just days old at that point, was vital to helping keep our household finances stable and helping to build a safety net for Fresh Impact Farms if things got really dire. I lovingly coined my bread profits “my small business revival fund” and committed to using them to help Fresh Impact if needed or to spend them at other local small businesses and restaurants.

Q: What is something positive you have witnessed or experienced despite these difficult times?

A: I can’t narrow it down to any one thing! But there are certainly a few instances that stand out. In those early COVID days, Ryan was seriously questioning whether or not he could keep the lights on at the farm so he started a GoFundMe as a last resort. In response, fellow Elon alums, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in years and some of whom barely know Ryan, showed up for us in ways I don’t even know how to begin to repay. Aside from the obvious financial buffer they helped us build, it gave me the chance to talk to friends I haven’t spoken to since my early post-Elon days and thank them directly for their contribution at a time when we all desperately needed connection. Social media can be ugly sometimes, but this was an example of it spreading love and positivity. Within our local community we also both saw and felt the outpouring of love and support from complete strangers. From people posting about our businesses on social media to sending us touching, heartfelt emails thanking us and complimenting the products, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so lifted up by complete strangers before. When we’re all stripped down to our barest, most vulnerable selves, beautiful, raw things happen.

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work in their careers and their communities. To share the names of alumni you think should be considered for this series, please fill out the Alumni in Action nomination form.