The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has hit nearly every facet of small businesses. While the impacts have forced closures, it has also forced some to adapt to a new way of life.
Sandi Cole opened the first and only vegan cafe of its kind in South Lake Tahoe July 2012. With a mission to offer Lake Tahoe a restaurant with high quality ingredients, almost everything served at Simple Bliss Cafe is house made, even down to the flour, nut-milks and cheeses.
The cafe is completely organic, gluten-free, soy-free, and cane sugar free.
When the pandemic first hit last winter, Cole said it was “devastating” to her business. They were trying to hold on to the last bit of winter business.
“We were trying to figure out how to survive,” she said.
It was a struggle to stay afloat with the lack of business, but she also was unable to get produce for sometime due to food shortages which added to the stress of staying supplied.
“There were times when I wanted to be open but couldn’t because I couldn’t get supplies,” she said.
Cole had to shut the restaurant completely down in March.
Fortunately, she received a PPP loan which helped get through the closure.
“I am grateful that we were able to pull through,” she said.
This summer, when she was allowed to reopen, Simple Bliss operated with a take-out window with a few tables on her small patio. Because the cafe is small, roughly 500-square feet, she decided to keep employees and guests safe and close the inside of the cafe.
Not only was it a challenge to adapt but Cole was passionate about her space being a relaxing, inviting and comforting getaway for guests.
She says her customers even referred to her cafe as “going to a friends house.”
“It’s sad, that was one of my favorite parts of the cafe is seeing my customers and getting to know people,” she said. “In the beginning there were some tears shed.”
Before the pandemic hit, each one of her tables was set with books and card games for each customer to have during their experience.
However, the pandemic halted these types of experiences.
Coming fall, Cole decided that she needed to make some changes to keep going.
Cole and her employees met several times to brainstorm how to make it work.
With a 2-week time frame in her mind, she closed her doors and ripped out the carpets of the cafe. While she has been wanting to do this for years, the pandemic propelled her to ensure the cafe was as germ-free as possible.
She replaced the floor with an eggplant-colored concrete flooring in the dining area, but no indoor tables. Cole also remodeled the exterior of the building to create a seating or waiting area outdoors for guests. She also added plexi-glass barriers and a new display case.
“We are just trying to adapt and do whatever we can to stay in business,” she said.
Inside of Simple Bliss, there is now just a small retail area with local products.
While she has a fraction of the retail that she used to, she was able to partner with Dharma Love to co-brand for her Keep Tahoe Healthy line of products, which is an eco-friendly and vegan local company.
Not only did she switch up the physical components of her cafe, but her menu had to adapt as well.
To adjust to the evolving world of “grab-and-go” from sit and enjoy style menu, she rearranged her menu.
Cole says she had to switch up the sit-down, relaxing cafe environment to a vegan fast-food, healthy fast-food of course.
“I really worked on bringing the cute-ness of the inside of the cafe, outside,” she said.
She added a whole section of her menu to include take-and-bake items and comfort food as well.
Usually during this time, Cole is swamped with special orders but this year, she is urging people to do them.
Simple Bliss reopened their doors Friday, Dec. 11. Simple Bliss is open everyday (except Wednesdays) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Simple Bliss always offered locals a 10% discount, but due to the pandemic, Cole upped it to 15%.
For more information visit, simpleblisscafe.com.