From frenzy to furlough: Bakeries see thousands in Pi Day sales vanish as coronavirus spreads

Key Points
  • Companies are canceling their pie orders for Pi Day from independent bakeries as their offices close due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Pi Day is among the top sales days for pie orders for many bakeries.
  • Petee's Pie Company in New York has seen about $13,000 of Pi Day orders canceled.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee eating a slice of cherry pie at A La Mode Pies on Pi Day in 2018
Chris Porter

Last year, Three Babes Bakeshop sold more pies for Pi Day than for Thanksgiving. Usually around this time of year, it has sold out of the 3,000 pies it makes for the holiday and is scrambling for inventory.

But this year, the San Francisco bakery is furloughing 30 out of its 36 employees as corporate customers indefinitely postpone orders for their offices.

"We told them if they can find employment elsewhere they should do that," co-founder Lenore Estrada said in an interview.

Companies like Lyft, Google and Facebook have recommended employees work from home as the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to climb.

While the coronavirus is hitting global corporate giants like Nike, Starbucks and Apple, it is also taking a toll on small businesses across the country, including pie shops. Estrada said that her bakery is missing out on the extra bump from Pi Day celebrations, on top of losing about $60,000 in its routine sales to tech companies that serve free meals to employees.

Bakery owners in Seattle and New York City also told CNBC that their Pi Day orders have taken a nosedive. Pi Day is an international holiday celebrated on March 14 to commemorate the mathematical constant.

Chris Porter, the owner of A La Mode Pies in Seattle, estimates that his business has refunded between $5,000 to $7,000 in presales for Pi Day. His two locations start planning two or three months in advance for the holiday, which is its biggest retail day of the year. It also follows two slow months, January and February, making the Pi Day a "life preserver" for A La Mode Pies.

"Local business will become a casualty of coronavirus if people don't continue to go out to their local coffee shop," Porter said.

The canceled pie orders for Petee's Pie Company in New York are even higher. Robert Paredez, who owns the bakery with his wife, said that roughly $13,000 orders have been canceled. Many of those customers have promised to reorder their pies once workers have returned to their office buildings. 

Porter said that he's still optimistic that people will come out for Pi Day, but cafe sales overall have fallen slightly. Washington state has the highest death toll attributed to the virus, and most cases are concentrated in the Seattle area.

A La Mode Pies' wholesale clients, which include restaurants and coffee shops, have seen business decline significantly, according to Porter.

"One of my clients, who I've had for over ten years, put a hold on their orders because their business is down 40%," he said.

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