The Ugh of Saying No


For the first few days of business back in 2011, customers would call us and say, “I’m on my way! Save me a dozen Red Velvets!”, and the catering manager (me) would dash from my desk in the middle of the kitchen to the front of the store and dutifully box up a dozen Red Velvets.
I think it was Day 4 when Andrea looked at me and said, “You have to quit doing that, Jean, it doesn’t make sense to take inventory off the shelf for people who may or may not show up”.
Good point.
So we stopped doing that and over the years, our online orders have increased exponentially as people have realized that ordering that way – or emailing or calling according to the advance ordering policies now in place –  ensures getting exactly what they want.
But still, it was hard to say no to people who sounded so sad that they might miss getting their Red Velvets, and in recent weeks, I’ve felt pangs of guilt again when our gluten intolerant customers have protested our reduced gluten free menu.
Until December we made every one of the 5 cake bases in gluten free format and all of our icings were gluten free so it was only some Treats of the Week that were off limits for gluten intolerant customers.
Then, right before the holidays, we launched a new product in two flavours – 2 cake bases and 2 icings – that are egg-free, dairy-free and gluten free. So although we continue to ice these V-GF cupcakes in our regular butter icings for those customers who are not vegan, the gluten intolerant customers no longer have Red Velvet, Carrot or Vanilla cake bases.
To the customers who have written in to complain, this decision makes no sense at all: “Your gluten free Red Velvet cake was amazing, why would you pull it?!”
I understand why they feel that way, I really do.
Here’s the thing we had to consider:
Our overall gluten free and/or vegan sales have always hovered around 5% of our total sales so the batches of cupcakes and cakes in these alternative batters have always been a lot smaller than the traditional baking batches. As well, to avoid cross contamination, these batters are made entirely separately from the traditional baking. In order to keep stocked with three sizes of cupcakes and numerous sizes of cakes in all 5 GF bases and 3 V bases, the baking team was making 8 different small-batch batters throughout the week that – when all was said and done – resulted in less than 5% of our overall revenue.
Although it makes a lot of sense to have a couple of V-GF offerings, the breadth of our GF and V menus didn’t make business sense.
I’ve seen a lot of examples of this push and pull in Prairie Girl over the years: times when I wanted to make what felt like a customer-friendly or team-friendly decision but I knew wasn’t a wise call for the business overall.
And every time, it’s an UGH to say no.


About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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