Small Durham cafe keeps staff employed through COVID-19 with simple, effective strategy

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Cocoa Cinnamon was once a bustling cafe. Tables were often filled by folks sitting down to enjoy sugary churros and a creamy cup of hot chocolate.

The table and chairs are now pushed aside.

The space has morphed into a packing center. Staff is stamping the company's emblem on delivery boxes and roasters are bagging up beans.

The Durham café has found a way to keep funds up and dozens of employees on the payroll.

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After the dine-in doors were shuttered, Cocoa Cinnamon figured out they need to sell 230 bags of coffee every day. Now, more than a month later, more than 45 people remain on the payroll and they're all making a living wage.

Cocoa Cinnamon and its subsidiary business Little Waves coffee hasn't received a single dollar from the Paycheck Protection Program.

"It's been a hustle for sure to stay afloat but I think since the very beginning we made a plan of attack," owner Areli Barreta-Godski said.

The small business has been taking to social media and updating thousands of followers on the daily climb to their goal. There are posts showing all the places in the country they've shipped to during the pandemic.

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Brian Hedges, a representative for North State Bank, said the system is overwhelmed by the number of applications in the second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Barreta-Grodski said it hasn't been easy hitting the numbers day after day, but it is rewarding.

"It's hard not to be tired," she said.

So she and others will keep stamping boxes, roasting beans and selling bags to save the staff.

"Our team is so amazing. They all had our backs and we've all just kind of gathered together to make it work and make it happen," she said.

The takeaway -- there are some small business succeeding, but it takes a lot of hard work.

Barreta-Grodski's advice is to pick something affordable you can sell to the masses and have a strong campaign on social media.

She also suggests selling other products -- like bleach, toilet paper, or towels -- to supplement sales.
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