How have Baton Rouge businesses that launched at the start of the pandemic fared over the last year? These owners open up

In the early days of the pandemic, revenue plunged for most businesses in the service industry. Yet a few Baton Rouge businesses were able to open their doors right in the middle of all the chaos. How did they navigate the growing pains most new businesses weather and the stay-at-home orders and phase jumps of the past year?

The beginning was the roughest, says Van Nguyen, owner of Boba Partea. The local bubble tea and dessert shop opened in March 2020, mere days before the first statewide shutdown. The stay-at-home order made it harder, Nguyen says, and she and her team had to come up with a way for customers to order online. She also had to lay off a few employees—despite having just hired them weeks before—because the business couldn’t afford to keep them.

Things got better, though. The cafe has been able to spread out its seating areas and welcome customers indoors at 50% capacity. 

“The outdoor dining area helped a lot,” Nguyen adds. “A lot of people like to eat outside because they can still social distance.”

Nguyen says her customers help to keep her going.

“I have a lot of support from my customers,” she says. “Business just depends on the phases and stay-at-home orders as we go on.”

Motza’s Pizza Pub, the pizza restaurant that opened in the former Mellow Mushroom location on East Boyd Drive, also had challenging timing. Owner Mark Daigle bought the space on Jan. 3, 2020, and the pandemic hit right in the middle of its remodeling. When Motza’s opened on April 7 of last year, all it could offer was delivery, takeout and curbside services. 

“It’s really hard when there’s not as many fans at LSU baseball, football, or students on campus,” Daigle says. “That’s what (could make) the store really profitable.”

Even getting pizza ingredients and other products was hard in the beginning, Daigle says, because shipping was so behind. However, he’s hoping the vaccine progress brings in a bigger crowd.

“We’re hoping that the vaccinations make people feel safer about getting out and getting back to their normal lives,” Daigle says.

Across town, White Star Market’s March 2020 closure helped push Thaihey Thaifood to open its brick-and-mortar space on Lee Drive in May. Owner Nathan Greene says the exposure the restaurant got through White Star helped jumpstart business. 

“Our name was already out there,” he says. “That helped us to get going.”

Nathan Greene and Orawin “Nim” Greene are the owners of Thaihey Thaifood on Lee Drive. File photo by Collin Richie

The surge of cases at the end of 2020 drove down sales, Greene says, but the restaurant has since recovered.

“Things are going good right now,” he says, “and we feel like that trend is steady.”

Tiffany Comeaux, owner of Comeaux’s Florist, says her floral company had an easier time navigating the pandemic. Comeaux was a florist for 20 years and launched her own company in May, making unique and colorful arrangements out of her personal workshop. 

“I was so surprised,” Comeaux says. “At this point, I’m getting as many organic clients as I am people that I already (knew).”

Comeaux is the delivery driver, orders manager and almost everything else at her company. “I’m trying to use every resource that I have. … It’s just what works right now,” she says.

Rescheduled weddings and a decrease in public funeral services have also impacted the volume of flowers she’s able to sell. But Comeaux says the toughest part of navigating starting her business during a pandemic was losing that face-to-face connection with her clients. 

“It was hard feeling like you couldn’t walk into a business and sell yourself,” she says. “You’re not able to go into a business and pitch bringing them weekly arrangements, because no one’s going into the office.” 

Comeaux says she is taking things one week at a time. Because in her experience, the key to getting through all of this is a positive attitude.

“I’m just trying to keep it fun and relaxed,” she says.

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