Photos by Ruta Smith
Sisters Paula and Sam Kramer needed to revamp their business model to adapt to the new realities presented by the coronavirus just four months after taking over Baguette Magic on James Island.
What was once a cozy, French bakery serving coffee, croissants, and build-your-own omelettes is now a weekly service delivering groceries and kitchen essentials to Lowcountry residents. Or, as the owners put it, Baguette Magic has transformed into "Bag-ette" delivery.
"It became apparent pretty early on that we weren't going to be able to survive by just doing takeout," says Sam, who also operates popular Jewish-Mexican fusion pop-up Matzo y Maza. "I had this idea for the 'Bag-ette' delivery program, so we closed everything down and made the decision to put all of our eggs in one basket."
The new service delivers weekly grocery bags filled with goods from local producers such as Legare Farms, Storey Farms, Second State Coffee, and Rio Bertolini's Fresh Pasta Co. Although the bakery remains closed, Bag-ettes include breakfast pastries, bread, and other items from their regular menu. They even included toilet paper in their first bags.
Sam says she was initially nervous about such a change at a local destination that's been serving the community for more than eight years.
"It was really hard at first because people were still calling to see if we were open for delivery," Sam says. "We were asking ourselves, 'Did we do the right thing?'"
Over the course of four days, the sisters rolled out the new business model.
And the nervousness faded quickly. The Bag-ette program has become an instant hit among locals wanting to support small businesses without leaving their homes. In order to meet the growing demand for their grocery bags, Paula and Sam developed a system to deliver all over the Lowcountry, including Mt. Pleasant, Hanahan, and Summerville.
Here's how it works: When customers go to checkout online, they choose the bag that coincides with their zip code. Each bag can be filled with the bread, eggs, meat and produce. Deliveries are made to different zip codes each day of the week. Orders are placed one week in advance, giving the Kramer sisters time to source the local products.
According to Sam, they are delivering an average of 500 bags per week, and the program's rapid growth has allowed them to hire back some of their furloughed employees. They've also enhanced the bags by expanding their list of partners, which includes Vertical Roots, Beaded Venus, Vicious Biscuit, Local Love Charleston, Paolo's Gelato, and Lowcountry Creamery.
The Bag-ettes also feature recipes and do-it-yourself kits aimed at helping families get the most out of their bags, the sisters said.
Legare Farms vegetable bags, for instance, come with recipes based on the produce found inside. One week, the Kramer sisters offered instructions on how to turn cucumbers into pickles. Another week, they provided a riff on a classic cacio e pepe using rutabaga as the pasta. And they haven't stopped there.
"We have a pizza kit using our baguette dough as the crust and also a cookie decorating kit that's been a hit," says Sam.
Kits have included ingredients and instructions for tacos, ramen, charcuterie boards, and French toast since the start of Bag-ette.
"We've tried to continue to switch things up to keep customers ordering," says Sam. "We try to make it as easy as possible to execute, and the idea is for kids to participate."
With a growing customer base for the Bag-ette program, what happens once restaurants are permitted to reopen for dine-in service?
"We are definitely working now to figure out the logistics of continuing Bag-ette moving forward," says Sam. "We'd like to continue partnering with local businesses on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. The one thing we probably won't sell anymore is toilet paper, but we do want to get creative and continue it in some capacity."
All Bag-ette orders can be placed online and customers can expect to receive a text with their tracking link and delivery window the night before the drop off.
Baguette Magic customers can also opt to give back by adding a food or money donation to their order benefiting local Charleston food banks. East Cooper Community Outreach and Our Lady of Mercy will each be matching donations made through the bags up to $1,000.
To place a weekly Bag-ette delivery order featuring fresh locally made bread, croissants, eggs, produce and more head to baguettemagic.com.