It’s been a rocky road for Pastry Hideaway and owner/chef Pamela Graham. Since opening her bakery less than a year ago in Wilton in the back of the building at 126 Old Ridgefield Rd., her tenancy has been marred by mechanical issues throughout her time there. The latest malfunction–a Jan. 25 drainage problem resulting in sewage waste backing up through a floor drain and pooling throughout the kitchen and front customer service area–forced the Health Department to issue a closure order.
While the order has since been lifted, Graham has decided the building problems are too risky to reopen in the location. She says she has already lost too much time and money, and she will remain closed until she can find another location–and the finances–to reopen elsewhere.
Graham sat down to talk with GOOD Morning Wilton, about what she has experienced. Here in her own words, she explains what efforts she went through, how much she has lost, and what she hopes to do moving forward.*
GMW has reached out several times to the owners of the building, Monica and Ajay Teredesai, but has not received any response.
As told by Pamela Graham:
October 1 was the first time it came up. Just in one localized spot on the floor. Then October 5 it came up, just a little bit, just to the drain. But it came up through the walls October 6. Then again November 30, same thing, it came through the walls here in the front. And then the 25th of January it came up everywhere. Including between the walls, the toilet, the sink.
I was just in tears. I really was. I couldn’t believe it. I was in a bit of shock and just also really angry. When this last leak happened a customer came and said, “You know something weird’s going on in the bathroom. There’s water in the sink and water in the toilet.” But it was clear, so we said, “Well, that’s odd.”
But then we were getting that foul smell from the sewer. You can’t just breathe that stuff, it’s toxic–it makes you sick to your stomach. I always end up sending the employees home early with that too. Which is terrible, because they have to be paid, and they have work to do. But I’m looking out for their health.
I’m also protecting myself as a business owner. And whenever this smell happens here we send the landlord a note. And sometimes it will subside, or it comes back. And then we have a major eruption.
The issue, really, that I’m afraid of is the first time that it happened it was a little bit of water. We weren’t really clear about what was going on and what kind of water it was. So we were mopping and cleaning it up. That was Oct. 1.
Then Oct. 6, this whole thing welled up. Into the bakery, in the back, where there was actual waste–solids. And then I had to close the bakery down. This was a Friday, one of our busiest days. Tuesday and Wednesdays are fluke days. Sometimes you get good traffic, and it’s like, “Awesome! Tuesday was amazing.” But we expect those days to be slow. Things slowly pick up late Wednesday, but Thursday’s the turning point that you start getting good traffic. But we had to shut our doors. We had to ask customers to leave, and close our doors and stop taking sales. Because you cannot sell food, even if it’s already baked, in a disgusting environment like that.
So, we let the landlord know. Servpro came and cleaned. It was late in the evening, until after almost 10 o’clock, that this place was getting cleaned up. I lost all my sales for that day.
It happened again Nov. 30. Landlord called the same guys out, they took a video of the line and said, “Oh, the line is clear.” Well, of course it’s clear because it hiccuped in my bakery! All over the floor, the water rolls across.
It was coming between the walls. And I sent this to the health department. I’m obligated to. I couldn’t do business. I don’t want an employee or a customer to say, “They had filth in their bakery, and they were still doing business.”
The health department cited some other problems and told them to fix it. But they can’t require them to fix it. But what it comes down to is that if you fix it, fix the problem, or if you don’t and this happens again, this space will forever be shut down as a restaurant. Period. Whether it’s the Pastry Hideaway, or a Starbucks, whatever, if this happens again.
We can’t take that chance. I’m looking out for my employees. These girls in there, they’re wonderful. And they’ve been here through the floods. My employees run the risk of getting sick. I have a responsibility to them, and to myself. I don’t want to wallow around in filth. If you just forge ahead, and then someone gets sick, say an employee gets sick with long term problems. Then the question that would be asked to me in court, “If you knew you had a problem, why did you forge ahead?”
And I don’t want to be known as the crappy bakery. I’m looking out for my customers. My customers are awesome. They spend their hard earned money. I would rather serve somewhere else, in a healthy space, and have them come and say, “You know what? We can trust Pam. We’re confident that Pam is gonna look out for us. And we know her bakery is clean.”
And then the fact that a customer saw that there was a water problem really upset me, because, they should never be that kind of inconvenienced. You know? I’m not gonna make every customer happy all the time. I try my best. And there’s some things we definitely learn, and you have to improve on. However, that’s something that I don’t have to tolerate. Even as a human being, I don’t have to work in filth. You know?
I posted on Facebook, “Due to the poor condition of the building,” because I wanted them to know, even though the health department had shut it down, it wasn’t because we did anything wrong. We followed the health and safety standards as outlined in the law. We didn’t violate that. This one is out of our control.
So, at some point someone has to be the bigger person and cry, “Uncle.” I’m crying uncle. And this is a tremendous amount of money for me. From the beginning.
Graham says when she first signed a lease in October 2016, she expected to be able to open relatively quickly, but soon discovered she had to do a tremendous amount of interior work, as well as wait for mechanicals to be installed. There was also, she says, extensive mold that required remediation.
This building has had so many problems. We had the building inspected, and so the inspector said, “I can’t check the water because you don’t have a water heater.” You think that’s simple–four months, six months go by, no water heater. And I had to pay rent. I had two months off that I didn’t pay rent: November, December. This is money that I planned to help float the business through during the down time, that I’m actually using just to pay rent to be here.
When we came in here the mold was outrageous. To think that customers before us were in here for that. I don’t want that to be my story. We took pictures all along the way. These walls had just black mold, everywhere. I was in such shock.
That got remediated [at the landlord’s expense]. The company came in, and did exactly what they’re supposed to. They treated the mold, and they cut the walls down, because there’s no spraying black mold. But the landlord refused to put the walls up.
So we put the walls up. We put new flooring in. Which took time and more money. I’m in the hole. I’m hurting, and I felt terrible, because my family believed in me so much. They put this money up so that I wouldn’t have to take a loan, and that I wouldn’t be in debt on the books in that way.
I was here every day, even on the weekends. Working on this space. And because we had to spend so much money doing build out that we shouldn’t have done because it was supposed to be restaurant ready. Then, I opted, I said, “I’ll paint myself, and I’ll do this myself.”
All this, setting this up, cost me like half a million–the build out itself, the equipment and the food and all of that to date. [Just] the build out and the equipment, that’s something like $200,000. That’s a lot of money. I ain’t made of dough.
So our next steps, the girls don’t have work yet, so I’m paying them to help me pack up. I could pay a mover easily (we are going to have movers move the really large pieces) but it keeps them busy until they find something, or we can get in somewhere. They said, “I really like it here,” and it just broke my heart a little bit. You get to know people, and you appreciate their hard work, and they watched it from the beginning. And to have people struggle, I’m having such a hard time reconciling that in my mind.
But yeah, this has been such a killer because, I really … I went in this to have a business. And I knew the first year would be tough, maybe first couple years, kind of building it. But things like this, I can’t control what happens with someone’s building.
Customers come up giving me hugs. The day that it happened I was just standing here. People were coming and I greeted each of them as they came, and just apologized. One of the girls, she goes, “Did they see the sign?” I said, “We know each other.” And some of the customers call, “Hey Pam, you guys open yet?” I go, “I’m so sorry, I’m not open.” So I’ve been answering the call when I’m here. But that first week, it actually kinda really knocked me down. And it was such a bummer. Such a bummer. And the employees were here when the sign went up and it was just really awful.
But, the [Health Department] order’s been lifted so there are a couple of orders that I went ahead and filled this week. I didn’t want to leave them hanging, you know? I also had a couple of donations that I participated in and did it because I want them to remember who I am and that I keep my word.
it is killing me to not be open. And to have this struggle, you know?
And I’m trying to stay in Wilton. I love it here. We sold our house in New York. I really want to stay here so I’m going to see what happens. Maybe something shakes loose this spring, if it doesn’t happen within the next week or two. But, we’re gonna put this in storage and get ready for the next opening.
Opening up someplace else is going to cost me roughly $30,000 to open. That’s just down and dirty. That will give me startup monies for salaries again, I have to buy product–the product is a huge cost because I’m not a Stop & Shop so I get small bakery prices. You know? Then you have to hire plumbers to come and connect whatever pipes you have. And then you have to at least have a few months’ rent. So $30,000 is down and dirty.
That would be so nice, because I love my bakery.
*This story has been edited and condensed from an interview conducted on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.