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Duluth's Best Bread expands amid distressed economy

The Lincoln Park company is also partnering on an initiative to uplift other neighborhood businesses.

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Eliana Carlson of Superior takes payment for a loaf of bread Wednesday at Duluth's Best Bread. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Unlike many other small businesses struggling because of economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Duluth's Best Bread has expanded its operations.

The local bakery, located at 2632 W. Third St., added an extra business day on Tuesday and has promoted some part-time staff to full-time roles, all changes resulting from an influx in orders since the start of the pandemic.

Duluth's Best Bread has seen sales double from last year, said co-owner Robert Lillegard. He attributes the increases to limited restaurant options and people seeking food that's homemade.

A number of loyal customers have also helped the business. One Wisconsin woman purchased $100 worth of items, several others have been buying gift cards, and some are giving items to their neighbors or friends, he said.

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Carrie Walls of Duluth removes a tray of macaron shells Wednesday from the oven at Duluth's Best Bread. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

"We love our customers. (We're) so thankful," Lillegard said.

Others are discovering the business for the first time. "It's kind of like the girl next door," he said. "All of a sudden, everybody's seeing us for the first time."

Duluth's Best Bread, which is considered an essential business by state guidelines, is taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of staff and customers. Staff members sell only out of the store's front window. Workers don't touch credit cards. They frequently sanitize the sales counter and more.

The types of items sold have changed throughout the pandemic. At the start, people wanted traditional bread items to stock up, Lillegard said. Now, several weeks into stay-at-home orders, customers are buying sweeter items such as homemade versions of Oreos and Pop Tarts, "because … we're American," Lillegard said.

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Michael Lillegard of Duluth finishes cinnamon rolls Wednesday with a layer of icing at Duluth's Best Bread. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The business opened in 2015. It employs seven full-time and part-time people, some of whom they promoted to full-time roles. Lillegard said he is hesitant to hire new people who haven't quarantined, as they could bring in new germs.

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Duluth's Best Bread is also looking outward and giving back. It's partnering with fellow Lincoln Park business OMC Smokehouse on an initiative aimed at supporting fellow neighborhood businesses during the pandemic.

Lillegard is writing the OMC Cookbook that's for sale as part of the initiative. Of the $50 cost, half goes to the cookbook while $15 will go to a Lincoln Park business of the buyer's choice and $10 will go to Lifting Lincoln Park , which will funnel money to neighborhood relief projects. People can also buy just the cookbook for $25.

The initiative has raised more than $62,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Duluth's Best Bread is open 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Related Topics: SMALL BUSINESS
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