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9
April
2009

Grow or Stop

Many of you might ask where I’ve been the past few months. The simple answer is – trying to raise money for Amai and find creative options for increasing sales. The more realistic answer is – trying unsuccessfully to grow the business, and feeling frustrated and paralyzed by the lack of options available. Owning a small business is already difficult, and when you combine it with my desire for perfection, lack of experience and a terrible economic environment it makes it even worse. Amai has not been able to get the money we need to grow, and it has forced me to make very difficult decisions. Most importantly, I have decided to close the store.

We have started telling customers this week, and many of them are very surprised. We often turn away customers because we don’t have enough seats, and there is a line to the door on the weekends. Unfortunately, the retail traffic is not enough, and we can’t get the financing we need to put our full business plan into place. I know my lack of experience as a business owner plays into this, but it is frustrating to have proved our concept and not be in a position to bring things to the next level.

I am incredibly sad about closing the store, but I know it is the right decision. I love the Amai customers and employees and I hate the thought of not seeing them every day. I am mostly sad because I want to make the best for the people who have supported us along the way, and by closing I am putting those dreams on hold. So many people have worked so hard to get us to this point, and I want to give them all that they deserve. I am also disappointed because I feel we have created something special, that people appreciate and want, but we can’t keep it going. Unfortunately, what my business needs is more than I can give, and the best decision is to close the store and take some time to reassess.

At this point, I don’t know what the future holds for Amai, or me. I love baking and the atmosphere of a cafe, but owning a small business may not suit my personality. I have no problem working hard and putting in long hours, but I value some separation between my personal and business life, and with this kind of a business it is not possible. I am getting married in September to Andrew, the main person who has kept me sane and happy throughout this journey, and I am looking forward to focusing on him and my family without the pressure of the business. I have also wanted to move back to California for some time, and closing the store allows me to do this. For the short-term, I will take a break from the long hours, get married, move to California and look into writing a cookbook. I have perfected many recipes in my time at Amai, and think I have some good ideas to share. I am also looking forward to eating baked goods that other people make, and having time to explore the world of sweets again.

Lovescool was created to document my journey of starting something new. I know that many others are trying to do the same thing, so I’ll do my best to share my experiences over the past few months in future posts. For now, I will focus on closing the store and spending time with my great staff and customers. If you are in New York City, please join us for some farewell specials or just stop in to say good-bye. Our last day will be on Sunday, April 19th.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support.



30 COMMENTS SO FAR...

mathew halpern says on April 9th, 2009 at 1:25 pm:

Kelli,

So sorry to hear that Amai is closing. I know how hard you and Andrew worked to make it successful. So much of life is outside our control, no one could have anticipated how hard it would be to get financing more than a year after you opened the store. You have gained a ton of good experience and I know your next venture will benefit from it.

/matt

Kevin Fox says on April 9th, 2009 at 1:32 pm:

Kelli,
I’m also so sorry to hear that Amai is closing, but I’m glad that you’re finding the path that makes you happiest. I’m thrilled to hear that you and Andrew are getting married!
Best wishes to you both,
Kevin

Kelli Bernard says on April 9th, 2009 at 2:39 pm:

Thanks Mat and Kevin. Kevin– we’ll be headed to NorCal, so hope to see you sometime out there!

caitlyn says on April 9th, 2009 at 9:55 pm:

I live in NorCal so I have never visited the Amai brick and mortar store, but I am very sorry to hear that you will be closing. I love your green tea cookie recipe — it is delicious!
I wish you and Andrew all the best as you transition to another phase of life!

Debbie says on April 9th, 2009 at 10:11 pm:

I’m so sorry that Amai is closing. But I couldn’t be more proud of you and the incredible success you and Andrew have made Amai. You two have taken the world by storm and I truly believe that if it weren’t for an economy completely out of control, Amai would have also achieved the financial strength that it so deserved in order to grow. On the bright side, I can’t wait for the big wedding day and hopefully some fresh baked goods when you return to CA. I’d also like an autographed copy of your upcoming cookbook, please!

Chris says on April 9th, 2009 at 10:29 pm:

Kelli,

Heartbreaking news, but at least there are many good reasons in there. Give my best to Andrew, Queenie and the gang! I’ll most definitely drop by before you close.

Gonna really miss you guys…

Chris

Ray says on April 9th, 2009 at 11:55 pm:

Words cannot convey how proud I am of you and Andrew. Amai has been a great success in so many ways, but no match for today’s brutal economy. But there is good news. Soon you will have your life back and your family will have you back. We can’t wait!

Laura says on April 10th, 2009 at 10:11 am:

I’m so sorry to hear about Amai closing. I was able to visit this fall when I came through New York and brought home many delicious tea cookies. You really created something special in that space. Best of luck with with your wedding and your move, and keep blogging! I want to buy the cookbook the second it publishes.

Laurie says on April 11th, 2009 at 9:06 pm:

Tears are running down my face as I read this. For all kinds of reasons. Not the least of which is pride for all you have accomplished & the person that you are. (…and that goes for Andrew too!) Naturally some of those tears are from the sadness that I feel for what I know you must be feeling about Amai right now. But here’s to new adventures, a bestseller of a cookbook & to having you back on this coast…those are the happy tears!

Jackie says on April 12th, 2009 at 1:22 am:

I am so sorry to hear that Amai is closing. It is my favorite tea shop in Manhattan. Ed and I purchased our wedding favors (tea cookies) from you last May. We will miss your shop dearly. Good luck with everything! Thank you so much for providing a wonderful place to unwind and have a good cup of tea and green tea cookies in a busy city.

Kiyo says on April 12th, 2009 at 11:33 am:

Well, all i can say is thank god(haha) I’m a Buddhist and can handle change!

I live on long island but always make it a point to stop and have your soy latte which is the best anywhere, hands down. And your sweets ..to die for.

I will miss Amai and wish you much happiness and peace.

kim says on April 12th, 2009 at 1:51 pm:

I’m so sorry I only visited your shop today after hearing its imminent closing. It’s a really cute place. I would come here if only I could afford to. Got some of the cookies for my mom and of course one of them has to be the matcha leaf because I love all things matcha. :)

Perhaps you can still continue with your online orders. I’m sure you still have customers who still want to order from you. Good luck. Hope to see you soon in the near future.

Michelle says on April 13th, 2009 at 4:32 am:

Kelli,

This post could not have come at a more opportune time… because my own small business is at a similar stage and I’m being forced to think harder and smarter than ever before. Thank you for your honesty in posting this, and I wish you all the best in future endeavours – no doubt you’ll be successful, just perhaps in another guise. What’s that expression…that whenever fate closes a door, somewhere it opens a window.

Michelle

Jia Min says on April 13th, 2009 at 5:40 am:

Hi Kelli, i’m very sorry to hear about the sad news. You should give yourself the break well-deserved. You’ve created a branding with your creativity & the hard work. When opportunities arise as the economy recovers some day, you can use your experiences & bring Amai back to life! Congrats about your upcoming wedding plans & I think I know who will be baking the wedding cake in Sept…..

Julie says on April 13th, 2009 at 1:51 pm:

Kelli, I am so sorry to hear Amai is closing! I was one of the orginal tasters back at the brownstone in Harlem and was so happy when the store went from online to brick-and-mortar. It’s a wonderful store with incredible products and I’m sure any cookbook you write will be a huge success. Good luck with all your future projects!

mcauliflower says on April 14th, 2009 at 12:18 pm:

Oh Kelli

Best of luck in your future endevours. I’m sorry to hear of this change, but happy to find you have personal growth to pull you on a new path. I look forward to your cookbook and new creative outlets.

Stephanie says on April 14th, 2009 at 12:46 pm:

Kelli,

I’m really sorry to hear this. I’ve been a fan of yours since I ordered one of the first batches of champagne brownies eons ago. I loved visiting your store when I worked a block away, wondering what yummy goods you had _this_ week. I’ll try to stop by this weekend. Thanks for everything!

Pat says on April 14th, 2009 at 1:16 pm:

I have been following your blog since before the store opened. I live in California, and I really love your cookies. I always thought that if I am ever in NY, I would definitely make sure that I stop by Amai. Your cookies and brownies are wonderful. You can really feel that the person that created it has a lot of love and passion for what they do. The packaging is beautiful, presentation and tastes are perfect. It’s such a sad thing that Amai will be closed, but I know it’s not the end of Kelli and desserts. I look forward to things that you will do in the future. Good luck with everything.

Clarice says on April 14th, 2009 at 1:19 pm:

Kelli and Andrew,

I know you guys are really sad; I was on the verge of tears just reading this post. I know how hard you both have worked, and how much you both have sacrificed. I will miss Amai, and the ability to buy your delectable sweets online! Yes, you have a beautiful store, but you have an even more beautiful dream. Don’t ever lose this dream or ability to dream. Dreams never die, and can take different paths in restoration and resurrection – see this as but one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY. I am so very proud of you both, and so glad to call you both family. I love you guys.

Vanessa says on April 14th, 2009 at 3:34 pm:

Kelly + Andrew.
Much love to you both from Seattle~! I am sad that I never got a chance to visit Amai, however, I also send well wishes in regards to life post-Amai. Your dreams and ambitions have spurred others to also dream, never ceasing to inspire, never ceasing to light a spark of possibility, that you can, to a degree! create your own ceiling. I admire the journey that you’ve created thus far, and though Amai is closing, it’ll still continue to be a reminder of what hard work and dreams can create. I look forward to your cookbook! Peace and blessings <3

barbara says on April 15th, 2009 at 4:27 am:

Dearest,
So sad to know about Amai closing, but very happy for your personal projects: life is always rich and generous so I’m sure you both will find what you need. Look forward for your cookbook, and I’m happy I could met you on December 2007 at Amai store (do you remember?) and take a pitcure with you to carry with me in Italy. Last Septemper I and Paolo had two beautiful twins, Cloe and Giona, so my project of work are sleeping at the moment.. lots of love and happiness for you and Andrew, from barbara & Paolo

Kelli says on April 16th, 2009 at 8:01 am:

Thank you for your support everyone! I really appreciate it. This week has been amazing in the store. Customers have been stopping in and are so supportive. I will really miss it.

Barbara – congratulations on the twins! That’s amazing. I definitely remember you stopping in. Thank you for the fruit cake!

Julie & McAuliflower- Good to hear from you! Thanks for supporting us all this time.

Vanessa – OMG, you’re alive and well! Yeah! I’m glad you made it to Seattle. Let me know what you’re up to.

Kiyo- If you are in need of a soy latte in the area after we close, maybe you should try Everyman espresso on 13th between 3rd and 4th avenue. They use the same coffee provider as us (Counter Culture Coffee)

Thank you so much, everyone!

Alana says on April 17th, 2009 at 2:22 pm:

I’ve never posted, but have followed your business’s progress eagerly, mostly because of how beautiful your recipes sounded. As I continued reading I hoped the words ‘cookbook’ would appear, and they did! I would be so excited to read and cook from it, and wouldn’t be the only one…

kim says on April 18th, 2009 at 3:01 pm:

tomorrow is your last day. I’m sure your shop will be overwhelmed with supportive customers. I probably can’t make it, but glad I got some of your sweets last weekend. Heard about the cupcake specials you’re offering. I love all matcha food, so take an extra bite of your delicious matcha cupcake for me. :) Best of luck in whatever endeavor you plan to pursue in the near future.

Kelli says on April 19th, 2009 at 5:26 am:

Today is the last day…I can’t believe it. The store has been insanely busy. I only ordered enough ingredients to get us through the week, and I keep running out of everything. We’ve been baking around the clock to keep up :) We will have $1 cupcakes and hot tea while our supplies last. I feel so honored that everyone is making such an effort to stop by this week or send us a note if not in NYC. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Laura says on April 27th, 2009 at 10:36 am:

Hi Kelli,
I am upset that I am reading this post after Amai’s last day as I certainly would have wanted to stop by. I echo everyone else in congratulating you on what you created. It was a beautiful little shop with delicious product. I also appreciate the time you took to speak with me regarding my ambitions for a shop one day. I have carefully tucked away all your words of advice. Good luck in all your future endeavors. I hope you will keep us posted on all your baking-related activities. All the best.

Candy says on May 1st, 2009 at 3:36 pm:

Kelli, I stopped by Amai last night, and was so sad to be greeted only by the papered windows and the note that informed me that the store had closed. I always stopped by whenever I was in the area, and will definitely miss you guys! Looking forward to your cookbook — and best wishes to you guys on getting married — that’s wonderful news!

Sweet Freak says on May 7th, 2009 at 11:09 am:

Bonjour Kelli,
I just heard (and read) about Amai. I’m so sorry! And so bummed! I can only imagine how tough a decision it was, so kudos on being resolute and making the hard choice. Best of luck preparing for your wedding, moving to CA and taking the next step! Stay in touch,
Amy Thomas

Christina says on May 17th, 2009 at 4:10 pm:

I’m sorry that you have to close your cafe/bakery even though I have never been there– I would totally buy your cookbook if you ever publish it in the future!

dori says on June 10th, 2009 at 11:05 pm:

I’ve followed lovescool since I lived in Seattle (tried some of your recipes with varying degrees of success) When I moved to NYC I was so happy to visit your charming cafe and overdo myself with all your perfected recipes!!!

I’m sorry to hear the cafe has closed and unfortunately my hectic work schedule didn’t let me visit often (I was just now looking up hours to try and pop in tomorrow). I wish you all the best and thank you very much for allowing me to experience such wonderful baked goods!!!

Hope to see your cookbook soon!



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ABOUT LOVESCOOL

Lovescool is the documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new.

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AMAI TEA & BAKE HOUSE

An interest, that turned into a blog, that turned into a career. Kelli Bernard is now the owner and baker of Amai Tea & Bake House.

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