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Amid Coronavirus Fears, Tech Companies Cut Back on Pie Orders for Pi Day

Normally Pi Day is a record sales day, but one local bakery is reporting an 85 percent loss in sales this year

Salty honey-walnut pie at Three Babes Three Babes Bakeshop

Pi Day, on March 14, might sound like yet another nerdy food holiday, but for local bakeries, it’s one of the biggest sales days of the year, rivaled only by Thanksgiving. With concerns swirling around about the new coronavirus (COVID-19), however, the pie parties seem to be off.

Local restaurants and bakeries have already seen a drop in business, first with people avoiding Chinatown, then with canceled reservations across the city. Now some of the biggest Pi Day customers — local tech giants like Google, Twitter, Square, LinkedIn and Lyft — are urging employees to work from home and cutting back on their catering orders as a result, starting with dessert.

Three Babes Bakeshop directly supplies tech companies such as Google and Lyft, and owner Lenore Estrada estimates 60 percent of her usual business comes from those orders throughout the year. Specific to Pi Day, Estrada is saying they’ve lost 85 percent of expected orders: She says she sold 2,200 pies in 2019, expected to sell 3,000 pies in 2020, and normally sells out two weeks in advance. At the time of publication, she only had 450 orders, because clients keep calling and canceling. “This is our ninth year in business, so we know what to expect, and it’s usually very predictable,” Estrada says. “We’ve already ordered ingredients, and we’ve had to cancel shifts for a dozen workers, and really scramble.”

Pi Day does fall on a Saturday this year, instead of a weekday, so it’s possible she might have seen a dip in her corporate business anyway. But Estrada does not believe it would have nosedived to this extent, were it not for tech employees working from home. In 2015, Pi Day also fell on a Saturday, and she still sold out before the holiday with Thursday and Friday orders.

Three Babes also saw record pie sales for Pi Day at the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmers Market that year, but this time around, she fears those sales will also suffer. A spokesperson for CUESA confirmed that the market has been quiet in recent weeks, but then again, it’s always quiet in winter. With spring asparagus already rolling in, it’ll be interesting to see if people start avoiding the market, given its location at a major transit hub.

Black Jet Bakery in Bernal Heights doesn’t work directly with tech companies, but owner Gillian Shaw works with four big catering companies that often cater tech events — and about one sixth of her business comes from those orders, still a significant wedge. Shaw says she’s received an unprecedented 11 cancellations, all for events scheduled for this week and next. “March is usually a great month for the bakery, between pies for Pi Day, and cupcakes and soda bread for St. Patrick’s day,” Shaw says. “It’s a huge blow for us, given that we’ve already ordered and prepped.”

For now, Black Jet is still doing good business in the neighborhood. With more tech employees working from home, Shaw wonders if she might see a bump up in her grocery delivery orders — both Black Jet and Three Babes sell through Good Eggs, the online grocery startup, although that’s a much smaller sliver of business, compared to big catering orders or a consistent client like Google. But for now, both Estrada and Shaw say their concern is supporting their employees, many of whom are hourly workers.

“If there’s a prolonged shelter put in place, how will my staff make rent?” Estrada worries. “We offer our employees sick days, but sick days won’t cover 60 days off for anyone, and you can’t do this kind of work remotely.”

Shaw echoes the same concern. “As a small, local bakery, we only have a staff of nine. I feel like it’s looming,” she says of the new coronavirus. “I wonder how it’s going to hit the neighborhood. I just want my staff to stay healthy. We’ve become a meeting point for a lot of families in Bernal.”