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‘One day at a time’ – a tea shop surviving in the pandemic

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced business closure and increased unemployment. The businesses struggling to survive amid the instability of the time, have had to make changes, sometimes hard ones.

For La Petite Fleur, run by Bernadette Burke, God’s guidance has become even more essential.

“One day at a time sweet Jesus, literally”, Burke said in an interview at the tea shop, O’Connor Street, Woodbrook.

After the lockdown, which began at the end of April and continued in the following months, there was no income, but utility and other bills continued. “Everything still needed to be addressed whether income coming in or not, and on a timely basis, there was no leeway then…”

Although the government was offering grants to individuals, Burke said such grants were not always timely. She added, “It’s not that people want handouts, but it really cannot compensate for when you earn a salary.”

Burke said the food industry had not “caught itself” from lockdowns in 2020, therefore, 2021 was “just a bad situation getting worse”.

La Petite Fleur opened its doors in March 2018, originally at Murray Street, Woodbrook. She told the Catholic News that she had always dreamed of establishing a tea shop.

More than a service provided, it was also a place for ministry. The shop is named after French nun St Thérèse of Lisieux, known as ‘The Little Flower of Jesus’ or just ‘The Little Flower’.

Burke, the founder and director of Missionaries of the Divine Potter, a lay missionary group, said at the time, “her presence is invoked here and when you read her teachings, a lot of it is about love. It is about preparing meals with love; it is about serving people in love and it’s about expressing the love of God in a simple way of having people have a meal and leave satisfied….”

The tea shop grew in popularity as clients patronised. Sundays were busy as families gathered to enjoy brunch or lunch, after attending Mass. La Petite Fleur was the backdrop for birthday and other celebrations.

The business moved to O’Connor Street in February 2020. The new location required some renovations and installation of equipment. It was opened March 7, 2020. Unfortunately, from midnight April 29 a new lockdown took effect to halt the surge in Covid cases.

Burke said on the website, “Everything shattered to pieces, and what seemed like a dream became a nightmare. That was only the beginning of what would be one of the most difficult years of my life and of the tea shop.”

Her resources were limited after the move and renovations. During the lockdown staff moved on.

Restaurants and food establishments reopened Monday, July 19, and La Petite Fleur resumed operations the following day, inviting customers to pre-order for pick-up or contactless curb-side delivery. Their first meal for order was burrito bowls.

Before its opening, there were changes behind the scenes. Burke said this involved revisiting La Petite Fleur’s branding and business model. “We have to reinvent, rethink everything just to keep things going.” It previously operated as a tea shop but with restrictions still in place for in-house dining, they had to “move away” from that model. The emphasis now is on baked goods.

“We are a patisserie, as a tea shop, we always baked our own things but doing that on a larger scale so in event there is a further lockdown, we are stronger on the baking aspect.” Burke is now the head chef with two assistant bakers. “Everything is hand-made from scratch, nothing from the box, we only use high quality ingredients. No short-cuts.”

There is a focus on take-away meals for the lunch period and pricing of items had to be reconsidered based on the present economic environment. “We are now in an economy where nobody has money, people are unemployed.” The menus are kept simple to avoid spoilage.

Her daughter Chelsea is working alongside with managing the tea shop. She is back home and fully involved in the business after completing her studies in Ireland. She has a Masters in Project Management from the University College, Dublin.

La Petite Fleur has an online presence with Instagram and Facebook showcasing the day’s menu and images of baked pastries, cakes, scones, etc.  Things are “very slow”, Burke said. Still, there are encouraging signs in support from loyal customers and new customers who suddenly drop in to patronise the business.

She knows that things have changed and there are uncertain times ahead. Burke relies on her Catholic faith to see her through.

“I have never prayed so hard in my life…a lot of it is prayer and a lot of it is trying to get what is the Holy Spirit saying and depending fully on God for His guidance in how we go forward and trusting Him to take us through this. And deal with all the bigger than human aspects…”