Small Business Spotlight: Taste Buds Kitchen

How a cooking class franchise is surviving the pandemic and engaging with the community

Editor’s note: A member of our staff has a personal connection to the main source of this story. 

Standing six feet back from outside the customer’s house, Scott Andersen, owner of Taste Buds Kitchen in Palo Alto, watches as excited kids peek out behind the front door of their house, hiding behind their mom and dad while eyeing the take-home gingerbread kit that just arrived. Seeing this excitement about cooking from his customers keeps Andersen motivated to keep moving forward.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of businesses are at risk for closure across the US. Andersen is one of many small business owners that has been forced to adapt to these unprecedented times. 

In March, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act was passed which included a historic $2 trillion economic relief package. According to the US Department of Treasury, the act provides “assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses.” 

Andersen applied for the first round of the Payment Protection Program (an aspect of the CARES Act), but did not receive assistance until the second round. He also applied for a $10,000 advance and received a portion of the money which assisted employee payroll during the shut down period. Andersen says he did not intend to let go of any of his staff, even if he was paying out of his own pocket. 

“I was very open with all of the staff that I’m happy to explore what is more financially advantageous to them; whether we furlough them and they go on unemployment, or if I just continue paying them,” Andersen says. 

Although TBK Palo Alto has received some funds to support business during this trying time, in Andersen’s opinion, it is not enough to account for all necessary expenses. 

“It still doesn’t cover all of our costs when we’re not operating, but it was a help in a very stressful time, so there’s a little bit of relief,” Andersen says. “Everyday costs us money, but we’ll survive.”

Following the institution of the shelter in place order, Taste Buds Kitchen, which hosts themed events ranging from cooking classes, bachelorette parties, office parties and more, has been challenged to change their way of business and innovate during tough times. 

TBK in Palo Alto opened in December after several months of refurbishing the space that Andersen and his wife leased on Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue. By the beginning of March, business was running well and TBK had a positive cash flow, Andersen says, but this flow of business was halted by the stay at home order.

“It [business] dropped off 100%,” Andersen says. “We went to an income of zero.”

As a group, all of the TBK franchises made online cooking videos, inviting customers into the free Cooking Club. As a part of the Cooking Club, a video was released every Tuesday and Thursday along with a recipe that customers are able to download and follow. 

After realizing that lockdown was going to last longer, TBK introduced online classes via Zoom. Andersen says TBK will continue online classes once he is able to open their kitchen again. Additionally, the franchise may start offering ingredient kits for the customers along with virtual classes through Zoom.

CULINARY ENTERTAINMENT. Susie Andersen, owner of Taste Buds Kitchen in Palo Alto, wears a mask and gloves while carrying TBK’s at-home activity kits. The kits are labeled “Taste Buds Kitchen” and are aimed at entertaining kids from ages three to eight. Each kit includes up to six food-based activities and an apron, and is available to be delivered or retrieved at curbside pickup. “They [parents] are looking for things to keep their children entertained when they’re at home,” Palo Alto TBK owner Scott Andersen says. “We’re trying to meet that need.” Photo by Josephine Andersen.

Taste Buds Kitchen offers curbside pickup and follows hygienic procedures set by the Santa Clara Department of Health. At the front door of the Palo Alto location, there are check-in stations to comply with social distancing rules and the staff leaves the kits on the stations for customers to pick up. 

Direct delivery to the customers’ home is another option TBK offers, where Andersen, the main deliverer, takes protective precautions by wearing masks and gloves. The general procedure is to deliver the kits to a customer’s front door, knock, and then walk at least six feet back to ensure that the customer receives the kit. 

The deviation from normal practices has presented some challenges. Food shortages make finding certain ingredients difficult, and their schedule has become more irregular because of the unpredictable number of people purchasing the kits.

With summer break approaching and parents looking for ways to keep their kids occupied while they are working, Andersen believes this may be an opportune moment for TBK to host summer camps. 

Andersen plans to reopen to the public on June 8, in time for summer camp season. He believes there will be a large demand for camps this summer because of the cancellation of many travel plans. 

Andersen says he is trying to look at the situation in a positive light. As a representative of TBK, he made contact with the Residents Association in Midtown to get involved in as many civic activities as he can. Andersen also reached out to similar businesses around the area to discuss future plans and how they could support each together. 

“I think that’s what’s come out to me with this crisis is it’s a tragedy,” Andersen says. “… It’s actually brought people together.” 

Seeing families walking together, people being more courteous and kind and supporting each other is nice to see and gives Andersen the energy to continue making his community a better place.

“If I can make a living, bringing something positive to my community, wow, that’s a win-win,” Andersen says. “And that’s what we look for.”