When Susan Shah and John Meyer purchased The Sweet Biscuit Inn in January 2020, they were thrilled at the prospect of owning their own bed and breakfast in beautiful Asheville, NC. For Shah, it was a return to her roots, having grown up in Asheville and worked in the hospitality industry for years. And for Meyer, it was a chance to make a living doing what he loved to do: cooking and gardening.
They had two months to get their feet wet before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. “We were very worried. Of course, it was very unexpected,” Shah said. “But we didn’t think it’d be long-term.” Meyer added, “Everyone was affected, so we did what we could do and just rolled with it.”
But even during the toughest of times, opportunities sometimes arise. Since they couldn’t connect with people as much face-to-face, Shah and Meyer took advantage of another form of connection: their online community. Prior to the couple becoming innkeepers in January, The Sweet Biscuit Inn already had a well-established, loyal fanbase of former guests who had enjoyed the B&B’s hospitality. So, Shah and Meyer decided to tap into that fanbase as a way to keep connected with people during the pandemic and serve up a fun distraction.
Enter The Sweet Biscuit Inn’s inaugural “best biscuit recipe” contest. In April, Meyer and Shah announced they were running a contest to find the best biscuit recipe out there. “We made it the easiest contest ever,” Shah said. “It didn’t even have to be an original recipe from the person sending it in. If they found a recipe that looked good online, we’d bake it and judge it.”
The rules were simple: send in a biscuit recipe, whether it was original to you or one you found online that sounded particularly tasty. Meyer and Shah would bake it, taste it, and then judge the winners based on which recipes were the best. “It started out as us wanting to build our biscuit repertoire,” Meyer laughed. With the name, ‘The Sweet Biscuit Inn,’ the contest was right in their sweet spot. And surely, it couldn’t hurt to be able to serve their guests’ favorite recipes when they next visited!
But the contest quickly became about so much more than simply accumulating biscuit knowledge. “We sent off the email announcing the contest at 6 a.m. and were worried that no one would respond,” Shah said. “But by 7 [a.m.], we saw that we had multiple responses already!” It turned out that people were excited to participate, eager to share in something wholesome as the world dealt with an unprecedented threat.
“Not everyone who responded even shared a recipe,” Shah said. “Some people just sent us stories. We were really overwhelmed by all the kindness we were shown, all the empathy.”
People became invested in the contest and were eager to find out which recipes won. In the end, the winner was an amazing recipe for strawberry biscuits with lemon icing. They posted it to the inn’s website, along with several runners-up, allowing all the ravenous contest followers to enjoy it vicariously and maybe even try it at home. “We’re so grateful for the all the connections we made during April in spite of the shut down and for the recipes that we enjoyed baking throughout the month,” they wrote in their blog post, appropriately entitled, “Biscuit Love in the Time of Corona.”
The love and kindness Shah and Meyer have felt ‘in the time of Corona’ hasn’t just come from their patrons and biscuit contest entrants. They have been indebted to various communities and organizations in the Asheville and greater North Carolina areas as well. The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) specifically has provided them a great deal of support over the last few months. “They’ve been great,” Shah said, “they’ve provided a lot of info during a time when figuring out what to do and what rules to follow is hard.” She is speaking specifically of the ever-evolving regulations for businesses to operate under as the pandemic progresses.
We were really overwhelmed by all the kindness we were shown, all the empathy.
The NCRLA’s resources and support have also cohered well with advice and guidance Shah and Meyer receive from other organizations, such as Explore Asheville and the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association. “We’re lucky, being in a tourism town, that we have so many groups set up that we can go to for help,” Shah said. “We can have meetings on Fridays, drink a glass of wine over Zoom! It gives us a sense of community.”
This sense of community, kindness and support has helped The Sweet Biscuit Inn stay in operation and maintain good retention of their staff. While they had to let go of some staff members at the beginning of the COVID-19 shut down, they were able to hire most of them back. However, as business returns, Shah and Meyer continue to emphasize their employees’ health and safety as a top priority. “We want to make sure our employees are treated with the same kindness as our guests,” Meyer said. That means strictly adhering to COVID-19 regulations and being empathetic to their employees’ needs.
This deference to their employees’ well-being has allowed Shah and Meyer to avoid making many changes to payroll. If an issue did arise, though, they would have no problem going to their workers' compensation provider for help. “We have an amazing agent,” Shah said, speaking of EMPLOYERS Agent Tim Sharp with North Carolina's Towe Insurance Service, stating that she and Meyer would be very comfortable reaching out to him for anything they needed.
Clearly, the kindness they have shown and received extends to their relationship with their agent as well. "I have known Susan for more than 20 years,” Sharp said. “She and I have developed a relationship of trust over those years and she has graciously favored us with her business.”
Sharp, a lifelong resident of Wilson, NC has been an independent agent and agency owner of Towe Insurance Service for more than 30 years. With that kind of tenure, he knew exactly what kind of insurance coverage Susan and John needed for a place as special as The Sweet Biscuit Inn.
“I told them that EMPLOYERS® has been our preferred workers’ comp market for hospitality accounts due to their combination of extremely competitive pricing, flexible payment options, technology platform and, of course, excellent claim service,” Sharp said. “I also told them that EMPLOYERS has the endorsement of the NCRLA. These features help us to confidently present an EMPLOYERS proposal to our valued clients.”
EMPLOYERS has been our preferred workers’ comp market for hospitality accounts due to their combination of extremely competitive pricing, flexible payment options, technology platform and, of course, excellent claim service
Another reason Sharp could so confidently recommend EMPLOYERS was that he felt kindness and empathy were at the heart of how they do business. “COVID-19 has obviously devastated the hospitality industry. It has been a relief to Towe Insurance and our clients that EMPLOYERS understands their situation and has provided us with guidance regarding the pandemic and online tools to quickly reduce payrolls and delete locations mid-term, as well as perform audits online,” Sharp said.
EMPLOYERS endeavors to provide that level of support to all its workers' comp policyholders, regardless of the circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic. With offerings such as their robust Return-to-Work Program, PrecisePay premium accuracy tool, and up-to-the-minute safety content and awareness, EMPLOYERS strives to make people’s lives easier, helping them back on their feet in times of trouble. EMPLOYERS and its agents are also members of their policyholders’ communities, and actively participate in and experience the ups and downs their communities face.
When times are at their toughest, you realize that it’s kindness and community that will get you through. And maybe some really good biscuits. That’s what Meyer and Shah learned anyway. By banding together and showing each other kindness, we can all go farther and endure so much more. “I’ve just loved how supportive people have been through all this,” Shah said. “We have an incredible community here, and so far, running The Sweet Biscuit Inn has been a very fun and fulfilling experience for us.”
For more information about The Sweet Biscuit Inn, the NCRLA or EMPLOYERS, please visit their websites, linked below.
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