Coronavirus last straw as bakery closes its doors

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Mad Batter owner Catherine Bramlett, right, talks to Shanda Haulk of Jasper while Shanda makes cake balls at The Mad Batter in Jasper today. Bramlett announced yesterday that The Mad Batter will be closing permanently on April 11.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — It was the place with the quirky cookies.

Some were sliced and iced to look like unicorns. Others were made in the image of cutesy emojis, vibrant flowers and silly cartoon characters. They’d often sit next to gooey cinnamon rolls, yummy danishes and puffy muffins.

It was the place people would come to satisfy their sweet tooth, or pick up a cake shaped like a lighthouse, or chat with a young entrepreneur who loved her job so much that she sacrificed a comfortable life to bake for her community.

Sometimes, inside the colorful display cases at The Mad Batter bakery in Jasper, you could find chocolate chip cookies made with the same ingredients and recipe that set Catherine Bramlett on the path to becoming a professional baker all those years ago.

She owned that place. And she treated it like it was her baby.

But as revenue plummeted during the month of March, Catherine and her mother and fellow co-owner, Michele, knew they couldn’t feed the needy, demanding baby any longer.

The Mad Batter will permanently close on Saturday, April 11.

“We couldn’t keep going the way that we were going,” Catherine, 29, said shortly after the announcement was posted on Facebook. “We just kind of had to get out now before it got significantly worse.”

The tiny family business was irreparably fractured by COVID-19. Closing was the best decision leadership could make, Catherine said. But knowing that doesn’t take the pain away.

The local bakery’s income decreased sharply over the course of the past month. It would usually pull in between $600 and $1,000 on any given Friday. Last Friday, The Mad Batter made a paltry $22.

Cake balls made at The Mad Batter are seen at the bakery in Jasper today.

“It just started trickling,” Catherine said of the revenue, “and getting worse, and worse and worse.”

March is typically a slow month. Most years, the Easter holiday and orders for other spring events like graduations can help make up the difference. In a socially distanced world, though, there was no reprieve in sight.

When deciding to close for good, the unknowns of that world weighed on the Bramletts. Staying open would mean they have to pay their 10 employees. It would mean having to pay taxes and bills. They could apply for a grant, but when would the money come?

The health of their workers and customers factored into the decision, too. Catherine said that was a top priority, and knowing that The Mad Batter will soon cease putting their workers and customers in harm’s way makes her feel better about the move.

She never was in it for the money. Since opening in late 2014, Catherine’s annual income hovered near the poverty line. That didn’t discourage her from working long hours nearly every day for years to live her dream — owning a bakery where everyone was welcome and accepted.

Her baking career started in Louisville, and she later moved back to Jasper and took a baking gig at IGA, where she worked part-time under mentor Jill Poehlein, before opening The Mad Batter. In the early days, she’d sell baked goods from her home, where she saved up money and equipment before moving into The Mad Batter’s Main Street storefront.

Initially, the business’ prices and offerings were criticized. Customers compared The Mad Batter to the old Jasper City Bakery, and they expressed disappointment that the former wasn’t more like the latter.

Catherine doesn’t blame them. She loved that old bakery, too. But the longer The Mad Batter turned out its creative, humorous, at-times nerdy and often-offbeat baked goods, the more the community came to embrace the business.

“It was hard and it was challenging,” Catherine reflected. “But it was something that I wasn’t going to give up on. I couldn’t give up on it. That wasn’t an option.”

She doesn’t know what comes next. She knows she will be looking for a job, and she thinks she will take a small break from baking to allow it to become a hobby and not a career.

For now, Catherine is looking forward to taking her first pause in years. She said it’s possible that she’ll open another kind of business someday, but she doesn’t think it will be a bakery.

Her memories from The Mad Batter — her baby, her dream — those will stay with her forever.

She loved her employees and the fun work environment they made together. She loved her customers, many of whom she became friends with, had inside jokes with, and would check up with if she hadn’t seen in a while. They made bad days good, and good days better.

They made the hard times worth it.

“I cannot thank them from the bottom of my heart enough,” Catherine said. “They are what kept us going for so long, and making it through all of the years.”




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