When Mayhew Bakery opened in Faubourg St. John in the fall of 2019, it was part of a hopeful wave of small artisan bakeries helping to revive the old craft around New Orleans neighborhoods.
The pandemic descended just a few months later, then Hurricane Ida delivered a wallop. Now Mayhew Bakery will mark its last day of business on Thursday (Aug. 11).
Proprietor and baker Kelly Mayhew said the decision to close for good was “heartbreaking.” But the compounding woes facing small food and drink businesses like his forced him to reassess the future. A slew of local hospitality businesses shuttered soon after Ida; Mayhew’s departure reflects the longer reach of the disaster on top of the hardships the pandemic has heaped on small operators like this.
“It just keeps getting harder,” he said.
Mayhew is an Army combat veteran who pursued a culinary career after his military service.
He started with a table at the Crescent City Farmers Market, where his king cakes were seasonal draws. Soon he set up a walk-up bakery in Old Metairie, serving bread through the window like a bakery-meets-sno-ball stand.
The full-fledged Mayhew Bakery opened on Orleans Avenue in October 2019. With more room to work and an expanded repertoire, the bakery won many fans for its pies, pastries and fresh bread, especially the baguette turned into an epic French jambon-beurre sandwich (dubbed the jam-bam), and savory “swirls” made from garlic-smeared baguette dough.
The business also developed thanks in part to restaurant and bar clients around town, and nearly all of those closed at once, at least temporarily, in the pandemic.
Mayhew orchestrated what seemed to be a successful pandemic pivot by adding pizza to the lineup, a one-time special that became a mainstay for the business. The bakery could often resemble a pizzeria with stacks of pies ordered by neighbors.
But the bakery never got a share of the major federal relief programs intended to keep hospitality businesses like this alive through the pandemic. Then Hurricane Ida hit.
Almost immediately after the storm crippled the city’s woebegone electrical grid, Mayhew turned his bakery into a grassroots hub of community support. He and a swiftly-growing team of volunteers provided meals, essential supplies, a neighborhood connection to people who had no means to leave the city as the famine continued.
Behind the scenes though, Mayhew said he has spent the last year struggling to recover the hit to the business.
“It’s been a hard struggle,” he said.
On Thursday, Mayhew Bakery will bake its final batches of bread and, as the baker said, “say some heartfelt goodbyes.”
3201 Orleans Ave., 504-702-8078
Closes after service Aug. 11, 2022
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