Emma Zimmerman, co-owner of Hayden Flour Mills, came to work on the morning of March 16, and was greeted with a huge spike in online orders.
That's far from the norm at the stone-milled flour producer, now based in Queen Creek. Zimmerman says she feels fortunate the online store was even up and running; the website hadn't been updated for several months. Historically, most of Hayden Flour Mills' business has been wholesaling to restaurants and bakeries.
Many of those businesses, of course, have closed up shop in the wake of the coronavirus' spread. "It's heartbreaking," Zimmerman says.
But alongside that grim new reality is a more hopeful one for Hayden Flour Mills. People are baking at home more. And they need flour to do it. So, the business is adapting.
“When you're set up for wholesale, it's hard to just flip to retail overnight,” Zimmerman says. “We’ve really leaned into our online business. It’s been kind of an all-hands-on-deck situation.”
Emma and her father, Jeff Zimmerman, founded the local flour company in 2011. Its first location was in the back of Pane Bianco on Central Avenue, where she says Chris Bianco helped it get started. The company outgrew the space in a few years, stayed a couple of years more, then moved to Sossaman Farms in the southeast Valley. “We’re kind of at the beginning of the national heritage grain movement,” Zimmerman says. “Now, there’re a lot of these little mills all over the country.”
Zimmerman says her “this is real” moment came when the NBA season was canceled because of COVID-19. The on-site store was first offering pickup orders, then closed altogether on March 14, which is "sad, because the store is pretty cute.” Workshops and tours have been canceled as well. “We have some stuff further out in May, so we’ll see,” she says.
Right now, the small team at Hayden Flour Mills is working to fulfill all these new online orders.
“Under normal circumstances, we’d try to hire or bring in more people,” Zimmerman says. “But we're also trying to not have too many people at the mill and keep everyone safe.” She says this via phone, pausing to answer a question from her young son every now and then.
“I would hope that we found some new customers and a new audience,” Zimmerman says of the increase in online sales.
“It seems like people are having an eye-opening experience to the local food economy and that it’s actually a little more resilient than a national food chain in this situation,” Zimmerman says. “I’m hoping this could change habits, maybe light a fire for the local food system. That’d be a great outcome. We’re trying to find the silver lining, trying to stay positive.”
Which leads Zimmerman to her next big project: the recipes page on the mill's website. She says she has a lot of recipes in the hopper, including one for an easy-to-do artisan loaf. This is high on her list because, obviously, many are stress-baking at home — but also because stone mill or heritage grain flour is different from typical all-purpose flour.
“All these people are finding us — which is so exciting — and buying our flour and trying it out,” she says, “but it's going to be different from grocery-store flour. I really want everyone to have a great experience in using it.”
She says the flavor speaks for itself, but she wants people to have an idea on how to use it in recipes. “I think that'll be a really fun part — finding different ways to share how to use the flour.” As of now, 30 recipes are on the site.
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And Zimmerman is definitely not out of practice.
“It’s funny, my husband immediately wanted to bake bread,” she says, noting how baking feels like an instinctual thing to do when people are feeling insecure. “It provides a rhythm and a routine during uncertain times,” she says. “It’s just a very basic comforting food.” A loaf of bread on the counter is quick sustenance. People can slice it, add a topping, toast it, or tear off a piece for an easy snack.
Zimmerman says she hopes that, after this pandemic, interest will continue in not just baking, but also gardening, caring for baby chicks, and learning where food comes from.
“I hope people discover baking and stick with it and remember it,” she says. “And when all this is over, if they remember local food producers, that’d be so great.”